Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A choice in garb

I saw the following interesting bit of history in Vayakhel Moshe (R' Moshe HaKohen Gordon) on parashas Yisro:

"And on a related note -- in 5610 (1850), the decree went out from Russian rulership in Poland to change the traditional Jewish dress, and to shave their beards and peyos. And the police force assembled in Warsaw, and any Jew who passed was grabbed, and his beard and peyos were shaved off. A great dispute then prevailed between all the Gedolim of Poland. The Rim, and with him his friend, Rabbi Avraham of Tchechinov za'l, opposed with all force accepting of the decree. They saw in it the status of ערקתא דמסאני {the shoelace, which if compelled under Shmad to change, one should not}, whose law is 'be killed rather than violate.' When this came out{?}, the Rim was imprisoned. A great multitude of people gathered by the prison. The Rim endured great hardship during his short imprisonment. The turbulence increased, and various missives came and went from the house of the Russian rulership, gatherings of protests of thousands of residents of the city. In the meantime, the tumult came as well to the Prince Constantine, the brother of the Russian Czar. And when messengers reached him regarding this matter, he accepted it nicely and apologized to them, that the command to imprison was issued without his knowledge, and the Rim was released from his imprisonment.

The Russian rulership gave the Jews two choices: (a) to wear European garb. That is to say, short, and without a beard and peyos; or (b) Russian garb, in which case they would need to wear Russian hats with visors ("dashikes"). In this manner, the beard and peyos were permitted. The Rim chose the second choice, and all the chasidim of Paland carried from then on hats with visors ("Yidisheh hitlech.") This minhag remained until the holocaust of the Polish Jews, h"y"d. As an aside, interestingly, the Kotzker Rebbe za'l did not accept the decree, and all who came to the Rebbe were forced to enter with kippot, and to leave their hats outside."

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