Black Hattitude

Thursday, 17 February, 2022 - 9:54 pm

This morning Malkie and I took our son Murdechai downtown to Meyer the Hatter to purchase a black hat for his upcoming Bar Mitzvah.

Back in the day fedoras were very common. Nobody left home without a hat. Over the past seventy years, the fedora’s popularity has significantly declined, and hat stores have shuttered their doors. Interestingly, New Orleans is one of the remaining places where fedora sales still thrive. Behind the counter they have hundreds of autographed photos of celebrities that have purchased hats there.

For Murdechai, his new black hat has nothing to do with fashion, NOLA or otherwise, but rather it is rooted in Chabad community tradition.

I am sure many wonder, aloud or to themselves, “what’s the deal with the back hats?” The truth is that black and hat are based on two different concepts. In Jewish law, there is a notion that when approaching G-d in prayer or other forms of worship (Mitzvahs etc.), that men wear a head-covering, in addition to the yarmulka that is always worn. That explains the hat. But it doesn’t explain the choice of color or style.

My uncle, Rabbi Manis Friedman, was once challenged on why Chassidim wear black/dark hats and jackets. He quipped that people wear black on formal occasions, e.g. black tie only events, an important meeting, etc. Chassidim deem every occasion of interacting with Hashem as a formal occasion. Since that is a constant, they are always dressed that way.

Folks wonder if this uniform dress style crimps one’s individuality. Don’t all Chassidim look alike? I have been mistaken for nearly every other Chabad Rabbi here in town, despite differences in hair color, body build, height, and age. How many of you have commented in this manner while looking at the Shluchim conference photo? My colleague, Rabbi Aron Moss opined on this topic –

For Murdechai, the hat offers a feeling of belonging and association with the traditions of his heritage. Obviously, the Tefillin and the newfound responsibility to Mitzvahs are what’s truly important. As for the hat, if it will make him feel more grown up and spur him to take his Judaism more seriously, isn’t that what a Bar Mitzvah is all about?

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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