Matisyahu to Knesset: I’d rather go naked than wear fur — but shtreimels are OK

Jewish reggae star Matisyahu is urging the Israeli government to ban its fur trade.

Well, most of it anyway.

Earlier this week, Matisyahu sent a polite letter to the Knesset supporting a bill that would prohibit the production, sale and importation of all fur products, according to a release sent by animal rights advocacy group PETA. But the bill stipulates one exception: shtreimels, the traditional fur hat worn by some Hasidic Jews, who like to dress up for special occasions, such as Shabbat.

“I hope you will agree that the way that animals suffer and die in the fur trade violates the fundamental principle of tza’ar ba’alei chayim, which forbids gratuitous cruelty to animals,” Matisyahu wrote in his letter. The letter, sent via email, included a link to a disturbing video that showcases some of the horrific abuses animals suffer while being skinned alive. (Consider this fair warning.)

The effort is groundbreaking—and if the bill passes, would make Israel the first country in the world to enact such legislation. But the implicit hypocrisy of banning fur to everyone else while allowing Orthodox Jews to sport their Shabbes wares is yet another example of the chokehold the religious establishment in Israel has on the Israeli government. If the Torah bans gratuitous cruelty to animals, then it goes without saying (though I’m doing so anyway) that it should apply as much to observant Jews wearing holy garments as it does to fashion-seeking Israelis.

This conflict goes unacknowledged in Matisyahu’s letter, which expresses gentle support for the bill without any strong condemnation for those who wear fur—in any form. Could it be religious alliances are less pliable than Torah principles?