A PROPOSED ban on the sale of new fur garments in New York could lead to attacks on Hasidic Jewish men, who are characterised by the enormous fur hats (shtreimels) that they wear.
Brooklyn councilman Chaim Deutsch, inset, cited the Hasidic custom as a reason why he opposes the ban, even though the proposed legislation contains a religious exemption that would allow the sale of fur to those using it as part of their faith.
Deutsch, an Orthodox Jew, said:
Considering the fact that hate crime in New York City is on the rise, people will be targeted on the streets, saying, ‘Why are you wearing this if there’s a fur ban?’
In March, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson introduced legislation that would ban the sale of new fur apparel.
As an animal lover, I believe it is cruel to kill an animal just for the purpose of people buying and wearing a fur coat. There is really no need for this.
In May, the council heard testimony from opponents and critics of the ban. Following the hearing, Johnson slightly changed his tune, saying he would want a potential ban to be phased in over time time to have a less dramatic impact on the industry.
During a hearing on the proposed legislation last month, Johnson showed graphic images of animals housed and killed for their pelts. A number of celebrities, including fashion guru Tim Gunn, have spoken out with PETA in favour of the ban.
The New York State Senate and Assembly also are considering bills to ban the sale of fur in the state.
Stores that earn the majority of their revenues through the sale of fur employ about 1,110 people, according to Fur NYC, which opposes the ban. That doesn’t include a supply chain that includes marketing, banking and insurance, says the trade group. According to Fur NYC:
A fur ban would be catastrophic to New York City – eliminating a historic manufacturing community, along with thousands of jobs for New Yorkers who’ve never made another living and millions of tax revenue that fund critical government programs that help New Yorkers.
Alexander Rapaport, a Hasidic Jew who runs a Brooklyn-based network of kosher soup kitchens, echoed Deutsch’s fears.
Rapaport questioned the efficacy of the bill, since it would only ban fur in New York, and wondered whether it would put “a bulls-eye on every shtreimel.”
There are thousands and thousands of citizens who wear [the shtreimel] for culture and tradition, and it’s almost symbolic to their way of life.
Some see the religious exemption as problematic and untenable. Bezalel Stern, an attorney at Kelley, Drye & Warren, LLP, representing the International Fur Federation, says the exemption violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause because it would favour religion and have the government evaluate the validity of a person’s religious claim.
Stern fears that if the law were to pass, the religious exemption would not stand up in court.
I think the [City Council] speaker knows that the religious exemption is unconstitutional and he’s putting it in because he wants to – excuse my pun – pull the fur over people’s eyes in order to get it passed.
But the ban has Jewish supporters as well.
Orthodox Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, the founder of Shamayim: Jewish Animal Advocacy, criticised Hasidic opposition to the ban, saying that wearing shtreimels is a custom but not mandated by Jewish law.
It is not required to actualize holiness. What is required, however, is the need to follow the notion of ‘tzar ba’alei chaim’: not causing needless pain to animals.
Jewish Veg, which advocates for veganism in the Jewish community, also threw its support behind the bill. In a statement, the group said that fur industry practices constitute:
Egregious violations of Jewish ethics. Judaism mandates that we treat animals with exquisite and sensitive compassion, and the practices of the fur industry grotesquely violate this mandate.
Meanwhile, fur dealer Marc Kaufman, pictured above right with one of his customers, former football players and actor Joe Namath, says he’s more focused on running his business than worrying about the legislation, which he believes is unlikely to pass.
God will take care of everything. Furs come from God, it’s part of the Bible.