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Jerusalem - Why Israel Went Wild Over $1,000-plus Crocodile-skin Kippahs

Published on: September 14, 2017 12:25 PM
By: JTA
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David Roytman’s python-skin kippah, center, is flanked by crocodile-skin kippahs on display at the Fifth Quarter store in Jerusalem, Aug. 21, 2017. (Facebook)David Roytman’s python-skin kippah, center, is flanked by crocodile-skin kippahs on display at the Fifth Quarter store in Jerusalem, Aug. 21, 2017. (Facebook)

Jerusalem - For a few days, exotic animal-skin kippahs were something of a sensation in Israel.

Curious locals and journalists rushed to a Judaica store in the Old City here to marvel at the new luxury-marketed crocodile, python and cowhide Jewish head coverings. An ostrich edition was said to be coming soon.

But as the hype grew, so did the public backlash.

Last week, the government confiscated the kippahs as illegally imported wild animal products.

“The inspector came after we got this very, very negative reaction,” said store manager Shaun Nathan. “I understand the argument, I really do, but we were hearing from this ridiculous lunatic fringe. People were phoning us and threatening to burn down the store.”

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It all started with some local yeshiva boys who stopped by the store on Sept. 4. Impressed by the newly arrived yarmulkes, one of them posted photos on Facebook. By the next day, newspaper reporters and TV crews were on the scene.

The Fifth Quarter Judaica store’s owner, Eli Mordechai, gamely showed off the kippahs, which are sold in fabric-lined oak boxes for as much as $1,400 each. They even come with built-in hair clips. Mordechai touted them as must-have headwear for observant Jews seeking that Russian oligarch look.

“These kippot were born out of the desire to provide people who live in a world of luxury and brands a kippah befitting their lifestyle,” he told Israel’s popular Yediot Acharonot newspaper. “A person wearing a $10,000 Gucci suit won’t be caught dead wearing a $50 off-brand kippah.”

Typical kippahs are made from cloth, cotton yarn, velvet or leather.

Yediot noted that the exotic kippahs are made from unkosher animals. But Mordechai assured the newspaper that unlike tefillin, mezuzahs or Torah scrolls, kippahs can be made from any material according to Jewish law.

As it turned out, the outrage came not from stringent Jews but from supporters of animal rights. Israel is a hotbed of activism on behalf of animals, and as much as 13 percent of its population is said to be vegetarian or vegan.

While no major organizations seemed to take up the cause, thousands of online commenters railed against Fifth Quarter for selling the kippahs. Some blamed Judaism, while others said it was a violation of the religion.

“Shameful and disgraceful religious hypocrisy. Even religious objects have a limit,” one woman wrote on Facebook. “God never said in the Bible that abuse of animals is OK and this is undoubtedly abuse.”

Angry phone calls started coming into the store, too. Nathan said the first person to call after the news broke, an elderly vegan woman, politely suggested that any profit from the kippahs was not worth the moral cost. But the callers became hostile, he said, with some threatening violence.

A few critics even linked the kippahs to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Nathan said, declaring things like, “These people are ethnically cleansing children anyway, so who cares about a python?”

Apparently alerted by the media coverage, an inspector from Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority came to the store Sept. 7 and confiscated the kippahs along with some crocodile skin mezuzahs from the same producer. He said they had been imported without the testing and approval required of products derived from wild animals.

David Roytman posing with exotic animal skin kippahs at his store in Moscow, July 13, 2017. (Facebook)David Roytman posing with exotic animal skin kippahs at his store in Moscow, July 13, 2017. (Facebook)

Despite all the fuss, Fifth Quarter had only stocked one of each style of kippah and two of the mezuzahs, and had sold none, Nathan said. He said he has been awaiting a larger shipment of more products, including ostrich skin tefillin bags.

In the meantime, the kippahs had been placed on a glass display case in a room filled with Jewish tourist attractions. The store holds free educational lectures and workshops about some of its products, like an aquarium filled with blue snails that some believe are the source of the turquoise dye used in sacred Jewish garments in ancient times.

“Basically, we try to highlight Judaism and Jewish life through art and Judaic design,” Nathan said. “One of our shticks is we have special items to try to bring in tourists.”

The designer of the kippahs is David Roytman, a Ukraine-born Israeli specializing in “luxury Judaica.” He said he created the first kippah “prototype” in 2015, and noted that he has a stingray skin design as well.

“People spend thousands of dollars on a luxury watch and shoes, and they wear something on their head that looks like a disaster,” he said. “My idea was to make a respectable kippah.”

Although Mordechai told Yediot his was the first store in Israel to carry the kippahs, Roytman said his products have been “displayed exclusively” at the Hazorfim Judaica store in Tel Aviv, as well as in New York, Toronto, London, and Russian, European and Central Asian cities. They are also for sale on the website.

Roytman said he could do nothing to help Fifth Quarter with its permit issue, but expected their business partnership to resume when it was resolved.

As to the animal rights outcry, he said it was “ridiculous” for people to get so upset over kippahs given the other problems the region faces, “but this is Israel.”

Nathan said he sees things differently.

While the final decision is Mordechai’s, Nathan said he believes the store would be wise to get out of a business that kills animals to make kippahs for oligarchs — especially given the public relations headache.

“If I look back at it now, it’s not a cool product. It really isn’t,” he said. “It brought us a lot of attention, and people will definitely buy it. But we really don’t want any part it.”



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Read Comments (20)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Sep 14, 2017 at 01:13 PM Anonymous Says:

sickening you have soup kitchens and $ 1,000 crocodile skin yarmulkes. The height of waste and stupidity

2

 Sep 14, 2017 at 01:31 PM Anonymous Says:

this posting is revealing about the level of "frumkeit" inn Israel and it is very sad

3

 Sep 14, 2017 at 02:26 PM Anonymous Says:

I agree actually alot with the designer. When i see ppl wearing their shmooshed nasty old hats or yarmulkas i think how gross is that and maybe show Hakadosh Baruch Hu some respect. By a new one!!!
And if someone has the money to buy fancy dont tell him how to spend his money.

4

 Sep 14, 2017 at 02:26 PM hernoor Says:

This is hypocrisy. Leather purses, handbags and jackets are sold everyday all over Israel. For fashion it's ok, but for religious reasons, it's not ok?

5

 Sep 14, 2017 at 02:37 PM Truthlove Says:

$5000 shtreimel is ok ???? $300 borsalino every year or so ???

6

 Sep 14, 2017 at 02:57 PM MyThreeCents Says:

More than a little ridiculous!

7

 Sep 14, 2017 at 03:14 PM Educated Archy Says:

"A few critics even linked the kippahs to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Nathan said, declaring things like, “These people are ethnically cleansing children anyway, so who cares about a python?"

They protesters showed their true colors. And the socialist non free enterprise Israeli regime reigned in on capitalism. They fell for the bait. SO very sad

8

 Sep 14, 2017 at 03:15 PM Educated Archy Says:

Reply to #1  
Anonymous Says:

sickening you have soup kitchens and $ 1,000 crocodile skin yarmulkes. The height of waste and stupidity

Fancy exotic hotels are not a waste? Its called free enterprise. Its capitalism. If thats what people want to purchase as souvenirs then so be it.

9

 Sep 14, 2017 at 03:21 PM Flyfisher Says:

I dont see anything wrong with this people are willing to spend a lot of money on things that are narish. Just ask the in laws how much they spend on choson watches etc. One can also have they veiw that this is hidur mitzvah akin to paying a lot of money for an esrog or chasidim paying for very expensive bekashas and streimlah to which i dont have a problem with either.

10

 Sep 14, 2017 at 03:24 PM Moone Says:

Shtreimels eclipse these yarmulkes...

11

 Sep 14, 2017 at 03:26 PM hashomer Says:

Disgusting on every level. Tv

12

 Sep 14, 2017 at 03:29 PM Flyfisher Says:

Reply to #1  
Anonymous Says:

sickening you have soup kitchens and $ 1,000 crocodile skin yarmulkes. The height of waste and stupidity

This argument is moot. You can ask the same question of very frum people who spend a lot of money on things that they can put torwards tzedakah. ie fancy cars 2000 dollar sheitels etc etc

13

 Sep 14, 2017 at 03:31 PM Flyfisher Says:

Reply to #2  
Anonymous Says:

this posting is revealing about the level of "frumkeit" inn Israel and it is very sad

I dont know why you are singling out israel. I also dont think that ones yarmulka has anything to do with ones "frumkeit" thats for certain.

14

 Sep 14, 2017 at 05:04 PM Anonymous Says:

Maybe it is time for higher taxation instead off shnorring from the US taxpayers

15

 Sep 14, 2017 at 05:25 PM The_Truth Says:

I found these yamulkas online a few months back and wondered how they would ever sell. I guess that now they have made the news, these things will sell like hot cakes!

16

 Sep 14, 2017 at 09:31 PM Truthlove Says:

Reply to #14  
Anonymous Says:

Maybe it is time for higher taxation instead off shnorring from the US taxpayers

Shnorrering???? That's what u guys do to everyone who has money no matter if he wears $1000 kippah.... FYI it's in the USA interest to fund Israel as the technology and information it receives is worth 10x what they give...

And for all this knocking the price look at what u spend your money on

For those knocking the material show in halacha where it's wrong so your wife won't wear a horse hair shaitel and chasidim won't wear fox fur shtreimel

Any reason to bash a new before the holiest days al elei an bochiya

17

 Sep 15, 2017 at 01:53 AM PaulinSaudi Says:

A lot of people spend their money foolishly. On the other hand, it is none of my business.

18

 Sep 15, 2017 at 09:06 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #15  
The_Truth Says:

I found these yamulkas online a few months back and wondered how they would ever sell. I guess that now they have made the news, these things will sell like hot cakes!

I wonder how much tzedaka these buyers give

19

 Sep 15, 2017 at 01:52 PM Truthlove Says:

Reply to #18  
Anonymous Says:

I wonder how much tzedaka these buyers give

Are you gods accountant ...Who are you to question what they give and if they give unless you are A shnorer then you are directly affected by his spending habit and you have 100% right to dictate to him how much he spends and on what

20

 Sep 15, 2017 at 02:21 PM Anonymous Says:

If it keeps one Yid from keeping his head uncovered, then I am 100% for it.

21

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