May AARC Mail Call! (Wimple Edition)

by Dave Nelson

Our 250-year-old Torah’s century-old wimple

When you find a 11-foot, 112-year old wimple in the mail!

As noted in the past, most of the postal mail the AARC receives takes the form of bills, checks, services we don’t need, scams, and benign crazy talk—but we also get some really nice or interesting notes from really nice and interesting people. May was a bit thin for mail, but the one piece of non-bill, non-check, non-request, non-scam mail we did get was a doozy: A package from Rabbi Ralph Ruebner in Skokie, IL containing our wimple!

What’s a “wimple” (apart from a nuns’ hat)?  This:

The wimple is an ornate, embroidered or painted cloth used to bind up a Torah scroll after it has been read. It is made from swaddling cloth used to bind a baby at his circumcision. Thus, almost from the moment of birth, a direct link is established between the child and the Torah.

The custom of preparing a wimple—the word means “cloth” or “veil” in old German—began about 400 years ago in Germany and spread from there to Alsace, Switzerland, France and the Low Countries. As German Jews emigrated to other lands, especially America, they brought the custom with them but it has remained confined to a limited section of Ashkenazic Jewry. (source)

This wimple, our Torah’s wimple—originally used to bind “Robert Hessel (corrected from Hefsel, after learning about the “Long s” see comment below) Hambuch” measures roughly 11 feet long, and is hand-painted with text and other decorative elements.  It has some … interesting discoloration whose precise nature—given its original ritual duty—I decline to meditate on.

Here’s a look at the full wimple (which, given its dimensions, is challenging to photograph) via video:

our wimple’s central panel

As you no doubt recall from your frequent perusal of the AARC Board Meeting Minutes (meticulously taken by your dedicated secretary), although we’ve had the same interestingly idiosyncratic Torah for several decades, its ownership was long unclear (due to leadership and administrative changes both in our little Hav and the congregation who loaned us the Torah to begin with).

Last year we had the good fortune to finally hear from the current Board of the Niles Township Jewish Congregation/ Congregation Ezra-Habonim of Skokie, IL. (Niles Township Jewish Congregation lent us our Torah ~20 years ago, shortly before they merged with Congregation Ezra-Habonim).  Soon after we officially (and emphatically) purchased our Torah.

Detail of the baby’s name inscribed on the wimple; love this rainbow gradation!

Rabbi Ralph Ruebner of Skokie was kind enough to send the wimple along to be reunited with our Torah, as well as these details about this wimple, wimples in general, and the history of the Niles Township Jewish Congregation/ Congregation Ezra-Habonim, and German Jews in middle America.

A detail from near the tail end of the wimple

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Clare Kinberg says:

    Alison Chan contacted us after this post on the wimple was published with this comment: “Hi! I just got notified about your new post on the wimple from a Google alert. (I live near detroit and split my time between T’chiyah, the Downtown Synagogue, and Shir Tikvah, but I have A2 connections and have visited the AARC website before.) I don’t think the childs name is Hefsel, I think it’s Hessel spelled with a long s. It was common to use long s up until even the early 1900s in German. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_s

    Dave and I figure she’s right about this, and I’ve made the correction.

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