Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Minhag Of Bringing a Wimpel To Shul

(posted by Avram)

(Eliezer's Wimpel - click for detail)

This morning we had the zechus of seeing our grandson, Eliezer, bring his wimpel to shul. For those of you who are not familiar with this custom let me give you a brief definition of what a wimpel is. At the bris, a fabric, usually made of linen or cotton, is placed on the pillow underneath the baby. Afterwards it is cut and sewn into a long strip, approximately 9-10 feet in length . On this cloth is either painted or embroidered the name of the boy, his date of birth and the wish that he should grow to learn Torah, get married and do good deeds. Some wimpels are simple - with just the words - and others are more elaborate with various decorations and pictures included, which illustrate the text or are appropriate to that particular family or time of year when the child was born. Often the father or mother, if they are able to, will make the wimpel. Over the years KAJ has had a number of talented people who have produced some beautiful works of art. Two of them were Rev. Ruben Eschwege and Mr. Ernst Moller. Today many of the wimpels, as was my grandson’s, are made by Mrs. Annette Kirschner.

The wimpel is then brought by the child as a gift to the shul on his first visit and wrapped around the sefer torah for geliloh. The age at which the child brings the wimpel varies by individual custom. In the early years at KAJ almost all the boys brought their wimpels at around the age of one year old. It was arranged for a non-Jew to bring the boy to shul on Shabbos, as he usually was not able to walk yet. This seems to have been an old custom as the famous painting by Moritz Oppenheim of a child bringing a wimpel to shul depicts the father carrying a young child, hence the German expression for bringing the wimpel “Das Schultragen” (carrying to shul). Others have the custom of bringing the wimpel at age three when the boy can walk on his own. Beginning approximately thirty years ago, it was no longer permitted to have a non-Jew bring the child to shul on Shabbos so those who still want to keep the minhag of bringing the child at one year do so either on Yom Tov or on a weekday when there is kerias hatorah.

It is traditional that if the child has the privilege to have a grandfather or even great-grandfather present, they are given the kibbud of hagboh and geliloh and the young boy hands over the wimpel to be used. Afterwards the father takes the child over to the rav who benches him. On a personal note, I vividly recall that when the fathers would carry their sons over to my late grandfather, Rav Breuer zt”l , who was already over ninety years old at the time, he would never let them lower the child to him, but he would always stand up to bentch the child and wish the father mazel tov. A true example of kovod habrios.

Over the years KAJ has amassed a rather large collection of wimpels. Contrary to a popular misconception, the wimpels are rotated every Shabbos. Although it may take some time, each one is being used. Often, if possible, the wimpel of a bar mitzvah boy or chosson will be used on the Shabbos of the bar-mitvah or aufruf. From time to time we have had requests from people to have their wimpels returned. In most cases the requests are denied as these wimpels were given as gifts to the shul and no longer belong to the donors. Unless a specific stipulation is made at the time when the wimpel is donated, once a wimpel is brought to the shul it has the kedushah of any other of the klei kodesh and cannot be taken home to be put in a drawer or even hung up. Recently I have had a number of experiences where a child brings the wimpel to shul on Shabbos morning with great fanfare followed by an elaborate Kiddush. But what most people don’t know is that the wimpel was brought only on the condition that after Shabbos the wimpel is taken back to be kept at home for “safekeeping”. To me this just doesn’t make any sense.

I am proud that my grandson’s wimpel will join the collection, which already includes his father’s and grandfather’s wimpel. As the sixth generation of our family to be a part of our illustrious kehilla it is my fervent wish and prayer that this will be just the beginning of his participation in the many traditions both as an individual and a member of the tzibbur of which we are so proud.

(Eliezer's father's Wimpel)

(Eliezer's Grandfather's Wimpel {Avram's})
I am told that the light green was once copper ink - now verdigris

P.S. from G6 - Stay tuned for Food Photo Friday to see my Wimpel Cake Creation! Mmmmm, Mmmmm Chocolately Goodness.

There has been so much interest in this post, and the minhag that inspired it, that I have added another post about wimpels above.


ProfK said...

How wonderful to see community and family minhagim being practiced by the children of the children of the children of those ancestors who came before. They may be gone, but they are not forgotten as long as the following generations adhere to such a family "mesorah." May you be zocheh to see him go m'chayil al chayil and may he be a continuing source of nachas to you and to Klal.

Mrs. S. said...

Thank you for this fascinating post!

Mazal tov, and may you continue to have tremendous nachat from your entire family!

BLD said...

Beautiful. Please add the point about not making a knot on shabbos so the vimple is used.

The story about Rav Breuer ztzl is magnificent.

Y W said...

Mazel Tov may we all share in simchos. Cant wait when I have a boy.....

Ashkenaz Baltimore said...

Here is a story about a wimpel recently brought in Baltimore by the Cohn family which has been Shomer Torah u'Mitzvos in Baltimore since 1856 Baltimore Jewish Life | Uri Cohn to Bring Wimpel to Ohel Moshe

Isreview said...

What a beautiful tradition I had never heard of it thank you for introducing me to it.


G6 said...

Ashkenaz Baltimore -
Thanks for the link.
A very informative story and well known family.
Do you see the similarities in the two wimpels? They were, in fact, done by the same artist.

Yekkishe Bekishe said...

There actually is a prior use for the wimpel. The cloth is used to tie a babyu boys feet down before his Bris. This is already described in the Maharil, who was niftor in 5187 - (that's almost 600 years ago).

I actually have the pieces of material from my sons Brissen, but we never made them into Wimpels - the OstJuden in Brooklyn can't handle that!

Gavi said...

Mazal tov... I'm anxiously awaiting bringing my first-son's wimpel to shul, so I can only imagine the nachas associated with a grandson's wimpel donation.

It is a sign that the family has always been tied to Torah that you know have at least three generations' worth of wimpelach.. vehachut hameshulash loh bimheirah yinateik.

Gavi said...

*now (typo)

Doobie said...

2 of our 3 sons brought their vimpels to our Shul much to the delight of the tzibur some of which had never heard of (or seen) this Minhag before. After many good wishes and a lovely kiddush at Mincha that afternoon they returned the vimpels to us :) I am not sure if that is because they didn't want to continue using them or because they weren't sure what to do with them in the first place. We did use one of them again when my older son had his bar mitzvah.
But the upside is that our boys are extremely proud of their vimpels and the minhag behind them and love to tell others about it and show them.
Did you know originally the minhag was also to use them as a banner on the Chuppah as well?

Avram said...

Doobie –
I have heard about some people using the wimpel on the chuppah, but someone recently told me that there is no basis for this and there really is no such minhag. Do you know of any source which actually mentions this custom?

Doobie said...

We did do some research on this so we could explain it will to the members of our shul. (When our oldest brough his 10 years ago)So I would have to go back and check some of the sources but I will get back to you.

itsagift said...

That is SUCH a beautiful minhag! I've never heard of it so thank you for explaining it so clearly!

I think it's so special to see the link in the chain continuing from generation to generation.

cuzzin buzzin said...

my husband has also heard of using the vimpel at the chupa and has plans to do so for our son when the time comes. I just have to remember to white out the blue paint stain that dripped when I painted the letters...

Avram said...

Cuzzin Buzzin-
The idea of using the wimpel on the chupah is very nice. My question is that without a credible source or at least a tradition handed down from previous generations, what gives one the right to use something that is literally "klei kodesh" for a seemingly lesser use? In most cases the wimpel belongs to a shul or at least has been used on a sefer torah. It would be like taking a poroches and using it as a chupah. I'm not saying that this is not permitted, but without a credible source I would certainly ask a shaaloh before using the wimple for something other than its
originally designated purpose.

Doobie said...

I do not have and actual written source for the minhag of using the wimpel on the chuppa. I think Mishpacha Magazine mentioned it in their article on wimpels.

rabbim said...

please ignore previous comment from Doobie. It should have come from her husband, Rabbim, and was only partly composed when posted.

The source for wimpel generally is hard to find in writing. As I recall, the multi-volume Minhag Ashkenaz had very little on the sources.

So it doesn't surprise me that you cannot find a written source for using it on the Chuppah.

If people intend to use their wimpel on their chuppa, then it is dedicated on that condition and may be used.

Y W said...

I asked Rav Posen last night if he knows of a source for using the Wimpel for a Chuppah and he said that he doesn't know of any source and it is a problem of using a shimush kedusho for something chol

YDL said...

R' Hamburger says it's a mistake. Check SMA, volume 2, pg. 528, to see what he says about it.

Avram said...

Thank you. I somehow missed this. I did see that Rav Hamburger brings the minhag that some had to use the poroches for a chupah for a Hachnosas Sefer Torah, but not for a wedding chupah as a poroches has the kedusha of being used for a sefer torah and a wedding chupah would be a lower level. I would think that this would apply to a wimpel as well. He does mention that some did allow it as it was still being used for a mitzvah, but this practice doesn't seem to have been generally accepted.

M & S said...

My wife is making a wimpel for my nephew and I was doing a little browsing around for ideas to see more about the decorating of wimpels, and I chanced on this page. I grew up in the Adass Jeshurun of Johannesburg South Africa, where we used wimpels too. In fact it was a kovod given to the under bar-mitzvah aged boys to roll it in preparation for gellilo. When the original kehillo ceased to function (a non-yekkish version of the kehilla still exists in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg) in 1999 my father retrieved his wimpel which my grandfather made for him. My father was born in Germany but was 9 months old when his parents left. My grandfather made a wimpel for my oldest cousin but I was not zoche to one. I'm glad my brother is continuing the 'mesores avos' in his kehilla in Kiryat Sefer. The last time I saw a 'shultragen' was about 30 years ago.