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The Jewish hat also known as the Jewish cap, Judenhut (German) or Latin pilleus cornutus ("horned skullcap"), was a cone-shaped pointed hat, often white or yellow, worn by Jews in Medieval Europe and some of the Islamic world. Initially worn by choice, its wearing was enforced in some places in Europe after 1215 for adult male Jews to wear while outside a ghetto in order to distinguish Jews from others. Like the phrygian cap it often resembles, the hat may have originated in pre-Islamic Persia—a similar hat was worn by Babylonian Jews.
The shape of the hat is variable. Sometimes, especially in the 13th century, it is a soft Phrygian cap, but rather more common in the early period is a hat with a round circular brim—apparently stiff—curving round to a tapering top that ends in a point, called the "so-called oil-can type" by Sara Lipton. Smaller versions perching on top of the head are also seen. Sometimes a ring of some sort encircles the hat an inch or two over the top of the head. In the 14th century a ball or bobble appears at the top of the hat, and the tapering end becomes more of a stalk with a relatively constant width. The top of the hat becomes flatter, or rounded (as in the Codex Manesse picture). The materials used are unclear from art, and may have included metal and woven plant materials as well as stiffened textiles and leather.
By the end of the Middle Ages the hat is steadily replaced by a variety of headgear including exotic flared Eastern style hats, turbans and, from the 15th century, wide flat hats and large berets. In pictures of Biblical scenes these sometimes represent attempts to portray the contemporary dress of the (modern) time worn in the Holy Land, but all the same styles are to be seen in some images of contemporary European scenes. Where a distinctive pointed Jewish hat remains it has become much less defined in shape, and baggy. Loose turbans, wide flat hats, and berets, as well as new fur hat styles from the Pale of Settlement, remain associated with Jews up to the 18th century and beyond.
In Europe, the Jewish hat is seen in France from the 11th century, and Italy from the 12th, presumably arriving from the Islamic world. Under Jewish law, observant Jews should keep their heads covered almost all the time. Unlike the yellow badge, the Jewish hat is often seen in illustrated Hebrew manuscripts, and was later included by German Jews in their seals and coats of arms, suggesting that at least initially it was regarded by European Jews as "an element of traditional garb, rather than an imposed discrimination". The hat is also worn in Christian pictures by figures such as Saint Joseph and sometimes Jesus (see below). However, once "made obligatory, the hat, hitherto deliberately different from hats worn by Christians, was viewed by Jews in a negative light". A law in Breslau in 1267 said that since Jews had stopped wearing the pointed hats they used to wear, this would be made compulsory.
The Fourth Council of the Lateran of 1215 ruled that Jews and Muslims must be distinguishable by their dress (Latin "habitus"), the rationale given being: "In some provinces the dress of Jews and Saracens distinguishes them from Christians, but in others a degree of confusion has arisen, so that they cannot be recognised by any distinguishing marks. As a result, in error Christians have sexual intercourse with Jewish or Saracen women, and Jews and Saracens have intercourse with Christian women. In order that the crime of such an accursed mingling shall not in future have an excuse and an evasion under the pretext of error, we resolve that (Jews and Saracens) of both sexes in all Christian lands shall distinguish themselves publicly from other people by their dress. According to the testimony of scripture, such a precept was already made by Moses."
However not all European medieval monarchs followed these pontifical resolutions. King Andrew II of Hungary (1177 – 1235), ignored on several occasions demands from the Pope, which gained him excommunication twice. At that time many Jews were in royal service. The excommunications even forbade Andrew II from being present at his daughter Elisabeth of Hungary's canonization in Germany. The hat was mostly found north of the Alps, despite some of the earliest examples being seen in Italy, and was not found in Spain.
More detailed rules were enacted locally by rulers, at very varied dates and in a variable way. The council decision was confirmed by the Council of Vienne of 1311–12. In 1267 the hat was made compulsory in Vienna. A doctor was given a temporary dispensation from wearing it in Venice in 1528, at the request of various distinguished patients (but it must be noted that at the time in Venice each profession had special clothing rules). Pope Paul IV ordered in 1555 that in the Papal States it must be a yellow, peaked hat, and from 1567 for twenty years it was compulsory in Lithuania, but by this period it is rarely seen in most of Europe. As an outcome of the Jewish Emancipation its use was formally discontinued, although it had been declining long before that, and is not often seen after 1500; the various forms of the yellow badge were far more long-lasting. This was an alternative form of distinguishing mark, not found in Europe before 1215, and later reintroduced by the Nazis. It was probably more widely required by local laws, for example English legislation concentrated on the badge, which took the form of the two Tablets of the Law. In some pictures from all parts of the Middle Ages, rabbis or other Jewish leaders wear the Jewish hat when other Jews do not, which may reflect reality.
The Jewish hat is frequently used in medieval art to denote Jews of the Biblical period. Often the Jews so shown are those shown in an unfavourable light by the story being depicted, such as the money-changers expelled by Jesus from the Temple (Matthew.21.12-17), but this is by no means always the case. The husband of Mary, Saint Joseph, is often shown wearing a Jewish hat, and Jesus himself may be shown wearing one, especially in depictions of the Meeting at Emmaus, where his disciples do not recognise him at first (Luke.24.13-32). Sometimes it is used to distinguish Jews from other peoples such as Egyptians or Philistines. It is often depicted in art from times and places where the hat does not seem to have actually been commonly worn by Jews, "as an external and largely arbitrary sign devised by Christian iconographers", one of a number of useful visual ways of identifying types of persons in medieval art.
In notable contrast to forms of Jewish badge, the Jewish hat is often seen in Hebrew manuscript illuminations such as Haggadot made in medieval Europe (picture above). In the Bird's Head Haggadah (Germany, c. 1300, now Jerusalem), the figures wear the hat when sitting to eat the Passover Seder.
However in Christian art the wearing of the hat can be sometimes be seen to express an attitude to those wearing it. In one extreme example in a manuscript of the Bible moralisée, an illustration shows the rod of Aaron, which has turned into a serpent, turning on the Pharaoh's magicians (Exodus, 7:10-12); Moses and Aaron do not wear the hat but the Egyptian magicians do, signifying not that they are Jews, but that they are like Jews, i.e. on the wrong side of the dispute. The paired roundel below shows two tonsured clerics confronting a group of hat-wearing Jews, and has a Latin caption explaining "Moses and Aaron signify good prelates who, in explaining the words of the Gospel, devour the false words of the Jews". In another scene showing the conversion of Jews and other non-Christians at the end of the world, a series of figures show different stages of removing their hats to signify the stages they have reached in their conversion, so that "the hat does not just identify Jews; it functions independently of its placement to signify infidelity and recalcitrant Jewishness".
William III the Brave (1425-1482) of Meissen, minted a silver groschen known as the Judenkopf Groschen. Its obverse portrait shows a man with a pointed beard wearing a Judenhut, which the populace took as depicting a typical Jew.
For dhimmis (non-Muslims) to be clearly distinguishable from Muslims in public, Muslim rulers often prohibited dhimmis from wearing certain types of clothing, while forcing them to put on highly distinctive garments, usually of a bright colour. These included headgear, though this was not usually the primary element. At some times the regulated dress of Christians and Jews differed, at others it did not. As in Europe, the degree to which the recorded regulations were enforced is hard to assess, and probably varied greatly.
Islamic scholars cited the Pact of Umar in which Christians supposedly took an obligation to "always dress in the same way wherever we may be, and… bind the zunar [wide belt] round our waists". Al-Nawawi required dhimmis to wear a piece of yellow cloth and a belt, as well as a metallic ring, inside public baths.
Regulations on dhimmi clothing varied frequently to please the whims of the ruler. Although the initiation of such regulations is usually attributed to Umar I, historical evidence suggests that it was the Abbasid caliphs who pioneered this practice. In 850 the caliph al‑Mutawakkil ordered Christians and Jews to wear both a sash called a zunnah and a distinctive kind of shawl or headscarf called a taylasin (the Christians had already been required to wear the sash). He also required them to wear small bells in public baths. In the 11th century, the Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim, whose various extreme decrees and actions are usually attributed to mental illness, ordered Christians to put on half-meter wooden crosses and Jews to wear wooden calves around their necks. In the late 12th century, Almohad ruler Abu Yusuf ordered the Jews of the Maghreb to wear dark blue garments with long sleeves and saddle-like caps. His grandson Abdallah al-Adil made a concession after appeals from the Jews, relaxing the required clothing to yellow garments and turbans. In the 16th century, Jews of the Maghreb could only wear sandals made of rushes and black turbans or caps with an extra red piece of cloth.
Ottoman sultans continued to regulate the clothing of their non-Muslim subjects. In 1577, Murad III issued a firman forbidding Jews and Christians from wearing dresses, turbans, and sandals. In 1580, he changed his mind, restricting the previous prohibition to turbans and requiring dhimmis to wear black shoes; Jews and Christians also had to wear red and black hats, respectively. Observing in 1730 that some Muslims took to the habit of wearing caps similar to those of the Jews, Mahmud I ordered the hanging of the perpetrators. Mustafa III personally helped to enforce his decrees regarding clothes. In 1758, he was walking incognito in Istanbul and ordered the beheading of a Jew and an Armenian seen dressed in forbidden attire. The last Ottoman decree affirming the distinctive clothing for dhimmis was issued in 1837 by Mahmud II. Discriminatory clothing was not enforced in those Ottoman provinces where Christians were the majority, such as Greece and the Balkans.
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