Date of this Version
From Creating Textiles: Makers, Methods, Markets. Proceedings of the Sixth Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, Inc. New York, NY, September 23–26, 1998 (Earleville, MD: Textile Society of America, Inc., 1999).
The Yeshiva University Museum (YUM) collection includes 56 examples of the type of Torah binder known as a wimpel. A Torah binder is a strip of fabric which is used to bind together the two staves and parchment of a Torah scroll. The Torah scroll, which contains the text of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible), is read in a cycle through the Jewish liturgical calendar. The proportions of the scroll thus change through the year, with one stave bearing the portion of the scroll which has been read, and the other stave bearing the sections to be read in the future. A Torah binder must be able to accommodate these changing proportions. The binder holds together the scroll, allowing the Torah to be covered with a textile Torah mantle and to be sufficiently rigid so as to stand upright in the Torah ark.
A wimpel is a specific type of Torah binder used by Germanic Jews. Wimpels3 are Torah binders created from textiles initially used to wrap an infant at his circumcision. After the circumcision, a wimpel is inscribed with a formulaic dedicatory inscription. The Hebrew inscription lists the infant's name and his birth date and concludes with the wish, echoing the circumcision liturgy, "may God enable him to grow to Torah, to Huppah (the marriage canopy) and to good deeds." Wimpels were presented to the synagogue in a special ceremony known as Schuletragen (lit. bringing to the synagogue). This marked the child's first visit to the synagogue.
In many communities the child was not brought to the synagogue until after he was toilet trained. In the Schuletragen ceremony, the wimpel was presented to the synagogue and was used for the first time to wrap the Torah. The child was encouraged to hold onto the staves of the Torah scroll (known in Hebrew as Atzei Hayyim, lit. Trees of Life) as the Torah is likened to "a Tree of Life to those who grasp her" (proverbs 3:18). After the formal presentation, the wimpel was then used to bind the Torah scroll on specific occasions in the life of the child for whom it was dedicated. It was used at his barmitzvah at age thirteen, and on the Sabbath preceding his wedding. Wimpels were used in communities throughout Germany, in Bohemia, Alsace, Denmark, Switzerland, England and America. There are many slight regional variants in wimpel customs and in the exact wording of the dedicatory inscriptions.