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The Jewish Hat

Lawrence Bush
May 11, 2017

The Synod of Vienna ordered all Jewish men to don the Pileum cornutum, a horned skullcap known as the "Jewish hat," usually white or yellow, as a distinguishing piece of clothing, on this date in 1267. Half a century earlier, the Fourth Lateran Council convened by Pope Innocent III had established the Jewish hat as mandatory so that "in error Christians [shall not] have sexual intercourse with Jewish or Saracen women, and Jews and Saracens [shall not] 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." The Jewish hat resembled a Phrygian cap, which was worn by emancipated slaves in ancient Rome and may have been common among Babylonian Jews. It is often seen in illustrated Hebrew manuscripts and in the seals and coats of arms of German Jewish families. Likely, then, it was simply a part of traditional Jewish male dress before it was enforced upon Jews as a discriminatory sign.

"As a mark of exceptional favor, some distinguished Jews were exempted from wearing the Jews' hat; the municipal board of Venice, for instance, allowed the famous physician and professor Jacob Mantino to wear during two months the regular black doctors' cap." --1906 Jewish Encyclopedia

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.