A wimpel (Yiddish: ווימפל, from German, "cloth," derived from Old German, "bewimfen," meaning "to cover up" or "conceal" [Kaniel, Dr. Michael. "The Wimpel: Binding the Family to the Torah". "Jewish Action", Summer 1993, Vol. 53, No. 3, pp. 41-44.] ) is a long, linen sash used as a binding for the Sefer Torah by Jews of Germanic (Yekke) origin. It is made from the cloth used to swaddle a baby boy at his brit milah, uniting the communal world of the synagogue with the individual's own life cycle [cite web|url=http://www.skirball.org/press/archives/wedding.html |title=Romance & Ritual: Celebrating the Jewish Wedding |accessdate= 2007-07-06] .

The wimpel is an offshoot of a common Jewish practice. In the times of the Tanaim, all Torah scrolls were wrapped only with a cloth, known in Hebrew as a “mappah,” or in German, a “wimpel.” As with other holy Judaic objects, donating a mappah was considered to be a great mitzvah and honor, and very often a groom would donate one on the eve of his wedding. Most of these were made from old clothing. While some Rabbis approved of this practice, others did not because they felt that it was not proper respect for the Torah. Unlike these controversial “second-hand” mappot, the cloth used at a baby’s circumcision was undoubtedly holy, and it gradually became the custom to donate these as mappot. There are many variations as to what takes place at the actual wimpel ceremony. One common approach is to bring it to shul when the boy turns three and is toilet-trained. He and his father get the aliyah of gelilah, and together they wrap the wimpel around the Torah. (Variations include the child's age, the type of aliyah, and the extent of the child's participation in the actual ceremony.) Afterwards, the family invites the Kehilla to join them for a kiddush, a small celebratory party.

This custom is still observed today by most members of the German community. It is an extremely joyous occasion, and its main purpose is to instill a love and enthusiasm for shul and Judaism within the child.


This custom was initiated at a circumcision where the Maharil was the sandek. It is customary to wrap a baby’s legs after the circumcision to prevent him from moving around and knocking the bandages out of place. On this particular occasion, the circumciser, known as the “mohel,” suddenly realized that he had forgotten to bring along the cloth for the baby's legs. The Maharil felt that this was a life-threatening situation, and he instructed the mohel to use a spare mappah from the one of the synagogue’s Torahs as the cloth. The Maharil also told the child’s parents to wash it once they were done with it and return it to the synagogue with a minor contribution.

This incident highlighted the connection between the Torah and circumcision, as both relate to covenants that the Jewish people have with God (the covenants of Torah and circumcision). The custom gradually developed into the one that is practiced today by German Jews: At a baby's circumcision, the mohel places a long swatch of white cloth - the wimpel – under the pillow. Afterwards, the wimpel is beautifully decorated – it can be either painted or embroidered – with the child’s name, date of birth, and the Hebrew phrase which states “Just like he entered the [covenant of] circumcision, so too he should [the covenant of ] Torah, marriage, and good deeds.” Some mothers do the artwork themselves; others retain the services of “wimpel professionals,” e.g., men or women who do this as a side job or hobby.

Source: Shorshei Minhag Ashkenaz by Rabbi Binyamin Shlomo Hamburger

Creating the Wimpel

The wimpel is created shortly after the brit milah using the swaddling cloth that was used at that ceremony. The cloth is cleaned, cut into strips and sewn into a sash measuring six or seven inches wide and ten or twelve feet long. The child’s Hebrew name and date of birth are painted or embroidered onto the cloth, usually by the mother or grandmother [cite web|url=http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/haventohome/haven-century.html |title=A Century of Immigration, 1820-1924 |accessdate= 2007-07-06] , along with the traditional blessing:

* ה' יגדלהו לתורה ולחופה ולמעשים טובים אמן

*"...may God raise him up to [a life of] Torah, a successful marriage, and good deeds, Amen."

Colorful images such as animals, birds and astrological signs, and scenes pertaining to the blessing—such as a bride and groom under the chuppah and a Sefer Torah— have also adorned modern and old-world wimpels.

Bringing the wimpel

When the child comes of age to begin learning Torah (age 3), he and his family bring the wimpel to the synagogue for Shabbat morning services. After the Torah reading, the child performs the ritual of gelila, perhaps with the help of his father, by wrapping the wimpel many times around the Torah scroll and tucking the end of the cloth into the folds. In this way, the child’s individual responsibilities to God and His commandments are literally wrapped around his communal responsibilities, a figurative lesson for the child and his family.

Rabbi Shimon Schwab, Rav of Khal Adath Yeshurun synagogue in Washington Heights, New York, which revived the custom among the younger generation of Yekke congregants, suggested that perhaps the source of the wimpel custom was to avoid knotting and unknotting a tie around the Torah on Shabbat ("see" the 39 categories of activity prohibited on the Sabbath).

On that first Shabbat that the wimpel is presented and used, the child's family makes a kiddush in honor of their son's entering into a life of Torah.

Other uses

The synagogue typically receives many more wimpels than Torah scrolls. The wimpels are often stored in a drawer in the Ark. A boy's wimpel would then be placed on the Torah on other special occasions in his life, such as his Bar Mitzvah, Aufruf, and other important family events.

Some wimpels were even used as a decorative banner on the chuppah itself.

Notes and references

External links

* [http://www.s2k.org/Articles/Rosen1/Rosen1.html Article about revival of wimpel custom for b'nai mitzvah]
* [http://www.thejewishmuseum.org/site/pages/zCollection_details.php?num=243&type=zoom Das Schultragen] The Presentation at the Synagogue, 1869 By Moritz Daniel Oppenheim
* [http://www.beth-tzedec.org/PhotoGallery-section-4573-46/;jsessionid=07EE693BFB48A11DF57F7BD26C224B62?jt_style=section&jt_section=12&eid=46&skip=0&len=1000 Photo of wimpel made in Germany in 1694]
* [http://www.wimpel.org/ wimpel.org] Information and instructions for modern-day wimpel-making

Jewish life

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