The Wimpel, A Personalized Torah Binder and Tool for Jewish Identity Survival

At Mount Sinai, when the Jewish people accepted the teachings of the Torah, they too accepted defined responsibilities. This became their covenant. Over five thousand years later, the effort continues in the attempt to meet those responsibilities. Survival as a people and strength to meet the task remains a constant focus.

The test for survival remains a challenge. The horrors of the Holocaust set into motion circumstances that have demanded attention on every level of existence. Prevention of the reoccurrence of such atrocity is a fundamental driving force within the community. Sixty-five years later, Jewish identity continues to persevere. The Nazi regime provided experiences that passed on resultant trauma, with attempt to destroy the Jewish psyche. Emigration to new lands and reconstruction of identities, brought trials of their own. Each trial, while threatening extinction, carried with it inherent tools for continued existence. American culture is no less pervasive and seductive. The Jewish people continue to remain true to who they are, despite callings from the surrounding cultures and world. The contract made at Mount Sinai is reinforced during life cycle events and celebration. Many ritual traditions, enhanced by use of relevant objects that facilitate their meaning, continue to be maintained. The Torah, and its inherent principles, remains the central focus for Jewish life, the blueprint within which is found meaning by which to live.

Many significant accouterments decorate and enhance the celebration of life. The wimpel, a personalized Torah Binder, dates back to the 1600s and found inception in pre-Holocaust Germany. It was used, as such, throughout the country and, in some cases, over the borders flanking the easternmost provinces of Alsace, France and northernmost Italy. Samples preserved at the Judah Magnes Museum* in Berkeley, California, show the simple beauty of the tradition. The names of sons, along with their family names, are included in the blessing that they reach the age to ‘the study of Torah, marriage under the Chuppah and Maasim Tovim’ (the doing of good deeds). These wimpelin were made from the cotton or linen swaddling cloth properly prepared after the Brit Milah. Wimpelin showing in this local collection range in age, many noted back to the mid 16th century. It is a worthy collection to see.


* Eis, Ruth Torah Binders of the Judah L. Magnes Museum. Berkeley,CA,1979.