Breast kerchiefs (Brusttukh)

Poland
19th century

From left to right:

Purl and sequin relief embroidery, cotton over cardboard, cotton wool padding
L: 29; W 15 cm

Brocaded silk, shpanyer-work, cotton over cardboard
L: 29; W 10.8 cm

Velvet, shpanyer-work, appliqué gold sheets couched with purl and sequin embroidery, cotton over cardboard
L: 29; W 16 cm

Received through JRSO (Jewish Restitution Successor Organization)
Wiesbaden collecting point number: T56, T57, T58
Accession number: B50.02.1679, B50.02.1680, B50.02.1681;163/006, 163/012
The brusttukh (or sometimes brusttikhl) in Yiddish is a breast kerchief or tucker that was tucked inside the front opening of a women’s dress from the neck to the waist. Along with the shterntikhl and the apron, the brusttukh symbolized the required feminine modesty; together, all three items served as distinctive outward signs of the traditional Jewish woman in Poland.
The visible part of the brusttukh is a long, stiff, multi-layered rectangle displaying a decorated centerpiece. A hidden, plain length of cloth joined to the lower end was tucked into the skirt, with the top end held in place by ribbons tied around the neck. The top could be covered by a lacy, flounced kreyndl (collar). Some brusttukhs are very small; others were wider and longer, and women could put their hands underneath them, as can be seen in several depictions.

The centerpiece was lavishly decorated with dense gilt embroidery of metal thread sequins and tinsel on a rich colorful ground of patterned fabric. Some brusttukhs featured shpanyer-work, a technique used to decorate Jewish ritual items of dress, tallit neckbands, and men’s and women’s caps.

Frequently, the stylized vegetal motifs and scalloped edges were crafted to look like the opening of the dress. The brusttukh became outmoded in the late nineteenth century, as its primary function to cover the dress or blouse opening was replaced by buttons and other devices. Literary descriptions of the period noted that the brusttukh continued to be worn only by elderly women. While the hair covering and apron remained religiously requisite apparel for orthodox Jewish women, the brusttukh, not directly connected to halakhah or popular beliefs, was abandoned.

Brides received the brusttukh along with the hair covering and apron as wedding gifts associated with modesty, procreation, and piety. The often highly decorated brusttukh, rather like an expensive jewel, was considered a status symbol.

As with other items of dress designed to ensure modesty, the glittering, elaborate decoration of the brusttukh attracted the eye to the covered area, thus sending a somewhat mixed message.

From the Israel Museum publications:
Juhasz, Esther (ed.), The Jewish Wardrobe from the Collection of The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 5 Continents Editions, Milan and The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 2012

Exhibitions:

  • A World Apart Next Door - Glimpses into the Life of Hasidic Jews, Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 19/06/2012 - 01/12/2012
  • Dress Codes: Revealing the Jewish Wardrobe, Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 11/03/2014 - 07/03/2015

עברית

Photo © The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, by Mauro Magliani

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