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Rabbi’s turban
Baghdad, Iraq
Fez: felted wool, silk tassel
Turban: cotton, woolen cashmere weave shawl, embroidered
H: 12; Diam: 30 cm
Gift of Rabbi Kadoorie’s children: Shaoul Sassoon, London, Victoria Nissim and Marcelle Semah, Givatayim, Dr. Meir Sassoon, Tel-Aviv, Salman Sassoon, California
Accession number: B82.0342

Along with several cloaks, a sash, and some family documents, this turban was donated to the Israel Museum from the personal clothing of Rabbi Sassoon Kedoory (1885–1971), the last Chief Rabbi of the Jewish community of Baghdad.

The impressive headdress seems to be a personal version of the typical headgear of Baghdadi rabbis. It consists of a soft red woolen fez with a blue silk tassel, surrounded by a tight folded beige cotton ring. A woven and embroidered cashmere shawl is wrapped around the fez to create a diagonal pattern.

Rabbis of Baghdad would wear elaborate turbans constructed of patterned fabrics, such as chabani embroidery or cashmere shawls, which were folded tightly over the fez. A very interesting and lively description of these distinctive turbans, their use, and the way they were folded can be found in one of the books by R. Yosef Hayyim, the influential Baghdadi rabbi and kabbalist (1835–1908), whose portrait in an imposing turban is ubiquitous and popular in Israel today. He describes the turban in detail when discussing the permissibility of folding it on the Sabbath, concluding that constructing it is considered labor and thus forbidden on the Sabbath. According to his description, one first covers the head with a tight-fitting thick quilted cotton skullcap (khima). On top of it, one places the fez, holding both in place with a white cloth. One then wraps the shawl around the fez in a tight and artistic manner in several layers, fixing the pleats with sewing pins to preserve its folds for a month or two.

The wearing of voluminous turbans and robes distinguished the rabbis of Baghdad from other members of the community as modernization advanced. R. Yosef Hayyim relates that at the time of his writing, in the early twentieth century, he still wore his turban despite its having fallen out of fashion twenty years before, identifying himself as a conservative dresser. That R. Sassoon Kedoori wore this turban with long robes many years later attests to the persistence of Baghdadi rabbis in preserving this immense turban as their hallmark.

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

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