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(photo credit: )
Although fur hats might seem like a distant concern for most Israelis as they settle in to a steamy summer, it was exactly such headgear that threatened to stand in the way of an otherwise popular bill that passed its first reading on the Knesset floor Wednesday.
MK Ronit Tirosh's bill to ban imports of fur products from east Asia earned the rare support of the coalition but irked haredi MKs who worried that nothing less than a centuries-old tradition could be at stake.
Tirosh proposed the private member's bill after watching an investigative report on Channel 10 news in which they revealed that products manufactured in China and labeled as containing synthetic fur were actually made using the pelts of dogs, cats and rabbits.
Tirosh jumped to the aid of the four-footed friends and drafted a private member's bill that would forbid importing furs or textiles containing dog, cat or rabbit fur from east Asia. Any offender could find themselves facing a year in prison. In her explanation of the bill, Tirosh explained that the animals that are raised for their pelts are kept in horrific conditions and that sometimes the pelts are ripped off the animals while they are still alive.
Tirosh's bill was met with enthusiastic support from all directions, and Agriculture Minister Shalom Simchon even suggested that it be expanded to include all fur from all animals and to bar imports from throughout the world, and not just the far east.
One house faction, however, was less than satisfied with the bill. UTJ Faction Chairman MK Menahem Eliezar Moses, who represents Agudath Israel, immediately jumped into action, fighting to preserve the round fur hats known as "shtreimels" worn by a number of hassidic groups as well as by members of certain other Jerusalem haredi communities.
Shtreimel prices are already high for many wearers, and some have already begun to turn to synthetic furs as an alternative to the multi-thousand dollar hats that are made from rabbit, sable, stone marten, baum marten and American gray fox.
Tirosh, in turn, presented rabbinic opinions arguing that the conditions in which the animals were raised and slaughtered violated Jewish principles of preventing cruelty to animals and offered to work together with a haredi representative to try and find a solution to the furry near-crisis.
The bill met with a second unexpected hurdle last week when it was pulled at the last minute from Wednesday's agenda as part of the opposition's struggle against the government - even though the ministerial committee for legislation had already agreed to support it.
But a week late, and with UTJ opposition quieted, Tirosh got a first taste of victory as the bill sailed through the house by a vote of 32-1 with one abstention.
Although no UTJ members were present during the voting, the bill did earn the support of a number of their haredi counterparts in Shas.