The Shmooze
Lobbyist’s Black Hat Is a Borsalino From Brooklyn

After pleading guilty to three felony counts of mail fraud, tax evasion, and conspiracy, lobbyist Jack Abramoff walked out of federal court in Washington, D.C., in a black fedora purchased from Bencraft Hatters, a Brooklyn-based haberdasher that caters largely to Orthodox Jews.
Two conservative commentators suggested that Abramoff's hat was intended to make a religious statement. In a posting on the National Review Online, John Podhoretz wrote that Abramoff was wearing "the black hat of a very Orthodox Jew" while New York Times columnist David Brooks described the hat as "a pseudo-Hasidic homburg [sic]."

Implicit in the speculation is that Abramoff, an observant Orthodox Jew, was trying to use his Judaism to counter his negative public image. That impression was bolstered by his statement during his plea bargain in the Washington court, which struck a religious tone. "I only hope that I can merit forgiveness from the Almighty and from those I have wronged or caused to suffer," Abramoff told the court. "I will work hard to earn that redemption."

The hat in question, a Como II fedora made by Borsalino, retails on the Bencraft Web site for $200. Salesman Asher, who declined to give his last name, told the Forward that Bencraft sells the majority of its hats to religious Jews, but that Abramoff's model “is not a particularly religious hat.” He said the hats Bencraft sells to religious Jews typically have “a bit higher crown and a bigger brim.”

A sociologist of American Jewry at Queens College, Samuel Heilman, said that the hat Abramoff wore would be more typical for so-called yeshivish Jews. "It would be the kind of hat you might see in Lakewood, [N.J.]," the site of a large, Orthodox rabbinical college, Heilman said. He speculated that Abramoff might have bought the hat to wear for religious occasions, but saw no reason to think that Abramoff wore it to court for religious reasons. "He probably didn't own another hat with a brim."

Observers in Washington said Abramoff usually does not wear a black hat, instead preferring a black yarmulke or no head-covering at all. Adam Segal, like Abramoff a resident of Silver Spring, Md., did note that Abramoff once belonged to the Southeast Hebrew Congregation, "a black-hat shul."

On the day following his appearance in Washington, Abramoff appeared at a federal court in Miami wearing a suit and a tan baseball cap. Chaim Waxman, a sociologist at Rutgers University, told the Forward he saw the baseball cap on television and said to himself, "This guy's obviously an Orthodox Jew," explaining, "Who else would wear a cap like that with a suit?"

Even with the fedora, Art Fawcett, proprietor of Vintage Silhouettes Custom Crafted Hats in Oregon, was not convinced that Abramoff had made the right choice. "I think it's not the right hat for him," Fawcett said. "He needs a wider brim and a shorter crown." He also suggested that, given the occasion, the color might not be right: "Bad guys always wear black hats."

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