The Lonely Streimels
Green Prophet has a post describing a bill which is currently being discussed in the Knesset that would would “that would ban the sale and import of most fur and fur items.” The one major exception would be the streimel. See also this report at Vos iz Neias and this one at Failed Messiah. This article on Ynet brings the claim that animals are not killed in order to make shtreimels,
[Contrary] to popular belief, the hats are made from tails of animals that have already been killed for the fashion industry. So they should first stop making fur coats for all the millionaires.
A number of rabbis have ruled in the past that wearing a fur coat is forbidden because of the cruelty which animals endure in order to make such coats, but I haven’t heard many of them address the present Knesset bill. One of the rabbis who forbid fur coats was Rabbi Hayyim David Halevy. See his book, Mayim Hayyim, vol. 2, no. 50. Rabbi Halevy says that most rabbinic authorities are of the opinion that the prevention of cruelty to animals, צער בעלי חיים, is a biblical prohibition. Rabbi Halevy adds that the prohibition of cruelty to animals is not absolute and that it depends if it is done for the benefit of human beings and how great is the cruelty, something which some animal rights advocates would reject.
One thing about his responsum which I always liked is that he has a brief discussion comparing Jewish tradition’s view towards the animal kingdom with that of some secular philosophers. According to R. Halevy, we learn from the Torah that God also created the animal world and implanted within them life, requiring us to relate to them as divinely-made creatures. He contrasts this to René Descartes, who claimed that animals “are mere machines with no consciousness.” As far as I know, this is the only time that Descartes has made it into a rabbinic responsum.
While some people may react to this bill and ask cynically, “What is the difference between fur and leather?”, which is a valid question, the attempt to formulate an approach to the prohibition of צער בעלי חיים should be encouraged.
For me, not wearing a fur coat or a shtreimel isn’t a problem, but I love fishing, and for some time I even gave up fishing, feeling that it was a transgression of the prohibition of causing unnecessary cruelty to animals. See here for some discussion of whether fish feel pain. When I cast out my line I often think about whether I should be doing this, and my compromise is to try and eat as much of the fish that I catch as possible, something which for conservation (or culinary) purposes isn’t always possible, and to try and use certain tackle which has been found induce much less pain and stress in a fish.