Here’s a Haredi artisan peeking through the hole in a shtreimel he is cobbling in the small Grenzberg Shtreimel factory in the Mea Shearim neighborhood, March13, 2013.
A shtreimel (pl. = shtreimelach) is a fur hat worn by many married Hasidic men on Shabbat, Jewish holidays and other festive occasions.
In Jerusalem, the shtreimel is also worn by ‘Yerushalmi’ Jews (non-Hasidim who belong to the original Ashkenazi community of Jerusalem, also known as Perushim. There you get a shtreimel for your Bar Mitzvah).
A traditional story we found on Wikipedia, says it all began with an anti-Semitic decree that male Jews must be identified on Shabbat by “wearing a tail” on their heads. The Hasidic rabbis considered the matter seriously, and arrived at a plan that complied with the decree by arranging to make hats such as were worn by royalty, encircled by a ring of tails, thereby transforming an object of ridicule into a crown. They instituted that the number of tails follow Jewish numerology, symbolizing the wearer’s sacred intentions.
Then there’s the Encyclopædia Britannica, which says the shreimel is of Tatar origin. Take your pick.