I’ve always had a fondness for turbans in general. It turns out that they had been worn by Jews for a very long time. Just from my years of Talmud study, I got the impression that ancient Babylonian Jews crowned their heads with this noble garment; it just seemed to me it would be a natural part of their culture. Or perhaps I had come across specific mentions of the practice. I can’t remember for sure. But somebody else has done the research for me:
Newcomers to Hebrew have to learn that the Hebrew word for “to wear” (labash) can be used for most garments, but a different verb must be used to indicate the wearing of a hat: habash. The verb actually means “to wrap” (and is the root of the word for “bandage” for example). Its origin dates back to a time when the only thing a well-dressed Jew would be likely to be wearing on his head was a turban, a long piece of cloth that would have to be wrapped around the head.
It appears that among the Jews of Babylonia the turban was felt to have special spiritual efficacy. It is told of one rabbi for whom the astrologers had foretold a life of crime, that as a counter-measure his mother insisted on his wearing a turban at all times. Once during his childhood, when it accidentally unravelled, he found himself unable to resist the temptation to take a bite at someone else’s dates.
In general it seems that the turban was viewed as the distinctive mark of Torah scholars, who saw their wearing such a head-covering as a sign of special piety.
I happen to have some old photos/sketches of Iraqi “hakhamim” (the Sephardic/Oriental equivalent of “rabbis”) and I’ve scanned them in. If anybody wants to see more, just let me know:
It seems that the tradition, amongst Babylonian Jews, of wearing turbans started in distant antiquity and continued uninterrupted until the early, or mid 20th century. The final death blow to this tradition was the relocation of almost all Iraqi Jews to Israel, where their ancient and priceless culture was mindlessly thrown into the blender. It is doubtful if there are any living Iraqi Jews today who remember the particulars of the preparation and wearing of turbans. It could be that the particulars were recorded in a book at some point but I’m not familiar with any such book. If not, turban historians will have little to go on. What a pity.