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What does Litvish mean to you?

So I was having a Facebook discussion last night with the person who wrote that post the other day about not being able to find a community to live in. She is very picky, due to some bad experiences (isn’t that what makes people racist too?) and has a long list of people she doesn’t want in her community.

No BT’s, no YU types, etc…it actually breaks my heart to hear people seriously talk like that – because when all is said and done, putting my sarcasm and humor aside – every community and sect no matter how frum or not frum, has interesting and fun people. So when I mentioned that I knew cool people who live in Lakewood – she said it’s too Litvish and demanded the names and surnames of those people as proof. I hear the term Litvish used all the time to describe yeszhivish people, but I don’t think it means what it used to mean.

I can dig up the true differences between Litvish and Yeshivish, but it seems that the only sect of Jews in the black hat community that really set themselves apart are the Yekkis, and you woundl’t even be able to tell Yekkish people from Litvishe people unless you were close to them.

For the life of me I cannot see the differences between Litvish, Ungarish, Galitzianish and Yekkish people. Maybe someone camn enlighten me. I know the stereotypes about Ungarish people being fancy and having good food and chandaliers. My grandparents are Hungarian, but I have never noticed anything fancy in my life (might have to do with the fact I grew up poor) but my black hat Ungarish relatives didn’t do anything of the sort.

Do these labels apply today? Because to me it seems as if most people don’t really differentiate between the ancestory and just label Litvish to describe any black hat person – while there are plenty of modern orthodox and non-observant Litvaks.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • I think litvish means that they are descended from people from lithuania (or are part of a group of people that was established in lithuania), yekkish means german, ungarish sounds like it’s people from hungary, etc. I don’t know that is actually has anything to do with personality or anything, but there could be cultural differences between these groups that have been passed on from living with people from whatever country.

    I’m betting the major differences will be in the way they make their chullent.

  • raquelle

    Enough with the labels, let’s start with basic idea of being kind and accepting of all Jews. My parents are shoah survivors and no one asked any jew then what “brand” they were. We have a very short cultural memory if this is the best we can do. Do terrorist ask for a provenance before they blow up anybody. Please we need to frame a new dialogue internally then communicate external solidarity.
    Raquelle

    • You do understand that the labels were much worse prior to the Holocaust – for instance in the Shtetl the Jews were divided up in their trades and other affiliations. Tailors went to their own shul and married their own as did the butchers and the learned folks – nowadays its all external – but back in the day it was much worse.

      • the term shteitl means village ..which implies tiny little community!
        hence i find it hard to believe they had enough tailors to make a tailor minyan or a butcher minyan….
        i think what you mean about the labeling back then, is that ppl in hungary looked down at the ppl from poland
        and ppl in poland looked down at the ppl from galitza(poor part of poland),etc…

        • David Kirshenblat

          Yakov,

          Actually, a shtetl was a fair-sized town with at least several thousand people – certainly enough to support multiple minyanim. A village was referred to as a “derf”. If you lived in one of these, you went to the nearest shtetl for Jewish services, burial, kosher food etc.

  • actually

    Litvish, as I understand it, has come to mean misnagid…..

    • DrumIntellect

      Precisely. The Vilna Goan was born in Vilnius, Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, and was the rabbi there. His opposition to Chassidim transformed the term Litivish into anti-Chassidim.

      As for the commenter below about the Alter Rebbe, there’s a reason he was known as the Lubavitch Rebbe. (Namely, he became a rabbi in another city in Russia.) [Your argument is like Arabs who say they cannot be antisemitic because they are Semites.]

      • Phil

        Drum,

        I’m well aware of where the Alter Rebbe served as Rav and Rebbe, I was just pointing out that he was of Lithuantian origin.

        Anyway, if Lithuanians are considered litvish, should we consider Latvians latvish?

        • DrumIntellect

          Phil,

          I didn’t even realize you were the person posting below! I’ve been trying to “fight” with you. I don’t want you to think it’s personal!

          I agree with you from a “purist” point of view, no one born in America is a Litvak unless they emigrate to Lithuania. But the title on the post was what does it mean to you. As linguistically incorrect as it is, Litvak is synonymous with Misnagid.

  • to the best of my knowledge Ungarish people are “proper” people, who inherently try to dress nice, say the right things,eat chopped liver, etc…

    Yekkish are also “proper” people but less so externally than internally, and by that i mean minhaggim, and “the way its done ” kind of issues!

    Galitze yidden are just happy to be jewish and dont really care about common protocol and dont tend to be as materialistic, they also eat gala or petcha,etc….

    litvish arent chassidim i guess…

  • BTW my paternal grandparents were staunch galitzyana and my maternal grandparents are still unbelievably Ungarish!!
    so even tho there are labels, we still get along qoute fine! my parents are going 27yrs of marriage and have 7 grandchildren!
    so please dont tell me that labelling is wrong!
    labeling could be used in a wrong way but that is up to each and everybody to decide for themselves!!!

  • Yoelish

    Litvish and Yekish are synonymous with freezer…If u get the jist. They need a dose of breslov once in a while…

  • Between2worlds

    I told you our discussion would provide food for thought

  • Between2worlds

    Also I don’t mind people being in the community – I just want to find a balance

    • I know you do – I am just trying to convince you that it’s not what’s on the outside that makes the person. BT or Yeshivish has nothing to do with their interests – although yeshiivish folks with BT parents tend to be very interesting.

  • Mendy

    When some uses the term “litvish” they are describing a person or community as cold. Not nessecarily are all “litvish” people “misnagdim” they don’t all dislike Chassidim they are just cold when meeting new people or just in general. For example if you walk into BMG in Lakewood or most shuls there noone will go over to you to say Shalom Aleichem or even give you a smile. The singing in most of these places is just a very cold song. I don’t know any other way to describe it. Now there are MO “litvish” people. There are shuls in Teaneck where the samething is true. They are “litvish”!

    • So what you’re saying is that every person that lives within 100 miles of Brooklyn is Litvish

    • Between2worlds

      Thank you this was my point

  • Between2worlds

    I know it is not whats on the outside on the contrary I am looking at the inside – and I want people who are a little deeper than what their children will be wearing on shabbos or how the school is going

  • AbetheGunGuy

    Basically, Yeshivish seems to imply an acceptance of Chassidus (and the Rebbes) as on an equal footing. Litvish think of Chassidim on a lower level, somewhere between MO and Litvish.

    In other words, Litvaks agree that the Chofetz Chaim made a peace pact with Chassidim, but still treat them as more emotional and less serious with regard to learning, while Yeshivish treat the study of Chassidus as important, but not for themselves per se.

    Yekkish think that it is all nonsense, that both have been corrupted by fanciful theories and a lack of understanding of the way the world works.

    • G*3

      > Yekkish think that it is all nonsense, that both have been corrupted by fanciful theories and a lack of understanding of the way the world works.

      Once upon a time. These days there’s not much left of the Yekke kehilos, and many Yekkes have assimilated into the Eastern-European majority to the point where they’re indistinguishable aside from a couple of minhagim.

      • AbetheGunGuy

        You may be right that there are not many left, but there are a few of us still out there =)

        • lawschooldrunk

          All these yekkish guys assimilate into their yeshivos because they don’t have the balls of keeping their minhagim, I.E. making the bracha when called to the torah with a yekkish nigun; but no, they don’t want to separate from the tzibur. Yeshiva brainwashing- pronounce with an “oy” and not “oh,” tzitzis out and not in, etc.

          Today, people think being yekkish os keeping three hours. That’s enough to tear kriah.

          • ghottistyx

            That, and they wear the tallit from the time they are Bar Mitzvahed. Most other Ashkenazi kehilloth tell you to wait until you are married.

            There is also a subtle difference in the way they pronounce the nekudoth. Famously, they give the kamatz an “aw” sound (i.e. “Taw-rah”, “guh-maw-ruh”). Prof. Hayyim Tawil–a Temani who is very openly critical of typical Ashkenazi Hebrew, esp. the Galitzyaner–actually finds the yekkish mesorah interesting. Yes, if you ever wanted to get yelled at by him, you’d start reading “mee hee zai v’ay zay hee” (instead of “mee hoo zeh, v’ayze hu”), he’d tell you to speak Hebrew like a ‘normal’ person. In fact, one guy tried introducing himself as Doovid, and he just squinted: “Doovid? No, it’s pronounced ‘Dah-veed’!” (or to a real hardcore Yemeni, ‘Dah-weed’).

            • lawschooldrunk

              Actually, yekish boys start wearing the tallis when they are old enough to go to shul without disrupting, i.e. 4 years old.

          • spidey

            Not all. I haven’t been brainwashed, although my a couple of my brothers have. I don’t mind getting those funny looks anymore. Screw the status quo.

          • yitznewton

            Begging your pardon, R’ Schwab zt”l was very makpid not to divert from the tzibur, to the point of saying don’t wear a hat in shul if nobody else does! If you go to visit Breuers as a bachur, it’s considered an insult to refuse the gabbai’s (?) offer of a tallis. I’m a Yekke in spirit if not blood (grew up as an Episcopal chorister/organist), and I only use the Yekkish birkas ha-Torah in a place where they know me and/or everybody does their own random thing for BHT (which seems about everywhere).

  • G*3

    “Litvish” used to mean “Lithuanian,” but in common usage in the chareidi world it means, “a chareidi person who isn’t chassidish.” In the yeshivish world you’re either a Chassid or a Litvak, regardless of actual ancestry, and Litvak is almost a synonym for yeshvish. In the chassidish world, Litvak means misnagid/not heimish.

    As a Yekke I found it vaguely insulting to be lumped in with Litvaks. Not because there’s anything wrong with Litvaks, but because of the implication that communities from outside a small patch of Central and Eastern Europe don’t count enough to deserve their own identity.

  • havdla

    Litvish is used now to describe any non-chasidic ashkenazi chareidi, even though most of them have their origins in Poland, which had a lot more Jews than Lithuania.

  • Between2worlds

    I think I have had a revelation Heshy – I am looking for chasidim who are still religious but no longer black hats (with personality of course!). I am looking for warmth and spirit but not extremism, the lack of black hatness indicates an evolution of the person’s mind to think outside of how they have been raised. (no offense to those with black hats but if I were to befriend these types then I can’t share inappropriate sarcasm and humor). So do you get the jist Heshy?

    • Anonymous

      I think you are looking for a perfect world which does not exist.

    • Anonymous

      Hmmm…have you considered talking to people like Y-Love (he’s ex-chassidish…) and the frum punk-types and the Orthodox vegans and so on? Or the Carlebachians? Or the hippie-type Religious Zionist youth in Israel who are into Breslov and such (Bat Ayin, etc)? Or the communities west of New Jersey where people are considered more friendly and accepting of outsiders?

    • Frumsatire Fan

      To me it sounds like the more frummer bunch in a non-Orthodox shul, or one of those “non-affiliated” minyanim.

      Between2worlds, I’m surprised you find American Jews less inspiring than British (or European in general). Now I’m really curious, WHERE in England is your ideal community?

  • Anonymous

    I thought most Hungarians were actually Chassidish… Maybe someone can enlighten me.

    • Rav Shlomo Ganzfried author of the kitzur shulchan aruch is Hungarian – not Chassidish. Most of the Hungarian Chassidim were killed during the holocaust and apparently they were the more learned of the chassidim and hence they aren’t known for the lumdis anymore.

      • Anonymous

        Well, the Satmar, one of the biggest Chassidic groups in the U.S., are originally from Hungary — but apparently there are still some non-Chassidic Hungarians around too…

    • ghottistyx

      My Grandmother’s family was Hungarian, and they were NOT chassidish. They actually emigrated to Hungary from Poland, but still consider themselves Ungarish.

      She herself was from Budapest. From what my mother tells me, she was very openly critical of the Hungarian chassidic groups as they came from a lower-class part of Hungary. Usually, they had the very ostentatious chandeliers visible from their windows. I forget exactly which group in particular she used to disparage, but my mother pointed out that every time they’d pass by a window with a chandelier, she’d look in disgust, and make a point of just how low-class they were.

      Aside from Satmar, Hungary also is the location where Muncacz, Kalev, Kosov, Nadvorno, Nitra, Pupa, and Sighet originated. If I’m not mistaken, many of these groups actually were from the Rumanian border, plenty would be in Rumania at the moment.

  • raquelle

    hi just because my parents are survivors doesn’t mean they came from the shtetl, try paris and berlin, but the comment chain proves my point, can’t we get unstuck with the internal labels. i am american born/french/german, speak 4 languages, frum and daven in a yeminite minyan most shabbosim. so what does that make me other than JEWISH?

    • You just labeled your self – you call yourself Sefardic and Frum. So what kind of guy are you looking for – just another Jewish guy or does he have to be frum? If he’s frum, do you want that he go to shul every day and be koveah ittim or just on shabbos? What if he eats non-Kosher out – is that frum enough for you? Do you care if he wears a yarmulke all the time? You see what I’m getting at?

  • FrumGer

    Litvish means someone from lithuania, but more specifically a misnaged,-not a chassid.

    Between 2 worlds-, you need some legit carlebachian or hippy tzioni types. also and i think more importantly, go to a mid sized city with a smaller jewish community, perhaps in the south, the orthodox community are lax and easy going. BTW when it comes to nice– BT’s are the best and usually just glad to be there so, if you want nice open, warm people a good lubav BT is the best.

  • Phil

    To all f you that think Litvish implies Misnaggdim, the Baal Hatanya aka the Aleter Rebbe, first Rebbe of Lubavitch was from Lithuania. As I live in a Chabad community, I bring it up everytime someone mentions something along the lines of litvish = misnagdish.

    What I’m still trying to figure out is the definitions of yeshivish and chassidish. To be specific, can a working person be yeshivish, and can a clean shaven person be considered chassidish?

    • Anonymous

      I don’t know about clean-shaven, but one of the most important American Breslover (chassidic) rabbis in the last few decades was R’ Rosenfeld, who had a very short beard.

      http://www.breslov.com/Rosenfeld/

    • Mister

      There’s a difference between “Litvish” and “Litvak”. “Litvak” denotes Lithuanian (although the Alter Rebbe was from White Russia), and also the intellectual and skeptical character of the Jews from that region. I believe the Alter Rebbe’s Polish companions applied to him the expression “A Litvak gloibt nisht biz er tzeilt nisht iber” (a Litvak doesn’t believe without counting the change himself). “Litvish” is a modern term that does imply more Misnagdim, as it denotes specifically a non-chassidic class, that is usually condescending toward, if not antagonistic to, chassidim.

  • Angelica

    Will someone explain to me – I just don’t understand, what’s so wrong with BTs? What are the cons of living in a community where they live?

    • They will suck your blood and eat your entrails – all BT’s are vampires at night

      • Angelica

        Yikes!

        I’ll stay away then. Thanks!

      • Yochanan

        No wonder every family I go to always has so much garlic in their kitchen.

  • woundl’t, yeszhivish, Maybe someone camn enlighten me

    What happened to your editor, Hesh?

    When I first heard the term Litvish, I asked people what it meant and got the standard response- from Lithuania. What I’ve come to see is that people in Brooklyn and Lakewood use the term to mean Yeshivish. In Queens, they say Yeshivish or they refuse to give a label. Some say Litvak and mean Ashkenaz. I think Hesh knows full well that no one means the same thing by it nowadays and that was the point of the post.

    I would suggest Queens to this person but, it’s overflowing with BTs and gerim. Actually, the only place I can think of that low on BTs and low on “Litvish” is Boro Park. Face it, BTs are everywhere. Not to mention wtf is the problem with them, anyhow?

    • Between2worlds

      Just not into the over zealous BTs others are fine – however, Carelbach types are not what I am looking for – in response to anonymous

  • Litvaks are Jews who make their gefilte fish the right way (peppery, NOT nasty and sweet), who are hard workers, who speak real Yiddish (instead of all that ‘oy’ business).

    • anonymous

      Litvish say ‘oy’ much stronger than anyone. Torah is pronounced by them as ‘Teyreh’. Which is worse- Toirah or Teyreh?

      • Pesach

        I know my Litvish may be differnt to yours but out of interest I’d like to add that some old timers in South Africa say “Sowe-raw-sowe” and claim to be of Lithuanian ancestry or to have been born in Lithuania.

        • Pesach

          I have since learnt it may be due to german/english influence on pronunciation and originally it was Sey-raw-sey[litvish] which became Sowe-raw-sowe[german/english] which then became today the predominantly heard Torah-to [pseudo Israeli sefard] – though the polish oy and german/enlish -owe are still heard, the litvish -ey has gone

    • ghottistyx

      Funny, this Christmas, I just happened to be eating by my Lituanian (goyyish) friends! Guess what they had for dinner? GEFILTE FISH! I’ve actually discussed with the mother, she tells me that Kugel, Kishke, Gefilte Fish, they are all traditional Lithuanian dishes; when she came to America and ate by Jews, she found that they also have Gefilte Fish, Kishke, and Kugel!

      So yeah, I actually tried Lithuanian Gefilte Fish this Christmas. As you said, very peppery. I also had some tongue–with CHRAIN. Wow. Def. not my mama’s recipe at all.

  • FrumGer

    Phil- Yes you are right.. as well Karlin and other chasidic sects were there yes, but the main voice of opposition of chassidus came from vilna gaon which made up at that time a larger number than chossidic followers and thus became the common term for any non chossid. the fact remains though its not technically accurate. like calling the muslim mid east the “Arab nations” though not all nations speak arabic. or saying that america is an english speaking country when there are millions that do not speak english here..

    Yeshivish- technically is a the dialect of speech that yeshiva orthodox men have. Much like ebonics is to ghetto hiphop types…

    chassidishe- is simply relating to or applying to anything chassidic. being chassidic, fallowing a chasidic rebbe often can be chassidishe. kabalah can be , wearing a gartle while praying can be chassidshe, cholov yisrael milk, special fast days, tanya for chabadniks, all is in the colective ideology, idioms, and subcultural uniqueness of chassidishe (note. some of the things are quite unique to the chassidic culture, but not mutually exclusive.)

  • raquelle

    ok i give up not one response to my post on multi cultural judaism, thank you all for leaving me alone b’cause i don’t fit into your labels, from a frum jew with a wide perspective you left me feeling iconoclastic. i really wanted a dialogue, happy intra group judgement, enjoy.
    i love this site and wish you the best any time you want to try the yeminite minyan in nyc email me we are brown beige white blue brown green black eyed and blond black brown curly strait haired caring kehillah
    ps heshy less labels would help resolve the “shidduch crisis” g-d doesn’t speak jargon at least i hope not, raquelle

    • George

      You go girl!

    • I think that less labels would make the shidduch crisis huge – how is anyone supposed to find anyone when they have to describe them using labels.

      I want a girl/guy isn’t good enough – isn’t religion a big aspect of religious people wanting to get married – hence you need labels.

    • isabel

      True. Other jews put labels on me all the time. Sure it boils my blood sometimes, but I got used to it.

  • clarification

    Really the best places not to find litvishe and or BTs is in williamsburg. guarantee you will not see 1 clean shaven frum guy there, or more than 5 BTs in the whole kehilla

    • Yochanan

      Except for people who go to the Chabad there.

  • marty

    as closed minded as chasidim,but without the fun lol…

  • ghottistyx

    About Litvaks and black hats…there used to be a real old school Rabbi (Polish immigrant) in my shul, who was quite fond of pointing out to these pezzonovante yeshivish types that REAL Litvaks wore grey hats! Indeed, if you look at pictures from the old European Yeshivot, you will see that almost NONE of them wore black hats.

    There’s actually an old joke: “How do you know that Ya’akov Avinu wore a black hat? The passuk says ‘Va’Yetze Ya’akov…’. WOULD YA’AKOV AVINU LEAVE THE HOUSE WITHOUT HIS BLACK HAT?” That’s all I got to say about black hatters…

    • Pesach

      ghottistyx!

      My RY said the same about the hats in Lithuania! In fact even in America he said there was a time when the Yeshivas did’nt wear black hats but rather the latest fashion in terms of suits and coloured hats. He learnt in Telz cleveland. Two things changed since he left Telz. The garb, but that was nothing compared to the derech halimud. To put it simply the pace slackened and the mforshim grew. He would encourage us to struggle for our own understanding (pshat) in our learning and then look in the Rosh (some commentry) to see if the Rosh agreed with our pshat. An old Rabbi who visited South Africa a few years back said a similar thing about the old derech halimud. That’s, for me, Litvish. More how one approaches Torah than what one wears.

      About Litvaks being “cold” and about Litvish learning being “cold” befuddles the mind. Are you kidding me? Sounds like an advertising campaign for chassidim to me. Why does anyone have to feel they need to justify their minhagim/ ancestry/ hashkofa/ derech by bashing someone elses? Torah is Torah and if you learn it properly it should full you with light, fire, warmth and joy, you’ll find yourself singing a nigun or dancing because you understood a passage you’ve been struggling over for hours/days/weeks/months or years. You attaching to Hashem through learning Torah. Torah is not like fire- IT IS FIRE! And Torah brings to mitsvahs which includes being kind and bringing shalom…. Shalom!

      Which brings me to something that really really bugs me. People call me a misnaged or even worse, a ‘snag, when I would’nt call myself that. I’m not a Lubavitcher (we in South Africa don’t know about other chassidim. Which actually points to our Lithuanian heritage as I’m told in Lithuania the only chassidish group was Lubavitch) but I’m not against them. Why do people choose to perpetuate a machlokes they probably know nothing about. Firstly it’s a good few centuries old, secondly the main people involved were great Rabbi’s of THAT generation (consider yeridos hadoros). Who are any of us to suppose we know an inkling of what they were thinking or the reasons behind the stands that they took. It’s not my “farible” (grudge/argument/machlokes)- so leave me out of it!

      A note on why some people are labeled Litvish in America even if they don’t have Litvish ancestry could be, I think, because most of the American yeshivas had Lithuanian Roshei Yeshivas and magiddei shiurim. Pre-war Lithuania had many famous, high standard yeshivas and so talmidim of those yeshivas were much sought after post-war (not to say there were’nt high-standard yeshivas else-where).

      Also to do with Shalom is respecting the minhag hamakom.

      May we all be blessed with a wonderful new year fulled with many good things and chief among them- Shalom.

      Wishing you all a gmar chasima tova for 5771.

  • dovie

    litvish means everyone who wears a black hat and isnt chassidish, yeshivish means teenagers who wear black hats, yekkish means german (they have some different customs) ungarishe means chassidim from hungary (the big difference here is the kind of food and what color bekishe your rebbe wears) galizianish means they are from Galicia

  • Hyman J. Brand

    I am seeking a manufacturer of Litvishe yarmulkahs. Do you know of any?
    Hy Brand

    • Pesach

      No but I saw someone wearing a Manchester Yarmi, another wore a Liverpool one but my favourite has got to be Chivas Regal 🙂

  • Proud Litvak

    I am a bit preturbed by this as by reading the comments as I am a litvak (my ansectors come from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania on both my maternal and paternal sides which makes me a thoroughbred!).
    Let me quote from Wikipedia “In the popular perception, Litvaks were considered to be more intellectual and stoic than their rivals, the Galitzianers, who thought of them as cold fish. They, in turn, disdained Galitzianers as irrational and uneducated” [source:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithuanian_Jews%5D.
    After the Holocaust, the lines between the communities became blurred and each of them influenced each other. The purest example of litvish Jews is in South Africa, where the Litvaks make up over 90% of the population. I quote from this article in Mishpacha – http://www.mishpacha.com/Browse/Article/3179/Their-Legacy-Our-Inheritance .

    “The Ponevezher Rav famously predicted in the 1950s that the South African Jewish community would one day witness a resurgence in Torah observance because its members retained so many of the qualities of Lithuanian Jewry — erlichkeit, honor for rabbanim, and a deeply ingrained sense of communal responsibility”

    After the holocaust, the Jews were no longer defined by their shtetlach and therefore the Litvish who were more into lamdunos got influenced by the Chassidim and the others in the music sphere. As a result the differences at Shabbos meals are less, with Litvish singing more zmiros. (I could be wrong)a

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