This post is dedicated to all those people who are wondering what in the world do those terms mean! Let’s start with two: Hasid vs. Litvak. When you hear Litvak, think Lithuania. Think the Vilna Gaon. Lots of Talmud study. Emphasis on who’s the smartest. My family is basically Litvak (except for those who married into a hasidic branch or married yekkes or one who married a Yemenite or one who married an Ethiopian). Another term used is misnagdim, meaning those who oppose Hassidim(the ‘im” makes Hasid plural in Hebrew).
In the late 18th Century the Ba’al Shem Tov started Hassidism in what is now the Ukraine. It was in response to the emphasis on Talmud study of the Litvaks. Instead, the emphasis is on prayer, joy, spirituality. Hassidim follow a rebbe. So today you have the Belzer Rebbe, the Gerrer Rebbe, the Satmar Rebbe (disputed leadership). Chabad or Lubavitch is also Hassidic.
There is a tiny branch of the Bostoner Rebbe here in Highland Park. The Bostoner is the only Hasidic branch named after an American city. All the other Hasidic branches are named after towns in Eastern Europe.
Yekkes are German Jews. Yekkes are known for being very punctual. This is as opposed to general “Jewish time” (an event that starts later than it is called for). The term “Yekke” comes from jacket, and it refers to the shorter, more Westernized jackets worn by German Jews, as opposed to the longer coats of Eastern European Jews.
Sephardi refers to Jews who were kicked out of Spain in 1492. However, it has come to refer also to Jews from Iraq, Iran, India or Yemen who never had ancestors who lived in Spain. That’s why in Israel they are called ‘Edot HaMizrach’ or congregations of the East. Sephardim are from countries like Morroco, Italy, Turkey, Greece (especially Salonika), Libya, Tunisia. Many have moved from those countries to France. We belong to a Sephardi congregation in Highland Park, Congregation Etz Ahaim. Why two thorough-bred Ashkenazim and children joined a Sephardi synagogue is a subject for another post. But we are not the only Ashkenazim there! (Ashkenaz = Germany and has come to mean any Jew from Europe).
I haven’t even begun to cover the history of religious Zionism here or how various Hasidic or Sephardic groups have responded to the modern State of Israel.
On a related topic: