Belz? Hasid? Litvak? Yekke? Sephardi?

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:


7 thoughts on “Belz? Hasid? Litvak? Yekke? Sephardi?

  • I am going to have to come back to this and re-read this – maybe several times – to really be able to absorb it. Thanks very much for explaining it all. It’s a subject that I find very interesting and about which I know only a little.

  • Gail,

    My pleasure! Thank you for prompting this post. And thank the server at Rutgers, which went down for a bit so instead of doing some work I wrote this post.

  • Very interesting post. I hope you turn it into a series. I’d be interested to hear why you chose your congregation. Do you also follow sephardic customs – especially with Pesach coming up! Legumes…one could do so much with legumes…. Thanks for the link!

  • frumhouse,

    We follow all Ashkenazi customs. One of the wonderful things about Rabbi Bassous is he knows both Sephardi and Ashkenazi customs and laws well. Sometimes my kids can’t eat at their friends houses on Pesach because of kitniot (legumes).

    I bet kitniot alone would make a great post! If we could get rid of two customs, kitniot and these two-day yom tovim would top my husband’s list.

    • My, this is an old post. I don’t even remember writing it, never mind where in the world I got the information about the Hasidic dynasties. Thanks for the input.

  • You forgot about Poylishe yidden. Neither a galizyaner or litvaker. or hasid. The yidden from Mid-POLAND near Lodz. I am son of a Lodz slave laborer/ survivor ( shipped to Daucha ). Like last of teh Mohicans- speak broken yiddish ( yiddish was primary language spoken in home).

Comments are closed.