Is Learning Yeshivish Important?

Although, I have been a BT for nearly 20 years, there are still times that I feel that I don’t fit in. I can usually handle that but often wonder if my kids suffer because of it.

This shabbos, my oldest son asked me if I would be willing to take a course at the local yeshiva that aims to teach parents how to speak, for lack of a better word, “yeshivish”. Once he asked me to take the class, I knew that he was likely embarrassed that I can’t always shmooze along with some of his friends’ fathers. At the same time, if I take the class, I fear that I will be labeled as a BT which will be embarrassing for me and probably for my kids.

Any advice from your readers would be welcomed.


57 comments on “Is Learning Yeshivish Important?

  1. Saul! Baby! Who loves ya?

    Great how it’s working out with the kids and the Classic Rock. I for one wish I’d learn not to care about what people think about my style. Still, it’s never polite to yawn in people’s faces. If one is to announce how little he thinks of what people in a certain place have to say, he’s only tempting those people to do the same. At that point, style bleeds into substance.

  2. Mega Yawn. Be yourself. Come as you are. Live learn and love the rest is unimportant. I am quickly losing interest to continue being labeled as a BT based on the comments of this blog or general attitudes and assumptions of most Right Wing Jews.

    What ever is being accomplished in Kiruv more are turned off what they see and run.

    I pick up my girls from a Bais Yaacov High School with sweat pants sun glasses a different Yamalka everytime .Classic Rock on the Radio. They love my kids and my kids are not embarrassed. Would be nice have a better car.

  3. “Al tikra al po Shitas HaRitva ela ‘al *pi* Shitas HaRitva’ (comment #40).”

    hey at least he put the “anniyas” before “daati” (although he did blow it – its L’fi” not “lifnei”)

    “Try using words like takeh, mistomeh, epes & lemaaseh in a meeting with non yeshivishe people.”

    You want me to give that up rachmana litzlan?

    “Yeshivish strikes me as considerably more similar to the inner-city, bad grammar ‘dialects’ of English than anything else.”

    it’s ebonics with a “chop” (that’s “ch” as in “chanuka” for those of you who haven’t taken yeshivish 101 yet.

    a freilichen yeshivish purim to all!

  4. Yeshivish strikes me as considerably more similar to the inner-city, bad grammar ‘dialects’ of English than anything else.

    Replace “bad” with “alternate” and remove the scare-quotes around the word “dialects” and you’d have a sentence that conforms to linguistic reality.

  5. The more dilute form of Yeshivish involves frequent use of Yeshivish words as “punctuation” inside a basically English sentence, instead of “y’know”, “really”, etc. I’ve heard some BT’s attempt this.

  6. Dear Yeshivish posters:

    If you’re going to write in Yeshivish, no typos allowed! The transliteration of an English keyboard is bad enough. :)

    Al tikra al po Shitas HaRitva ela ‘al *pi* Shitas HaRitva’ (comment #40).

    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    And Purim Torah aside, I’d say that Maybe English is pseudo-Yeshivish? proto-Yeshivish? Yeshivish strikes me as considerably more similar to the inner-city, bad grammar ‘dialects’ of English than anything else. Americans living in Israel claim, only half in jest, to be ‘semi-lingual’. Those of us born, bred, and living in the US should at least be able to speak *English*.

    For all that I can understand most of the Yeshivish, in a not *completely* FFB crowd, it grates on me when a public speaker (shiur, banquet honoree, etc.) uses Hebrew, Yiddish, etc. and does not translate.

  7. We really make an effort to require the kids to use standard English at home unless we’re kidding around or perhaps really speaking in learning and then only among those who will be comfortable with it. It is never nice to use a patois as a method of excluding others, or to be insensitive to when doing so could have that result even unintentionally.

    Frankly “standard” English is enough of a battle. I stop my kids every time they used “like” to mean “thought” or “said” (“I was like, no way!”).

  8. As an FFB that went through the Yeshiva system I see the “yeshivishe” way of speaking as a detriment to “normal” conversation. Try using words like takeh, mistomeh, epes & lemaaseh in a meeting with non yeshivishe people. Once your’e hooked on a particular slang it is very difficult at times to find the right word to replace the slang with. I’m sure that as your son grows and matures he will realize that the goal of all of us is to become Baalei Teshuvah.

  9. I have a question for all you men who speak Yeshivish…do your wives also speak the sprach? My Yeshivish has grown throughout the years, so that is really difficult to speak proper English at times?

  10. Halo yazil inash lemlemudei lishna de’ bey rabanan, va yivatel milley Orayta kushta? Lishna de ka meshtamshe rabanan atey lahu cheichi de tarchinan lahu be Oraita u de mishtadley lemisberey le chavrehon u le talmidehon inyane de’Oraita , u agav urcha nafkinan miley d’ mishtamshim be limudayhu kodesh le divre de alma u le chaye shaa.

    So you don’t need to take a special class, just learn Torah and the “shprach” will come to you.


  11. Ron,
    You’re saying good.
    I agree on a “willing to understand that there are actual individuals that would find a “yeshivish” yishuv quite the settlement for settling and dwelling purposes” level, and wish Sam the best of luck at this time from my starched stance,liberal standpoints and points of view, staunchly overlooking the more liberal side of language loving and learning.

    I also understand that these individuals that are having a difficult time and who yet still want to dwell in their choice of yeshivishism would benefit from the course in question , hence my previous ” I agree with Mark ” sentence.

    Also Legal terms are so much more logical and consistent than “yeshivish” lingo in that the terms actually consist of words strung together for a common purpose and are usually located in the English or Legal dictionary to understand deeply at your own leisure.

    Isn’t there a point where you lawyers pray to the judge/before the judge too in court ?
    I believe “yeshivish” is a little more flexible and inconsistent too though there is the praying before a judge albeit invisible.

  12. I’m 100% with Zachary. Let’s just work on speaking the languages that we speak, such as English, and improve our Gemarra, Hebrew, and Yiddish (if you’re into that) as applicable to each. But frankly, I think you should just be yourself and work on the Lashon that will help you learn. Taking a course in “Yeshivish” strikes me as Bitul Torah and as a total waste of time.

    Warren from Highland Park

  13. Takeh, one could kler a nafkeh minah that lgavi Bnei Toireh, a chisaron of Yeshivish is lmashul like an esroig chaser-al po Shitas HaRitva-such a esrog lacks the Shem Esrog-al achas kamah vkamah-such a Ben Toireh is missing a cheftzah that defines the Chalos Shem Ben Toireh. It should be davar pashut that such a cheftza also requires a gavra with suitable levush. OTOH, nashim who are patur Lgamri from the heilige mitzvah have no shaicus to this chakirah lgamri!

  14. Yeshivish is a vadeh a chashuveh lashon bfnei atzmo lgavi Talmud Toireh LIshmah for Bnei Torah who are mchuyav in such a heleige anc chashuveh Mitzva. This is such a pashute and emesdicha zach that lifnei Aniyas Daati that I am msupak if it is mechzie kbitul zman or bital zman mamash in even raising such a chakirah that is pashut ubarur a chakirah bli nafke minah lchatcilah or bdieved.

  15. Some people around here have a gringer kup!!! Come to my house and I will put you to work!

  16. ChanaLeah:


    But the upper part seems to have affected as well: “and dedicated to the propisition”!

  17. Hope this will help:

    ENGLISH VERSION (See Yeshivish version below)
    Forescore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the propisition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this…The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here for the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us–that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of their devotion– that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain–that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom–and that the government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

    Be’erech a yoivel and a half ago, the meyasdim shtelled avek on this makom a naiya malchus with the kavana that no one should have bailus over their chaver, and on this yesoid that everyone has the zelba zchusim. We’re holding by a geferliche machloikes being machria if this medina, or an andere medina made in the same oifen and with the same machshovos, can have a kiyum. We are all mitztaref on the daled amos where a chalois of that machloikes happened in order to be mechabed the soldiers who dinged zich with each other. We are here to be koiveia chotsh a chelek of that karka as a kever for the bekavodike soldiers who were moiser nefesh and were niftar to give a chiyus to our nation. Yashrus is mechayev us to do this… Lemaise, hagam the velt won’t be goires or machshiv what we speak out here, it’s zicher not shayach for them to forget what they tued uf here. We are mechuyav to be meshabed ourselves to the melocha in which these soldiers made a haschala–that vibalt they were moiser nefesh for this eisek, we must be mamash torud in it–that we are all mekabel on ourselves to be moisif on their peula so that their maisim should not be a bracha levatulla– that Hashem should give the gantze oilam a naiya bren for cheirus– that a nation that shtams by the oilam, by the oilam, by the oilam, will blaib fest ahd oilam. Weiser, Chaim M. 1995. The First Dictionary of Yeshivish. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, P. xxxiii.

  18. One more thought before I try to go back to being economically productive today. Jaded wrote,

    Why work so hard trying to become or learn something that is not an accepted exceptional standard. Unless one truly believes that yeshivish ness is happiness.

    By and large if as a BT you make the choice to make your life in a yeshivish environment, Jaded, it is because you value various aspects of it, a topic we have of course addressed here many times. Naturally every subculture has its own lexicon, and in particular one that is oriented as yeshivish culture is to textual analysis of particular esoteric and complex topics will be rich with non-standard modes of expression.

    It’s not so different, if I may be permitted the comparison, from lawyering and the way people in the legal community express themselves, for example. You have recently started sounding here as if that is a topic that has captured your imagination, and not surprisingly sometimes use terminology and concepts that, to the uninitiated, make no sense. They are not standard terms. But they’re packed with meaning, and one who learns that meaning has the ability to express himself with a certain kind of power — as long as those to whom one is trying to communicate have the secret decoder ring, too.

    So if you accept the premise — which I understand, you do not in this particular case — that the community of yeshiva- and learning-oriented people is a place in which you want to be, naturally you will want to learn how to have these richer, more nuanced and really more sophisticated types of intercourse and thereby get the full benefit of that social environment.

  19. Sam,

    As others have pointed out, there’s no intrinsic worth to the jargon in becoming close to Hashem.

    However, if your son told you about the class, and your community offers it, why not? It can only help you in communication with others.

    It seems to me there’s no reason to worry about being labeled a BT. To this regard, I’d apply the quote on the top of Ezzie’s blog (see sidebar SerAndEz) :

    “Be yourself, because the people who care don’t matter, and the people who matter don’t care.”

  20. Mark, if you ignore where he writes things like “kushya” where he means “kashe,” a lot of it is in there. (Not the Yiddish.)

    Humor? I don’t get it.

  21. Tzvi wrote
    (March 18th, 2008 11:58 28)

    “How about a course for BTs to develop a sense of humor?”

    Combine the two courses. Then we could do standup comedy in Yeshivish.

  22. I once had the honor to drive three very major rabbanim to an event in the NY area. This was when I was fairly new to Yiddishkeit and quite self-conscious about carrying myself in a “frum” manner, especially around these very charedi talmidei chachamim. When we went through the toll on the NYS Throughway in Spring Valley, I inadvertantly said “shchoyach” to the young black woman when she handed me my change. The Rosh Kollel that was sitting in the front passenger seat started laughing.

  23. Len, It’s interesting, I’ve also had the word mamash slip from my tongue in secular settings.

    Ron, I don’t remember seeing any Yeshivish in Aiding Talmud study.

    Tzvi, Rabbi Tatz has a great piece on humor/laughter in Living Inspired. I once threatened my High School age daughter to have a lecture given at her school titled – the Philosophy of Humor – how’s that for funny?

  24. In all seriousness, there are really more than one issue here.

    Yeshivishe shprach is one thing. But there is also a language of learning, which necessarily integrates the use of mostly Hebrew and Aramaic terminology, and, yes, some Yiddish, as shortcuts for concepts that encompass either entire sugyos in the gemora and common analytical approaches or devices. Many of these are addressed, though somewhat stiffly, in R’ Aryeh Carmel’s Aiding Talmud Study. I can certainly see the value of a class that would help a less-familiar father understand this lexicon.

  25. Charlie,
    I now hear you a bit better. I also have heard that one needs to learn Rav Hirsh in the original to really appreciate it. A lot of chasidish Torah is in Yiddish. The Chafetz Chaim (see in Kall Kisvei Chafetz Chaim) are in Yiddish only.

    take care,

  26. Just be careful about the side effects. I have been learning more and speaking a bit more yeshivish in those environments and now I am having trouble not letting it into the rest of my life.

    I recently caught myself almost using ‘mamish’ at a business meeting.

  27. Ron wrote:
    “Feh. I say it like I hear it, Michoel.”

    Adaraba. That gufa is the beauty of Yeshivish. I was just trying to be humorous

  28. I just emailed Sam and he said it’s billed as “Speaking the Language” a brief course on colloquial and learning “yeshivish” designed to give newcomers a taam (taste) of what it’s like to actually speak and learn in “yeshivish”. Advance Course to follow.

    He also said it’s not open to the public, only people associated with the Yeshiva.

  29. From what my husband tells me the only way you learn the yeshivishe shprach is by actually learning in yeshiva.

    But who really cares?
    IMHO the more important thing is to concentrate on being comfortable in your own skin & living a true Torah life. I doubt HKB”H cares about yeshivishe lingo/shprach.

    Chag Purim Sameach or a
    Freilichen Purim to all!

  30. Ruby, gevald — I am noyradik …., uh, transparent. Trans – par – ent. Only three.

    Bob, the Chazon Ish used to say he didn’t know if he ever learned anything lishmoh, but that he was confident that he truly desired, at least some day, to learn lishmoh. So don’t look to me for lishmoh.

    I certainly did not make the financial and other sacrifices I did to learn full time in order to learn yeshivishe sprach. (Heck, you can just get the book, after all.) OTOH integration in general was one of my goals.

  31. Ruby, lol
    The “Kiss me I’m BT” pride pin for parading around in,is missing an “a”.I’ve always loved the St Patricks day parades and so upset I missed the midtown one yesterday by mistake and especially with this new pride angle to work with and up towards.

  32. First of all this post was fun, and so was yesterdays. You guys are getting back into gear.
    Is this for real? A course in Yeshivish? I mean it sounds like a meshugeneh Purim shpeil Why don’t you make a deal. You go study yeshivish,in exchange the guy teaching you studies standard written and spoken English. Now that would be a emesdige gevaldige zach.
    A freilechen Purim

  33. Bob is right. “Yeshivish” is constantly evolving. I went through the entire “system”, from kindergarden to Kollel (OK, the first eight years didn’t count, because I was in an out-of-town day school), and I picked up, and speak, plenty of “yeshivish”, but I still have a hard time following today’s version. Frankly, it grates on my ears. Don’t get me wrong; I love Yiddish. But in Modern Yeshivish not only is the English incorrect, the Yiddishisms are as well. [And that’s why, Michoel, Ron is not guilty of “incorrect usage”; in Modern Yeshivish, the incorrect is correct.] It’s true that sometimes an English word simply won’t do, but it’s quite a feat to butcher two languages in a single sentence. To me, it sounds (for lack of a better word) “shticky”.

    I also agree with Bob that bochurim should be taught to speak proper English, if only so they won’t make fools of themselves when they speak in public. I am reminded of a friend of mine who, speaking at his son’s bar mitzvah,expessed his admiration for the senior citizens he used to visit in a certain old-age home, who were so lively despite being “decapitated”.

    That said, if Sam’s son’s Yeshiva is offering such a course, there must be other people in the same boat as he is. I would say, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”.

  34. I agree with Mark.

    Also, I guess if “yeshivish” language familiarity will help make stuff more comfortable socially in the place one wants to dwell in then a quick course on the actual definitions and the sources for common phrases and lingo used makes sense.
    Maybe a gemara course instead of a language course.Whenever I argue about a concept I remember everything about

    This is assuming that yeshivish stems from gemara learning lingo.
    Another angle would be to analyze what it is about the yeshivish yishuv that is uncomfortable and unsettling.Are the kids young enough to switch communities.Sometimes it makes more sense emotionally to join a community with friendlier dwellers.Why work so hard trying to become or learn something that is not an accepted exceptional standard.Unless one truly believes that yeshivish ness is happiness.

  35. Gevaldike arichus, Ron. But, be’emesen, you shlugged yourself up with one word (and it wasn’t be’emesen).

    EVENTUALLY? 5 syllables?? May as well wear a green “Kiss me I’m BT” button (I think I saw a few of those yesterday.) Try “mimayle”.

    Mark, as a public service, could you please post all the locations where the Yeshivish class is being taught?

  36. “I am not aware of anything written in Judeo-Arabic or Ladino that has not been translated. Modern German yet? This is not the main point of this thread but if you can enlighten me I am curious what you are refering to.”

    Learning translations are nothing like learning in the original; subtleties of meaning often are untranslatable. I read somewhere that Rov Soloveitchik once told someone that nobody could fully appreciate Rav Hirsch in translation. (Unfortunately, I don’t know modern German so I’m in the unable-to-appreciate category.)

    What Yiddish seforim have yet to be translated?

  37. In Sam’s case he has not picked up enough Yeshivish after 20 years of being a BT, so why in the world shouldn’t he take the course.

    Perhaps it would be helpful to try to see beyond our own daled amos on occasion.

  38. “But I could not understand the Yiddish of the yeshiva until I started learning, and really learning in a “real” bais medrash is the key.”

    So Ron, were you learning lishmoh or to pick up the language?

  39. Feh. I say it like I hear it, Michoel.

    Bob, I grew up in a Yiddish environment and actually attended Workman’s Circle Yiddish school for years and … Yiddish camp! That helps a lot. So does being from Brooklyn.

    But I could not understand the Yiddish of the yeshiva until I started learning, and really learning in a “real” bais medrash is the key.

  40. I think the Yeshivish course is a great idea. Although it may be true that eventually he’ll pick up the language through learning, it’s clear from Sam’s case (and I’ve seen it in other situations) that one might not necessarily pick up all the necessary terms.

    Integration is important. And to integrate you need to communicate. If you’re neighborhood speaks a lot of Yeshivish, I think it’s important to take the course.

  41. Charlie Hall wrote:
    “Hebrew, Aramaic, Judeo-Arabic, Modern German, Ladino, and Yiddish (in approximately that order)”

    Heh? There is a great deal of Torah written only in Yiddish. I am not aware of anything written in Judeo-Arabic or Ladino that has not been translated. Modern German yet? This is not the main point of this thread but if you can enlighten me I am curious what you are refering to.


  42. Ron wrote: “Be’emesen”


    You can say “be’emes”. Or you can say something is “emesen”

    In any case, Ron alludes to an important point. If one spends time learning, they will pick up most of what constitutes Yeshivish.

  43. Ron, you’re a shining example for Yeshivishly challenged balebatim. Did you gain your fluency by the method you outlined above?

  44. I am mamish nispoyl that the oylam is klering such a shayleh. Such a balebatishe kashe! Be’emesen if an erliche yungerman, gradeh a baal teshuva, wants to shteig and even be a shtikl chevra-mon, it’s zicher not ma’akeiv that he should hold by a shtarke inyan like yeshivishe red; punkt farkert! The iker zach is he should be menshlich. Afila hochi if he is holding in limud hatoyreh and is koyveya a seder he is going chap a lot of gemarah loshn and eventually will be koyne royv of what his bachur is shtelling tzu.

  45. The following assumes that the above language course is not a Purim gag.

    As Yeshivish is an evolving dialect with many local variations, there could be a need for frequent refresher courses. On the other hand, why teach this formally at all? Can’t the bochur explain the arcane words and syntax as he goes along speaking to us in conversation?

    It used to be be that the “green” immigrants would progress from no English to broken English to English itself (maybe New York-ese). Are we trying now to turn back the hands of time? Why not try this instead: have his schools make the bochur fluent in standard English (even as a second or third language!) so he can speak not only to his non-Yeshivish relatives but to other people he will meet outside the Yeshiva world. To include everybody, he might need to learn Spanish, too.

    As for the possible embarrassment of revealing one’s BTness by taking the course, BTness could never remain a secret for long, anyway.

  46. I think Hebrew, Aramaic, Judeo-Arabic, Modern German, Ladino, and Yiddish (in approximately that order) are much more important for an English speaker, as these are the languages in which our classic texts are written.

  47. Its nice to know that I’m not the only one who feels that he is still waiting for a “Secret Decoder ring”.

    I will admit that I have never feared being labeled a BT, but I also would rather continue to speak proper English.

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