Thursday, August 25, 2011

Glossary for People New to Orthodox Jewish Blogs

By Susan Esther Barnes

A couple of years ago, when I started blogging, I also starting reading other blogs, including Jewish blogs in particular. This turned out to be my first real chance to hobnob with Orthodox Jews, but I ran into the following problem: Sometimes, it seemed like they were speaking a whole different language!

Part of the time, that’s because they’re using Yiddish or Hebrew words, or, I suppose, even quoting something in Aramaic. Sometimes they’re using abbreviations. So for others who may be starting on the worthwhile adventure of reading Orthodox blogs, below are some definitions that may help you make sense of them.

Please note that this isn’t a definitive list of Jewish terms. Rather, it’s a list of terms used on Orthodox Jewish blogs that people otherwise familiar with common Hebrew and Jewish terms might not recognize.

This is an abbreviation for Ba’al Tshuva. Tshuva means “return.” A BT is a Jewish person who either was not raised Orthodox or left Orthodoxy, and then either became Orthodox or returned to Orthodox practice. Thus, even someone who was never Orthodox before is considered to have “returned.”

This is an abbreviation for “Frum From Birth.” Frum is a Yiddish word meaning “devout.” Someone is FFB if they were born an Orthodox Jew and never left Orthodoxy, and it is used to distinguish them from BTs (above).

This is a Yiddish word meaning “devout,” but it is only used when referring to Orthodox Jews. Orthodox Jews will sometimes refer to other Orthodox Jews as being more or less frum depending on their perceived level of observance, but if you are not Orthodox or are a devout Gentile you will not be referred to as frum.

In Hebrew, gadol means “big.” When used with a capital “G” and/or when used as a noun rather than an adjective, it means a well-respected (male) rabbi, whose rulings are considered to be more worthy of following than the rulings of a “lesser” rabbi, who presumably isn’t as learned as a Gadol. “Gadol” is not a title that is officially bestowed on a rabbi, so there is some disagreement regarding which rabbis deserve to be called a Gadol.

A kofer is an unbeliever. This word is used as an insult, and refers to someone who is rejecting Judaism’s teachings. It is generally used by one Jew against another when a person expresses an opinion not endorsed by Orthodoxy in general or by that particular writer. A person who is not Jewish or who is not very educated in Judaism is generally not considered to be a kofer because they haven’t learned enough about Judaism to actually reject its teachings.

One of the early roles of rabbis, before they became as involved as they are now in pastoral roles, was to rule on matters of Jewish law for the Jewish laypeople. Rabbis have retained this role in the Orthodox world more than they have outside it. Your Posek is the rabbi you go to in order to obtain a rabbinic ruling in regard to (or to answer a question about) the law (halacha). Pasken is the verb form: to make a ruling on the law.

A shidduch is a romantic match between two people, for the purpose of marriage.

Shidduch Crisis:
Because men and women are so often kept separate from each other in the Orthodox world (in some branches of Orthodoxy, unrelated men and women are not even supposed to talk to each other), many Orthodox singles rely on matchmakers. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, this system isn’t working well for many people, leaving many singles feeling like they have little chance of ever finding a proper match. This problem is referred to as the “shidduch crisis.”


  1. And if you read Israeli blogs, there is also:

    Datlash = Dati Le'Sheavar = Previously Orthodox, now secular.

  2. If you're interested in seeing what some of the more open-minded Orthodox are saying, I recommend DovBear’s blog. He frequently uses the English acronym ANE, meaning Ancient Near East.

  3. Yes, I'm a fan of Dov Bear. He's on my blogroll :-)

  4. The grammar can also get interesting on Orthodox blogs, since some Orthodox Jews use "Yeshivish," a mixture of English, Yiddish, Hebrew, and/or Aramaic, often without even realizing it. Thus we find the grammatical constructions "to tell over," to give over," and possibly other "overs" that I've forgotten, in which the *over* is totally unneccessary in Standard English and does *not* mean "again."

    This grammatical construction is sometimes paired with the Yiddish "vort," which I think means "word" and seems to refer to "a word of Torah," a teaching from sacred Jewish texts. I sometimes encounter the phrase "He gave over a vort," meaning "He taught (something from or about) a sacred Jewish text.

  5. This is good. Additionally, I found a talking book (CD) in the library of "Born to Kvetch" by Michael Wex. The philosophies of secular and devout come through in the language. Thanks, Susan for the post!