Jewish Words for Everyone To Know

Jxwish= Expanded definition of who is a Jew – like Latinx. Traditional definition is someone who has a Jewish mother, but in modern times where we all define ourselves, this doesn’t need to be the case.

Orthodox: Someone who follows scripture and laws pretty seriously. Keeps Shabbat, keeps kosher, doesn’t necessarily need to stone anyone though.

Heterodox: contrary to or different from an acknowledged standard, a traditional form, or an established religion : unorthodox, unconventional.

Reform: A movement that came out of the North German Jewish community, based on Lutheran, or “Reformist” church movement.

Conservative: An American born movement of Jews who were neither Reform or Orthodox but wanted something in the middle of those.

Reconstructionist: Another American movement of Jews started by Mordecai Kaplan, a rabbi who was once a teacher at the Conservative movement’s seminary, JTS, in Manhattan. They are based in Wyncote, Pennsylvania now. They put emphasis on culture and ethics. Not really sure what their beliefs are but they have their own prayerbook (Kol Haneshamah) and it’s really nice.

Rabbi: A learned Jew who has received “smicha” or ordination from either a governing body or school or another ordained Rabbi.

Cantor/Chazan: A talented rabbi. Just kidding. A Cantor is someone with a nice voice who knows and can sing traditional songs and melodies, chants torah, haftarah, and other scriptural text and knows some Jewish law and tradition as well. Smicha or ordination is required to be called “Cantor” or “Chazan”.

Beshert: Your destined loved one (wife/husband).

Yekke: (yeh-keh) a Jew of German descent who is very proper and exact.

Meshuganeh: Crazy, but not evil.

Shlemiel: an inept person, who gets themselves into unfortunate situations.

Shlemiel: – an inept person, BUT one who gets OTHERS into unfortunate situations.

Shnorer: Someone who always wants something for nothing.

Chazer: Literally “pig” but someone who eats or takes too much of something, doesn’t have to be food.

Shmuck: a foolish or contemptible person.

Farklempt: all choked up (Jews are sensitive!)

Farblunget: lost, befuddled, or confused.

Chutzpah: Nerve!

BubbePronounced “buh-bee,” this Yiddish word is used to address your grandmother

Bupkis/Gornisht: nothing. 

Goy: Quite simply, a goy is just someone who isn’t Jewish. But it’s pejorative and you don’t want to use it.

Keppie:Head.

Klutz: a clumsy person.

Kvell:  bursting with pride over the actions and accomplishments of someone else.

KvetchYou really don’t want someone to call you a kvetch or telling you that you’re kvetching too much. As a noun, this word describes someone who complains far too frequently, and as a verb, it refers to the act of said complaining.

Mazel Tov: Attend any bar mitzvah or Jewish wedding and you’ll hear the phrase mazel tov used in every other sentence. That’s because in Yiddish, this is what people say when they want to congratulate someone or wish them good luck. 

Mensch: an honorable and admirable person

Meshuggeneh: Meshuggeneh can be used as an adjective to describe someone as insane or as a noun to refer to a crazy person. In a sentence, you might see something like, “He must be meshuggeneh to think that he can get there in under an hour.”

Mishpocheh: Mishpocheh—or mishpokhe or mishpucha, depending on who you’re talking to—literally means “family.” However, the Yiddish word doesn’t refer to your blood relatives like you’d think; rather, it’s meant to be used when talking about those close friends that are like family, even though they aren’t blood relatives.

Nosh:The verb nosh probably means what you think it does. When you are noshing on something, you are snacking on it.

Oy Vey Ist Mir:You can use this expression when you want to express dismay or frustration—as in, “Oy vey, this traffic is never going to end!”

Plotz: “to crack, collapse, or explode,” and you can use it when referring to someone or something that has actually crack or burst, like an overfilled balloon. Figuratively, you might hear someone say that they’re about to plotz—or collapse—from exhaustion or laughter.

Punim: “face.” However, you wouldn’t use it simply to refer to someone’s visage. This Yiddish word is more specifically used, most often by grandparents, to endearingly talk about someone’s sweet face. Things you might hear at Passover dinner include “What a punim!” and “Look at that adorable punim!”

SchmutzPlaces you’ll find schmutz include on the sidewalk, inside the vacuum, and on a soiled T-shirt. So what is schmutz, exactly? It’s just a very Yiddish way of referring to a dirtying substance like dust, dirt, or—in the case of a dirty garment—tomato sauce.

Schlep: As a verb, the word schlep means “to move slowly, awkwardly, or tediously” or, when used with an object, “to carry or lug.”

Schmatte:A schmatte, literally, is a rag.

Shmendrik: a jerk or a stupid person.

Schmooze: to chat in a friendly and persuasive manner especially so as to gain favor, business, or connections.

Schvitz: “to sweat.”

Shtick:When referring to an actor or performer of some sort, a shtick is a particular routine or gimmick associated with that person. In reference to an everyday individual, it refers to their talent or areas of interest.

Shpiel:A spiel is a lengthy speech or story, primarily used as a means of persuasion. You’ll often hear salespeople giving spiels about their brilliant new products.

Tachlis:The word tachlis is basically the Yiddish way of saying “brass tacks.” It’s the essence, substance, and practicalities of a matter.

Tchotchke: Tchotchkes are the tiny trinkets you find in overpriced souvenir shops. They’re small objects that, while aesthetically pleasing, serve zero function.

Tuches: “tuh-kiss,” this word is just the Yiddish way of referring to someone’s, er, behind. BONUS PHRASE: Tuches afn tisch: get to the point, or put your money where your mouth is. Get on with it!

Zayde: grandfather.