Literally it means "homey."

But I'm asking about the sociological meaning of the group of people who call themselves "Heimishe." My best guess is that it means "midway between Hassidish and Litvak." But given that differences between Hassidim and Litvaks, though they surely exist, are not what they were during the heyday of the Misnagdim, what is the difference between Litvak and Heimishe?

Does "Heimishe" also suggest that these people go to university? That they speak English rather than Yiddish? There are no Heimishe organizations per se, but are there organizations which everyone identifies with Heimishism?

(Some webpages discussing this: 1 2 3.)


Having grown up "heimish" I will do my best to explain.

The first thing I tell people that ask me to define Heimish, is "mixed up". From the outside looking in, our accent in davening is typically that of chassidim, yet we (For the most part) are clean shaven (which is a huge no-no in the chassidish world). You might see us wear a gartel on shabbos (chassidish) while wearing a suit and tie (not-chassidish). Heimish people also frequent going to rebbes. So, yes we're sort of mixed up.

From my experience, there are really two kinds of backgrounds to Heimish ppl.

1) After the war, many people who were brought up full-on chassidish, when they moved to various parts of Europe, or came to the states, they either weren't comfortable wearing the chassidish get-up or whatever their reasons were, they decided to shave and wear the more litvish style of clothing. These people, while all their minhagim and traditions were all Chassidish, they didn't dress the part anymore. However, the chassidish way of life was really all they knew.

2) Back in Hungary, there were many towns and shtetls that bordered around the bigger chassidish towns and these people all gravitated towards the rebbes in the larger towns, but they themselves weren't full on chassidish. Litvish however they were not, as all the customs they followed were from the chassidim around them.

In our generation though, the whole concept of Heimish is really dying out. Growing up, there were many yeshivas that were chassidish yeshivas, where the rebbeim spoke Yiddish, and half the class was actually chassidish (think of Yagdil Torah, Veen etc) however the other half of the class had payis behind the ears (litvish style) and were considered "Heimish". What happened over the years though was that most started to feel this "mixed up" feeling and sort of chose a path. Many went to litvish yeshivas for high school/beis midrash and started acceping the litvish way of life, while the other half went to more chassidish yeshivas, and started growing a beard and put on a shtreimel when they got married. Our kids generation therefore is pretty well defined. There are very few if any (Veretsky in brooklyn being the exception) yeshivas that have chassidish yiddish speaking rebbeim, with the parent body being clean shaven (Montreal still has a little bit of that as well, however in Brooklyn/Lakewood etc it's pretty much over).

For me personally, to this day I feel mixed up. I speak a fluent Yiddish, have a chassidish havara, yet I live in Lakewood in a total litvish environment. I don't fit into bp anymore as that became very Chassidish (I'm clean shaven and not chassidish at all) but I feel like an outsider here in Lakewood as well since at my core, all my customs, my whole upbrining was very different than that of the Litvish folks I live amongst.

Feel free to ask further questions in the comments....

  • Thanks, that makes a lot of sense. But how does hardcore Litvish differ from Heimish? I think that the hardcore Litvish speak Yiddish, right? So what other differences are there? I was recently in an environment which definitely identified itself as Heimish, but almost all of the men had beards, a few had streimels, and there was lots of Yiddish floating around, though they were primarily English speakers. University was definitely out for the new generation thought most of the older generation had degrees, whether as BT or because that's how it was in the last generation.
    – Joshua Fox
    Apr 2 '12 at 20:58
  • Can you give me a few specific characteristics of Heimish? I know that nothing is 100%, but for example: Beards, going to university, streimel, speaking Yiddish, or whatever else would let me distinguish Heimish from Chasidish on the one hand and Litvak on the other.
    – Joshua Fox
    Apr 2 '12 at 21:02
  • Many years ago, in New York, I saw an OU pareve dried fruit + nut tray that had the following sticker affixed to it: "דאס איז אונטער אַ היימיש השגחה" (This is under a heimish hashgacha). I always wondered; why would someone trust a unsigned assurance that the hashgacha is "heimish", but wouldn't trust the OU that was already on the package?
    – user1095
    Apr 3 '12 at 11:35
  • 1
    @JoshuaFox I guess I'm doing a bad job of explaining as Artscroll and Aish Hatorah are very far from Heimish. You can really think of Heimish as "chassidim without the garb", that's really the closest thing to it. Our customs and practices are very similar to that of chassidim, but are lax on some of the stricter things. We are definitely NOT litvish by any means, that's for sure. Like I said "mixed up" :)
    – BFree
    Apr 3 '12 at 16:11
  • 1
    @SamGoldberg Tuna Beigel is a derogatory term for someone that grew up full on chassidish but is now not as chassidish anymore. They still have the thick accent, however they trim their beards, thin out the payis etc. Heimish people typically grow up in an environment where speaking english isn't frowned upon, getting a high school education isn't the worst thing in the world etc. I know it doesn't sound all that different, and when I speak yiddish myself, people have often asked me if I grew up Chassidish. The main distinction is that I didn't grow up in a full on chassidish environment.
    – BFree
    Apr 3 '12 at 18:08

I'm surprised to read the other answers provided, not to mention the direction of the question leading to those answers. I didn't know what to expect when I clicked on the title, but it wasn't that.

I have personally never heard the word in any context other than, simply, "friendly". As in: "This is a Heimish Shul" (not as a denomination, but just generally friendly, welcoming, and warm, usually on account of being fairly small); "This is a Heimish restaurant"; "The staff at that Judaica store are so Heimish".

  • 1
    +1; this is similar to Gershon Gold's answer (which I also +1ed).
    – msh210
    Apr 2 '12 at 16:43
  • @msh210 Yup....
    – Seth J
    Apr 2 '12 at 17:52
  • Seth, actually, I originally thought the same as you. However, once our program director advertised our Shabbos services as "heimisch" (in Yated), and the Rabbi told him it wasn't accurate. Although our shul is very friendly, the Rabbi intimated that people who read Yated would not associate our kind of shul with "heimisch". (We are best described as "eclectic" as group - he wasn't making a statement about our friendliness.) Apr 2 '12 at 19:36
  • Sure, Heimish originally meant comfortable and still means that. But there is a more specific meaning, having to do with a specific subsector for ultra-orthodoxy.
    – Joshua Fox
    Apr 2 '12 at 20:58
  • 2
    @JoshuaFox, apparently. I've just never heard of it before reading this question (and some of the answers).
    – Seth J
    Apr 2 '12 at 21:20

The word Heimish means comfortable. So to a Litvak another Litvak is Heimish and to a Chassid another Chassid is Heimish.

  • 1
    Sure, Heimish originally meant comfortable and still means that. But there is a more specific meaning, having to do with a specific subsector for ultra-orthodoxy.
    – Joshua Fox
    Apr 2 '12 at 20:56

I've always heard this used as a synonym for "frum". If it has a more specific connotation, based on the usage I have heard, I would interpret it as having the following characteristics: very traditional (i.e. not modern), black hat, and linguistically the environment would be yiddish/english.

Update: I discussed this question with our Rabbi at shul today, and I think I understand some of the ambiguity now. The answers which already stated "comfortable, homelike, friendly" capture the basic meaning of the term. The ambiguity arises from the fact that different types of Jews describe different types of environments as "heimisch". So while our shul would not be accurately perceived as "heimisch" by readers of Yated, it would be perceived that way by others.

Also, according to one of the participants in today's discussion at shul, the phone directory for the Lakewood, NJ, Chasidic community is called the "Heimisch" directory (or something like that), implying something like "our folk". The Rabbi said that Litvaks would not typically use the term in that way.

  • Right, it does mean something like "our folk," and indeed, Litvaks, Reform, Conservative, Modern Orthodox, and Chassidic wouldn't use it. Similarly, a certain American Indian group calls themselves Dene, which means "people," but of course doesn't refer to just any people. So, Heimish is a term used as an endonym by a certain group, which I am trying to identify.
    – Joshua Fox
    Apr 3 '12 at 18:29
  • 1
    I think "our folk" or "our type" is correct. Some people will consider consider a Litvak as a "heimishe" guy since they want to convey that the guy is frum and keeps to the same code of conduct as you do. Others would only call another Chassid "Heimishe" since there is enough common ground to make him OK in the eyes in the other. Think of it like the classic mafia intro of "friend of mine" vs. friend of ours" Yiddish is a live language and varies from place to place and community to community so there are many words that are hard to pin down an exact meaning to
    – eramm
    Oct 20 '13 at 16:58
  • @JoshuaFox: was reviewing this question after a long time. You wrote: " indeed, Litvaks, Reform, Conservative, Modern Orthodox, and Chassidic wouldn't use it". What I wrote in my answer is that actually, Chassidim do use the term to describe their phone book. Also Litvaks use it for certain things as well. So nothing in my experience indicates this term is limited to just a "certain group". Heimisch just means where "I" feel comfortable. Oct 21 '14 at 13:16
  • 1
    I've noticed that in the UK, "heimisch" means the exact opposite, eg. people who go to an Orthodox (US) schul on Shabbos but aren't fromm. May 22 '17 at 19:15
  • In this vein, people talk about "heimish" brands and stores and maybe "heimish" hashgoches to refer to the subset that is made for frum people. For example, certain foods we have to get "heimish" brands for because the regular hechscher will not do.
    – SAH
    Aug 22 '17 at 3:59

Heimish is used by both the hard-core Chasidish AND by the (for lack of a better term) Chasidish-lite (i.e. Chasidic background and customs but not dress.) It is not used by the Litvish (or the Yekkes for that matter) in the same context.

  • 1
    Thanks for your input and welcome to the site! If you don't add in your source for saying this, then we have only your word to go on (and, no offense, but none of us know you).
    – msh210
    Mar 18 '13 at 3:09

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