a guided walking tour of the Hasidic neighborhood of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, NY


Aaron/Zalmen – two brothers, sons of Satmar Rebbe Moses Teitelbaum. Starting in the new millennium, they have been waging a bitter war against each other and jostling for control over existing Satmar real estate and institutions. Disputes are often brought to secular courts (despite the official halachic prohibition to litigate intra-jewish disputes in secular courts). This is officially known as the Satmar Succession Feud

Admor – a Hasidic leader who has an active following of adherents and established institutions. This epithet is usually used only in writing and in conjunction with the name of the Hungarian-town-derived hasidic sect name, such as “admor m'belz” (The Rebbe of Belz).

Avrekh – a recently married man in his 20's (this status may be retained roughly until his children reach puberty). Avrekhim often have their own study and prayer halls, known as "hithahduth Avrekhim" -- union of lads.

Bahur – an adolescent boy (13 and up) before marriage.

Ballebus – a middle-aged member of the community who is engaged in a non-religious, profitable trade or business. This term is often contrasted with “yungerman”.

Belz – a hasidic sect from Eastern Europe that resettled in Israel after the war. In the 1980's they sought to shake off satmar hegemony of haredi religious institutions in Jerusalem, which sparked a severe backlash from Satmar who saw this as an opportunistic exploitation of Rabbi Joel Teitelbuam's recent demise. Williamsburg was the site of some fierce violence related to this conflict.

Beneshek – a man of noble hasidic lineage, i.e. descendant from Hasidic Rebbes (acronym for benan shel kedoshim, lit. a son of holy ones).

Beth Din – a rabbinic court for litigation of torts and contracts, consisting of a panel of three persons who are proficient in rabbinic law (“hoshen mishpat”). In contemporary American jurisprudence, the beth din is legally constituted as an arbitration panel.

Beth Jacob – name of a Jewish girl's school that is affiliated with the Agudath Israel girl's school network (founded in the decades leading up to WWII)

Beth Midrash -- (besmedresh in Yiddish) – a study hall for religious texts. Hasidim often use their beth midrash also for prayer, thus making this term interchangeable with shul.

Beth Rachel (bais ruchel) – the name of the Satmar girl school, named after a daughter of Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum who died before the war from heart failure.

Bikkur Holim – Benevolent society for the benefit of the sick. There is a separate men's and women's division. Volunteers visit the sick and the elderly in their homes, nursing homes and hospitals and provide them with Kosher food and social comfort.

Daven – a Yiddish verb meaning “to pray”.

Dayyan – an individual serving as a “judge” in a beth din.

Edah Haharedith – the Satmar-affiliated beth din in Jerusalem. It is Satmar's mouthpiece in the Holy Land and is often used to galvanize the ultra-haredi sector in America and Israel along Satmar's hardline agenda against zionism and secularism.

Eruv – symbolic integration of disparate parcels of real property, so as to allow the carrying of objects to, from and within public areas.

Fleishig – Yiddish for “meaty” [i.e. containing meat or (of a person) having eaten meat].

Gemach – a free loan institution (it's an acronym for gemilath hesed, lit. the performance of kindness)

Get – Aramaic for writ of divorce

Goy – Yiddish for gentile

Hamez – leavened bread (literally “sour”), forbidden to consume or possess on passover. This may be extended to include any food that is not specifically prepared in a manner that ensures it contains absolutely no hamez.

Hashgahah – supervision (of kashrut); a practice largely unknown in America before the war. It was originally instituted by the tseleme rav (Levi Yitzhak Gruenwald) and then bolstered and popularized by the Satmar Rebbe, Joel Teitelbaum.

Heder – elementary school for boys. Yiddish for room (in Old Europe the institution typically consisted of a single room).

Hilul Hashem – profanity of god's name. See “kidush hashem”.

Hithahduth (“hisachdus”) – short for Hithahduth Harabbanim (Union of Rabbis), the name of the beth din established by Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum in the 1950's in hopes that it would unite the entirety of ultra-orthodox judaism under one banner. It now mostly focuses on kashrut certification, under the helm of “Itsu” Glick, its secretary.

Hol Hamoed – intra-festival days, between the first and second set of the Passover and Tabernacles holidays.

Kashrut – the state of observing dietary laws stipulated by the Torah and halachah. It is an uncountable abstract noun.

Kethubah – a document that details nuptial vows made by the groom, roughly equivalent to a marriage certificate.

Kidush Hashem – sanctification of god's name. This principle exhorts members of the community to behave publicly (in sight of gentiles) in a manner befitting the nobility and moral superiority of the Jewish religion and God.

Klausenburg – a hasidic sect from Hungary. Led after WWII by Rabbi Jekuthiel Judah Halbershtam in Williamsburg. He later relocated to Israel -- when he lost the battle for the hearts and minds of Hasidic Williamburg to his uncle and archrival Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, Satmar Rebbe.

Klaus (Kloyz) – same as shtiebel; it is the preferred term among certain East European communities such as the Boyon hasidic sect.

Kolel – an institution of advanced Talmud and Shulhan Arukh study for men after marriage. They often receive a nominal stipend from the community or a sponsor.

Kosher – fit for consumption with respect to dietary laws. Adjective.

Melamed – same as second definition of “rebbe”. This term is used outside the school by persons other than the pupils.

Mikveh – obligatory monthly ritual bath for women after menstruation ceases. For men it is a common practice (but not obligatory) every Friday.

Milchig – Yiddish for dairy.

Minyan – a quorum of ten Jewish menfolk over the age of thirteen, required in order to recite certain “public” parts of the daily prayer liturgy.

Moreh Zedek (also known by the acronym “mots”) – a rabbinic decisor (“posek”) who responds to halachic inquiries from conregants, such as the rules of sabbath or kashrut.

Old Williamsburg – the territorial parts of Hasidic Williamsburg that were part of it in the first few decades after the war before rezoning sparked major expansion and the resultant “New Williamsburg”. This term has another, dated meaning referring to the sociocultural domain: the Russian-Polish Jewish immigrants from the 1880's-1920's who settled in South Williamsburg, as opposed to the Hungarian and hasidic elements from the WWII period on.

Papa (Puppa) – a hasidic sect, named after a town in Hungary. It is the second largest in Williamsburg, maintaining a full complement of communal institutions. Its post-WWII leader was Rabbi Joseph Gruenwald (d. 1984), who was also the nephew of the Tseleme rav, Rabbi Levi Isaac Gruenwald. Papa is considered a satellite of Satmar, known in Yiddish as “satmar-geshtimt” (Satmar-aligned).

Parveh – food that contains neither meat nor dairy constituents. Milchig or fleishig may be consumed aterwards.

Pesach – Passover.

Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum – Founder of the Satmar Hasidic movement in Hungary before the war and in Israel and the United States after the war. He rebuilt the community and led his people to unimaginable rejuvenation and prosperity. He passed away in the summer of 1979.

Rabbi Moses Teitelbaum – The second Satmar Rebbe, also known by the book he authored “Berach Moshe”. Ministry years are 1981-2006.

Rav – a religious functionary, hired by a congregation to perform essential religious duties and to provide general guidance and to regulate religous practices and standards. This used to be the most respected member of the community in towns and cities of Old Europe. In America the Rav's responsibilities and prestige has been sharply curtailed due to the cosmopolitan nature of our society.

Rebbe – a hasidic leader. Also (in elementary school education contexts) a teacher of religious studies for boys.

Sabbath (shabbas) – The Jewish day of rest; Saturday.

Sekhakh (schach) – the plant material used to cover the Sukkah booth on the festival of Tabernacles (i.e. the roof).

Sekhar Limud – elementary and high school tuition for students attending parochial schools.

Shatnez – clothing that contains a mixture of wool and flax, banned by biblical decree. There are community labs that test for the presence of shatnez if apparel is suspected of it.

Shabhuoth – Pentacost.

Sheine Yid – an affluent, well-respected individual (lit. “nice/handsome jew”)

Sheitel - a wig. Often worn by Orthodox women in Borough Park but eschewed by many in Williamsburg as non-traditional.

Shemini Azereth – Eighth day of the Sukkoth festival (technically it is a separate holiday).

Shpitsel – a type of wig whose hair is only partially revealed. It is covered mostly by a hat.

Shtiebel – a small synagogue where hasidim pray, study torah and engage in spiritual reflection (literally “small room” -- it is probably a cognate of "chapel").

Shul – synagogue. Most Hasidic shul's in Williamsburg are not full-fledged synagogues. They fall technically under the category of “shtiebel”. Yet the term shul may be used casually as a general identifier.

Simhath Torah – The rejoicing of the Torah, a festival celebrated on the day after Shemini Azereth in areas outside Israel. In Israel the two festivals coincide.

Sukkah – a hut in which one must reside (eat, sleep etc...) during the festival of Sukkoth.

Sukkoth – Taberncales.

Taanith – a fast day.

Talmid hakham – a Talmudic scholar.

Talmud Torah – elementary day school for boys. Hebrew.

Tichel – turban (yiddish). Worn by many williamsburg women at all times. For others it's a mostly domestic attire, preferring a wig in public.

Torah – properly, the Pentateuch; by extension, any Jewish text or teaching that pertains to the Torah, such as Mishnah, Talmud and Shulhan Arukh.

Treif – unfit for consumption with respect to dietary laws (the opposite of Kosher).

Upgebinden – adjective indicating a woman who is “tied down” with a scarf that completely covers her hair, as opposed to donning a wig.

Vizhnitz – an East European hasidic sect originally headquartered in Israel after WWII. Williamsburg now has three vizhnitz sub-sects: R. Yisrael b. Moshelle (grandson of the Imre Haim and aligned with Satmar) R. Mendel b. Moshelle (grandson of the Imre Haim and member of Agudath Israel), R. Mottelle (headquartered in Monsey, NY; son of the Imre Haim and aligned with Satmar).

Yeshiva – a Jewish religious educational institution. In Hasidic communities this term is only applied to boys' schools.

Yid – Yiddish for Jew

Yungerman – a young man (may be contrasted with balebus).

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