Is It Heimish?

Welcome to an occasional series of posts which I will be publishing on Hevria called, “Is It Heimish?”, in which I correct the misuse of the word “heimish”. I am taking back heimish, and so can you.

At what point did “heimish” become synonymous with slovenly/unprofessional/of or pertaining to low material and/or social standards? (For example: A friend recently joked that “heimish” is short for “bahaimish”.) I’ve come to set the record straight: “Heimish” means “homey” or “homestyle”. It also can be used synonymously with “Charedi” in certain, but not all, situations.

“Heimish” used to be a positive word in Yiddish. As of late, I only hear it used pejoratively. It’s time to have some Chassidish pride and rescue “heimish” from the insult pile. Join me while I answer the question, “Is it heimish?”

Example one: “That pizza place is really heimish. The pizza is greasy and nasty and they never clean the counters. The last time I ate there I found beard hairs in my garlic knot.”

Is it heimish? No.

Why: It is a bunk use of “heimish” because the word is not a synonym for “artery-clogging disgustingness.” It’s not fair to characterize bad food as heimish just because it is bad. Unlike cholent, mandelbrot, and lovingly made cheesecake on Shavuos morning, pizza can never be heimish because pizza is not a homestyle Jewish food. If it’s a bad pizza place owned and operated by Charedim, it’s simply bad–not heimish. This all gets confusing when the bad food in question happens to be homestyle Jewish food. When faced with a greasy, unappetizing gut-bomb of a Shabbos lunch, you could characterize the food as both heimish and bad, but not just heimish, because a good cholent made with fresh meat and just the right amount of starchy stuff so as not to become pasty is also heimish. Good heimish food exists, and therefore “heimish” is not a synonym for, “I will be in the bathroom for the rest of the day because of this food.”

Example two: “It’s a pretty heimish business. The boss never pays on time, and when he pays he only pays his cousin. Also, he calls his employees at home all the time asking them to do extra work for free.”

Is it heimish? No.

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Why: “Unprofessional”, “greedy”, and “inconsiderate” are not heimish attributes. If someone is actually heimish, he’ll share what he has with you, even if he has very little. It’s a bogus excuse to call a disorganized and selfish boss “heimish”, because in fact he is not heimish at all.

Example three: “They’re a very heimish family. They always have guests for Shabbos, and they make sure that their guests feel like part of the family. I’ve never gone over there without the baal habatim offering me at least a cup of tea.”

Is it heimish? Yes.

Why: They’re warm and welcoming, and marked by generosity with food and drink.

Example four: “She’s a heimish girl,” said the shadchanis.

Is it heimish? Maybe.

Why: We don’t know what the shadchanis means. She could be saying that the girl is warm, welcoming, and a bit old-fashioned. She could also be using coded (read: wrong) language for unkempt and unrefined. For the record, there are refined people who are extremely heimish. There are unrefined people who are not heimish at all. “Heimish” is not a synonym for “unrefined”.

Do you have any more examples of misuse/proper use of “heimish”? Do you think I am wrong? I think you should leave a comment.