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Becoming Frum

Becoming Frum: How Newcomers Learn the Language and Culture of Orthodox Judaism

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Becoming Frum
    Book Description:

    When non-Orthodox Jews becomefrum(religious), they encounter much more than dietary laws and Sabbath prohibitions. They find themselves in the midst of a whole new culture, involving matchmakers, homemade gefilte fish, and Yiddish-influenced grammar.Becoming Frumexplains how these newcomers learn Orthodox language and culture through their interactions with community veterans and other newcomers. Some take on as much as they can as quickly as they can, going beyond the norms of those raised in the community. Others maintain aspects of their pre-Orthodox selves, yielding unique combinations, like Matisyahu's reggae music or Hebrew words and sing-song intonation used with American slang, as in "mamish(really) keepin' it real."Sarah Bunin Benor brings insight into the phenomenon of adopting a new identity based on ethnographic and sociolinguistic research among men and women in an American Orthodox community. Her analysis is applicable to other situations of adult language socialization, such as students learning medical jargon or Canadians moving to Australia.Becoming Frumoffers a scholarly and accessible look at the linguistic and cultural process of "becoming."

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5391-7
    Subjects: Religion, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  8. 1 Introduction: Orthodox Jews and Language Socialization
    (pp. 1-30)

    The lights come up. In the middle of the stage stands a young man wearing a black hat, full beard, and black suit with no tie. He holds the microphone close and begins chanting a slow Hasidic niggun, a wordless melody, in a minor key. All of a sudden the rhythm section starts up and the singer switches to an upbeat style. The young men and women in the audience sing along, dancing energetically and pumping their arms to the beat. The music is unmistakably reggae, complete with faux Jamaican accent, interspersed with Hebrew words likeHashem(God),golus(exile),...

  9. 2 “Now You Look Like a Lady”: Adventures in Ethnographic and Sociolinguistic Fieldwork
    (pp. 31-51)

    To find out how BTs learn Orthodox language and culture, I carried out a three-tiered methodology: a year of ethnographic observation and interviews, recordings of community members’ speech, and an experiment using recorded speech samples. In this chapter I explain these methods and the issues that arose during my fieldwork, and I compare my experiences as a non-Orthodox researcher to the experiences of BTs.

    Ethnography is the study of people, their culture, and their social organization through participant-observation and interviews and the subsequent written presentation of selected aspects to an audience. The researcher spends a significant amount of time in...

  10. 3 “He Has Tzitzis Hanging Out of His Ponytail”: Orthodox Cultural Practices and How BTs Adapt Them
    (pp. 52-80)

    One late Friday afternoon, I arrived at the Greenbaums’ home on Parker Street, near the middle of a block that had become very familiar to me. During my fieldwork, I spent several Shabboses and holidays with various families on this block, where twenty-five of the twenty-eight families are Orthodox Jews. Since traditionally observant Jews do not drive on Shabbos, they either live within walking distance of a synagogue or regularly spend Shabbos with people who do. This block was about a fifteen-minute walk from Shomrei Emunah, the largest shul in Milldale.

    Wearing a long skirt, long sleeves, high collar, and...

  11. 4 “This Is Not What to Record”: Yiddish, Hebrew, and the English of Orthodox Jews
    (pp. 81-110)

    When I told Orthodox Jews in Philadelphia and around the country that I was interested in Orthodox language, a common response was, “Have you heard the Journeys song ‘Yeshivishe Reid’?” This song begins:

    In the hallowed halls ofyeshivos[yeshivas] far and wide

    Our young men have discovered a new way to verbalize.

    With Yiddish, English, Hebrew—it’s a mixture of all three,

    And a dash of Aramaic—a linguistic potpourri!

    That’s called:yeshivishe reid[yeshiva speech],yeshivishe shprach[yeshiva language]:

    Takeh[really],eppis[something],gradeh[in reality], agevaldike zach[remarkable thing].

    It’s called:yeshivishe reid,yeshivishe shprach:


  12. 5 “Torah or Toyrah”: Language and the Modern Orthodox to Black Hat Continuum
    (pp. 111-127)

    When Orthodox Jews create a profile on the popular online matchmaking service, they must select a category that describes their religiosity. These categories include four that are seen as existing on a continuum from least to most strict in observance and least to most distinct from general American society: Modern Orthodox Liberal, Modern OrthodoxMachmir(strict), Yeshivish Modern, and Yeshivish Black Hat. One of the questions Frumster participants are asked is: “What does [this category] mean to you?” Responses vary widely, mentioning individuals’ practices of kashrus and negia, specific yeshivas in Israel, New York, Baltimore, and elsewhere, and attitudes...

  13. 6 “Just Keepin’ It Real, Mamish”: Why Ba’alei Teshuva Adopt (or Avoid) Orthodox Language
    (pp. 128-143)

    Rivka Bracha grew up known as Rebecca and had little exposure to Judaism. Two years ago, in her early twenties, she started attending classes at Ner Tamid. Since then, she has spent several months studying in a seminary in Israel, moved to Milldale, and married another Orthodox Jew. She got rid of her tank tops and bought a slew of long dresses and skirts. While she used to enjoy eating at all different kinds of restaurants, she now frequents only kosher establishments and has learned to cook brisket and potato kugel.

    In the past two years, Rivka Bracha has changed...

  14. 7 “I Finally Got the Lingo”: Progression in Newcomers’ Acquisition of Orthodox Language
    (pp. 144-167)

    It is clear from the previous chapter that BTs do eventually acquire many of the Yiddish and Hebrew influences in Orthodox Jewish English. But, unlike students learning a foreign language, this acquisition does not happen in a formal language classroom. As I show in this chapter, BTs go through a long and multifaceted process of language socialization as they integrate into Orthodox communities.

    An important part of the language socialization process is the three stages of religious and social integration that BTs tend to go through (introduced in chapter 1): Peripheral (marginally affiliated with Orthodoxy), Community (following halacha and living...

  15. 8 “A Ba’al Teshuva Freak”: Distinguishing Practices of Newly Orthodox Jews
    (pp. 168-184)

    One Shabbos afternoon, I was lounging around at the Cohen home after a delicious lunch. My belly was still heavy from the cholent, so I preferred to stay in the living room with nine-year-old Avrumy and fourteen-year-old Shmuly rather than join their brothers and sisters who were running around in the yard. As Shmuly readThe Jewish Press, I chatted with Avrumy. The subject turned to my research, and I mentioned that I was interested in how people can tell if others are BTs. He said, “Their voice sounds weird, like not a Jewish voice.” This kind of comment, which...

  16. 9 Matisyahu and My Fair Lady: Reflections on Adult Language Socialization
    (pp. 185-196)

    During a guitar solo, Matisyahu dances in the middle of the stage. His white tzitzis hang out from under his collar shirt, halfway down to his sneakers. The colorful lights illuminate his contagious smile, just days after he shaved off his iconic beard. He removes his kipah and takes a running leap off the stage and into the audience. He surfs the crowd, rolling, sitting, and standing on the hands of fans—men and women, Orthodox and not. He makes his way back up to the stage, puts his kipah back on, and sings the rest of the song.


  17. NOTES
    (pp. 197-220)
    (pp. 221-236)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 237-248)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 249-250)