Wednesday, May 2, 2007

What Makes a Mentch?

Can someone out there answer this question?

What makes a person a mentch?

Does a mentch have to be frum? If not, is it better to be frum and not so mentchy or nonobservant and Mentchlichkeit?

Does a mentch have to be Jewish?

Can a mentch be a woman? I usually hear the word in a male context. Is there a female word equivalent?

Growing up, I used to hear my relatives say, "He is such a mentch!" I don't hear people use that word very often anymore. Is it because there are fewer mentches around? Is it because the word isn't as popular anymore?

What makes a mentch?


Neil Harris said...

Great questions, of course. IMHO, I would say the Torah defines a mentch (or mensch) as a person whos insides reflect their outside. For example if someone has s'michah and is looked upon as a talmud chacham, yet cheats on taxes or defames others, then that Torah knowledge has not properly been infused within the person.

On the other hand, I know of someone (non-observant)who was the head of an educational commitee at a day school. When a teacher was 'let go' due to downsizing, he was the only one who went out of his way to say the the teacher, "I'm sorry that this happpened to you". That's a mentch.

Look around and see who says "Good Shabbos" to others, and see if they sincerely mean it or are they saying it to fulfill their social duty. Good post!

Zach Kessin said...

I think the best test for "Mentchhood" is if you would point at someone and say "look at X, he's a good person, try to be like him" Hard to define but you know it when you see it.

And the idea can definitly apply to women, though that particular word tends to be used for men more often.

Rafi G said...

good question. you are right that we hear it less nwoadays than we used to. I think in general yiddish terminology is used less than previously so it might just be that. As we get more American and further away from our European anscestors, the yiddish culture (and language) ar leaving us. We probably use different words for it nowadays.

That being said, I think a person (even a woman, but there might be other words for a woman - maybe more appropriate for their charachter, like חן - chen or maybe something else) can be a mentsh even if not frum. I think it is a refinement of charachter and can be acheived even not in the frum workld.

Fern said...

Well, according to this Yiddish dictionary mentch is a masculine term but the definition used the generic "person" so I'm not really sure if it helps or just confuses things further...?

Fern said...

Whoops. I messed up the html for the Yiddish dictionary. Here it is: Yiddish Dictionary.

frumhouse said...

Thanks for all of these answers and definitions!

I personally think that anyone can be a mentch. I define the word as someone who is a down-to-earth, kind, and aidel person. Someone who is what-you-see-is-what-you-get. There is nothing hidden - as in Neil's example of the revered Talmud Chacham who secretly cheats on taxes or defames others.

Now that I think about it - the phrase that is bandied about these days for a great man or woman is "tzadek" or "tzadekas."

Perhaps it is thrown about too often as to lessen the meaning of them?

socialworker/frustrated mom said...

Anyone can be a mentch no need to be jewish. A mentch treats all people with decency and respect imho.

RaggedyMom said...

My two cents:

Give me a mentch over a tzadik any day. I find that I mentally roll my eyes a bit when people are described in such overly glowing terms. But to be an ethical, upstanding, consistent person - a mentch - is more difficult and rare, albeit less lauded.

Mentchlichkeit, like handwriting, is absolutely a lost art. I'd rather think of myself as raising mentches than tzaddikim.

And I've seen mentches both male and not, frum and not, Jewish and not.

frumhouse said...

SWFM - I think that you are correct!

raggedymom - I hear you! You've put into words my thoughts exactly!

Perhaps because the word mentch was becoming too "secular," referring to both Jews and nonJews, religious and nonreligious - the terms tzadek or tzedekas had to be trotted out to give the religious overtone?

SephardiLady said...

I love the word mentsch and there is no equivelant in English or any other language that I'm familiar with. I think it describes a respectable person, someone who acts straightforwardly, etc.

I think a mentsch is a person who is part of the world, and I'm not sure a tzadik always is always so. (This probably made no sense, but I think I'm going somewhere with the concept).

I guess the word is falling out of favor. But I love when it is used properly because it is a real compliment.

Walt said...

It almost sounds like mentsch is equivalent to how "gentleman" is often used...

frumhouse said...

walt - gentleman/gentlewoman is a good synonym.