Kvetch literally means “squeeze” in Yiddish, and commonly refers to whining, complaining, and grousing. A person who kvetches incessantly can also be referred to as a kvetch.

In Yiddish, kvetch still retains its original meaning of pressing or applying pressure. Thus, to push a button is to kvetch ah knepel, and when a person is emotionally squeezed, small minded or otherwise suppressed, he or she is farkvetched.

In Yiddish grammar, kvetch means “stress.” For example, when saying the word “Yiddish,” place the kvetch on the “Yid” and not on the “dish.”

To shrug your shoulders is tzu kvetchen de pleitzes, and to spend long hours sitting on a bench studying Torah can be referred to (somewhat derisively) as “kvetchen a bahnk,” pressing a bench.

To Kvetch Is Jewish

All that said, the most common meaning of kvetch (especially in English) is to complain. This is an old Jewish tradition. You may think that I am now going to talk about the 40 years the Israelites spent wandering in the desert. It is true that they would kvetch to Moses fairly often about the lack of fresh meat, fresh water, or other amenities.

But the truth is that kvetching—in the finest sense of the word—is even older than that. When seeing how the Israelites suffered at the hands of their Egyptian taskmasters, Moses summoned up the temerity to kvetch to G‑d, saying: “Why have you done evil to this nation?”

Going back another 400 years, we see the same trait in Abraham, the first Jew. G‑d told Abraham that He was about to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorra, whose inhabitants had become morally depraved. Rather than accept the Divine judgement with equanimity, Abraham questioned his Maker.

“Can it be that He who judges the entire land will not do right?” he probed as he bargained with G‑d to spare the denizens of Sodom if only there would be some righteous people among them. Ultimately, Abraham’s bid was unsuccessful, but he bequeathed us with something priceless: the knowledge that if G‑d allowed you to see something wrong, do whatever you can to rectify the situation, even if it means kvetching to G‑d.