Vort is Yiddish for “word.” In its simplest sense, it means just that: an element of speech. But then, nothing is simple in Yiddish, and even the simplest vort takes on the most delightful meanings.

The Celebratory Vort

Like the English “word,” to give your vort can imply a verbal promise and assurance.

In some communities, when couples become engaged to be married, they sign an elaborate contract known as tenoyim (“conditions”). Others don’t want to put their intentions on paper in advance of the wedding, lest one party feel the need to back out. Instead, the two parties verbally acknowledge their intentions to bring the marriage to fruition. This vort is often celebrated with an engagement party. In time, the celebration also became known as a vort. (Since the occasion will most certainly be celebrated over a glass of firewater and a hearty wish of l’chaim, “to life,” such an occasion may also be called a l’chaim.)

The verbal commitment at a vort is often bolstered by each party lifting a kerchief or another item of minimal value, creating a kinyan, a physical expression of their intentions that gives the engagement a measure of halachic weight.

Learn more about the evolution of the vort/l’chaim.

Chazer a Vort

Jews love to study Torah and share what they learn. Scripture itself tells us, “You shall speak of them when you sit in your house, when you go on the road, when you lie down and when you rise.” At times, a Torah insight can be referred to as a vort (or vertel, in its diminutive form), and to repeat a Torah thought is to chazer1 a vort.

The vort can also be called a devar Torah, Hebrew for “word of Torah.”

When sharing a complex vort, you can refer to the crucial point upon which the entire thought depends as “the vort.” You can refer to a very deep vort as a tifer vort (tif is Yiddish for “deep”), and one that involves splitting some very fine hairs as an eideler vort (eidel is Yiddish for “refined”). On the flip side, a vort that involves elementary, perhaps even simplistic, logic can be referred to as a balabatishe vort (“a layperson’s vort”).

Get tips for crafting the ultimate vort.

Never Just a Vort

In Jewish tradition, words are very important. G‑d created the world through the 10 utterances in the opening chapter of Genesis, and the world’s continued existence is hinged upon the words of Torah study and prayer of the people of Israel.

The words we say—as well as the words we choose not to say—have tremendous power.

It happened once that a resident of Mezhibuzh had a quarrel with another. Once, while in the Baal Shem Tov's shtiebel, he shouted that he would tear the other fellow to pieces like a fish.

The Baal Shem Tov told his pupils to hold one another’s hands and to stand near him with their eyes closed. Then he placed his holy hands on the shoulders of the two disciples next to him. Suddenly, the disciples began shouting in great terror: They had seen that fellow actually dismembering his disputant.

This vort illustrates how our every vort has an effect, either in physical form or on a spiritual plane that can be perceived only with higher and more refined senses.2