WHO IS A LITVAK?
By Ann Rabinowitz
A Litvak can be described as a Jew who is a descendant of those who inhabited, for the most part, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania which encompassed at various times the countries or specific areas of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine and the Suwalki area of Poland. Given that geographical boundaries changed many times over the centuries, it is sometimes hard to determine what a Litvak Jew really was and which map gives a correct idea of where they lived.
Further, a Litvak was more than a person within a geographical boundary. They were often under the jurisdiction of a particular political entity to name a few such as a Polish magnate, a Russian Czar or Communist dictator, a French Emperor, or a Swedish or Polish King or even a German Kaiser or Nazi Fuhrer. It is only in the 20th Century that this large landmass has provided various independent countries with their own governments.
Carrying terminology even further, a Litvak could be an Askenazic, a Sephardic, or Mizrahi Jew which was another type of term based on a geographic location and religious observance even more ancient than being a Litvak. Or, they could be Jews who worshipped with those of the Hasidim or Misnagdim persuasion. It is the "primo" Litvak of all time, the Vilna Gaon, who provided the leadership and scholarship for the establishment of the Misnagdim. And, a Litvak could even be considered as a Cohanim, a Levite or an Israelite and even more esoteric, belonging to a tribe of Israel, if known, that was the most ancient of all designations.
These Litvak Jews carried a lot of inherited baggage with them and they were very proud of it. It is quite impossible then to just give one designation to "what is a Litvak" and leave it at that. What we are as a Litvak has been passed down to us by our ancestors and has become an intrinsic part of ourselves.
The accomplishments of the Litvaks are diverse and many in number and you may read more about them by checking out the LitvakSIG.org site and using the resources of the JGSGM Library which has quite a number of books relating to Litvaks
** The report was submitted by Ann Rabinowitz responding to my question who is a Litvak, after finding the 1875 Montefiore Census in Israel showing my third great grandfather reaching Jerusalem from Plunge Lithuania in 1865.