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Glossary of Jewish Terminology

Following is a partial list of Hebrew, Yiddish and other Jewish terms used on this web site. Unless otherwise specified, the terms are Hebrew.

I have attempted to provide pronunciations for most of these terms. Some of the pronunciations may not be strictly, technically correct, but they are the way I usually hear the terms pronounced. Unfortunately, what I usually hear is a mix of Ashkenazic and Sephardic pronunciations. I have tried to present the Sephardic pronunciation as much as possible, but some things I never hear pronounced that way!

Pronunciation Guide

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' a vowel that is not quite pronounced; a very short u or i
a as in at
ah as in father
ahy as in my
aw as in awe (often used as awr to sound like or)
ay as in way
e as in bet
ee as in me
eh as in bet
ehy as in they
i as in it
oh as in hope
oo as in food
uh as in up
u as in put
kh as in Scottish or German, a throat clearing noise
tsch as in chair
ts as in paints


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10 Commandments
Judaism teaches that G-d gave the Jews 613 commandments, not merely ten. The biblical passage known to most people as the "Ten Commandments" is known to Jews as the Aseret ha-Dibrot, the Ten Declarations, and is considered to be ten categories of commandments rather than ten individual commandments.
13 Principles of Faith
The most widely accepted list of Jewish beliefs, compiled by Rambam (Maimonides). See What Do Jews Believe?; Sages and Scholars - Rambam.
613 Commandments
Judaism teaches that G-d gave the Jews 613 commandments, which are binding on Jews but not on non-Jews. See Halakhah: Jewish Law; A List of the 613 Mitzvot.

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Aaron
Older brother of Moses. Founder of the priesthood, and the first Kohein Gadol (High Priest). He helped Moses lead the Children of Israel out of Egyptian bondage. See also Rabbis, Priests, and Other Religious Functionaries - Kohein.
Abortion
Judaism permits abortion in appropriate circumstances, and sometimes even requires abortion.
Abraham (Abram)
The first Jew, the founder of Judaism, the physical and spiritual ancestor of the Jewish people. One of the three Patriarchs of Judaism.
Abramovitsch, Sholem Yankev
One of the first great Yiddish fiction writers, known by the pen name Mendele Moykher Sforim (little Mendel, the bookseller). See Yiddish Literature.
Adar
The twelfth month of the Jewish year, occurring in February/March. See Months of the Jewish Year.
Adoption
There is no formal procedure for adoption in Judaism, but one who raises another person's child is acknowledged as the parent in many important ways.
Adoshem
A substitute for writing or saying a name of G-d.
Afikomen
From Greek meaning "dessert." A half piece of matzah set aside during the Passover Seder, which is later hidden by children and then ransomed by parents, or hidden by parents and found by children. It is eaten as the last part of the meal. See Pesach (Passover) and Pesach Seder: How Is This Night Different.
Afterlife
Contrary to popular belief, Judaism does believe in an afterlife, but it is not the primary focus of our religion and there is a lot of room for personal opinion about the nature of the afterlife.
Agunah
Lit. anchored. A woman whose husband disappeared without divorcing her.
Akiba (uh-KEE-buh)
One of the greatest rabbis recorded in the Talmud.
Al Cheit (AHL CHAYT)
Lit. for the sin. A confession of community sins recited repeatedly on Yom Kippur. See Yom Kippur Liturgy.
Alefbet (AH-lef-bet)
The Hebrew alphabet. The name is derived from the first two letters of the alefbet.
Alef-Beyz (AH-lef BAYS)
The Yiddish alphabet. The name is derived from the first two letters of the alef-beyz.
Aleinu (ah-LAY-noo)
A prayer recited at or near the end of every prayer service. See Jewish Liturgy.
Aliyah (uh-LEE-uh; ah-lee-AH)
Lit. ascension. 1) Reading from the Torah (or reciting a blessing over the reading) during services, which is considered an honor (generally referred to in English as having or getting an aliyah and pronounced uh-LEE-uh). 2) Immigrating to Israel (generally referred to in English as making aliyah and pronounced ah-lee-AH). See Torah Readings; Bar Mitzvah, Bat Mitzvah and Confirmation; The Land of Israel - Israel Today.
Amidah (uh-MEE-duh)
Lit. standing. A prayer that is the center of any Jewish religious service. Also known as the Shemoneh Esrei or the Tefilah. See Jewish Liturgy.
Amud (ah-MOOD)
A lower lectern found in some synagogues. Not to be confused with the bimah, which is the primary podium from which the Torah is read. See Synagogues, Shuls and Temples.
Animals
Jewish law prohibits cruelty to animals and requires us to act to relieve the suffering of animals. See Treatment of Animals; Qorbanot: Sacrifices and Offerings.
Aninut
The period of mourning between the time of death and the time of burial.
Antiochus (an-TAHY-u-kuss)
The villain of the story of Chanukkah, a Greek ruler in control of Judea who prohibited practice of Judaism.
Antisemitism
The term "antisemitism" comes from the roots "anti" (against) and "Semite" (a term that applies to both Hebrews and Arabs). However, the word "antisemitism" is used specifically to refer to hatred of Jews and Judaism. Although the Holocaust is the best-known example of antisemitism, it is only the latest in a long and tragic history of expulsions, forced conversions, limitations of civil and political rights, lies and slanders such as the infamous Blood Libel and mass murders like the Russian pogroms and the mob violence incidental to the Crusades. An entire website could be devoted to the subject. I have made a conscious decision not to cover these subjects on this site, because this site is about Jews and Judaism and I refuse to let my people be defined by what others have done to us.
Arba Minim
Lit. four species. Fruit and branches used to fulfill the commandment to "rejoice before the L-rd" during Sukkot. See also Blessing over the Arba Minim.
Ark
The English translation of aron kodesh, lit., holy chest. The cabinet where the Torah scrolls are kept. The word has no connection with Noah's Ark, which is "teyvat" in Hebrew. See Ritual Items in the Synagogue.
Aron Kodesh (AH-rohn KOH-desh)
Lit. holy chest. The cabinet where the Torah scrolls are kept. See Ritual Items in the Synagogue.
Asham (ah-SHAHM)
A guilt offering. A type of sacrifice used to atone for sins of stealing things from the altar, for when you are not sure whether you have committed a sin or what sin you have committed, or for breach of trust.
Asher
1) Son of Jacob (Israel). Ancestor of one of the tribes of Israel; 2) The tribe that bears his name.
Ashkenazic Jews (ahsh-ken-AH-zik) or Ashkenazim (ahsh-ken-ah-ZEEM)
Jews from eastern France, Germany and Eastern Europe, and their descendants, who are culturally different from Jews with origins in other parts of the world. Most Jews in America today are Ashkenazic.
Ashkenazic Pronunciation (ahsh-ken-AH-zik)
Historically, Ashkenazic Jews pronounced some Hebrew sounds differently than Sephardic Jews. The Sephardic pronunciation of Hebrew is increasingly becoming the norm, because it is the pronunciation used in Israel. However, you will still hear Ashkenazic pronunciations in many (but not all) Orthodox communities and among older Jews in all Jewish communities. See Hebrew Alphabet; Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews.
Assyrian Text
A style of writing the Hebrew Alphabet, commonly used in books.
Av
The fifth month of the Jewish year, occurring in July/August. See Months of the Jewish Year.
Avelut
The year of mourning after the burial of a parent.

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B.C.E.
Before the Common (or Christian) Era. Another way of saying B.C.
Ba'al Shem Tov (bahl shem tohv)
Lit. Master of the Good Name. Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer. The founder of Chasidic Judaism.
Baby Shower
Traditionally, Jews did not hold baby showers, believing any preparations for the baby to be bad luck. Today, most Jews do not object to baby showers, but you should be guided by the wishes of the parents in these matters.
Bagel (BAY-g'l)
Donut-shaped bread that is boiled before it is baked.
Balfour Declaration
A letter from British foreign secretary Lord Balfour to Lord Rothschild expressing the British government’s commitment to creating a Jewish state in Palestine. See Zionism and the Formation of the State of Israel.
Bar Kokhba (BAHR KOHKH-buh)
Aramaic: Son of a Star. Simeon ben Kosiba, the leader of the last and most successful Jewish rebellion against Rome in 132-135 C.E. He died in battle when the rebellion was defeated. Rabbi Akiba believed he was the Mashiach (Messiah).
Bar Mitzvah (BAHR MITS-vuh)
Lit. son of the commandment. A boy who has achieved the age of 13 and is consequently obligated to observe the commandments. Also, a ceremony marking the fact that a boy has achieved this age.
Bashert (bah-SHAYRT)
Yiddish: fate, destiny. 1) A soul mate, an ideal, predestined spouse. 2) Any good or fortuitous match, such as the perfect job or the perfect house.
Bat Mitzvah (BAHT MITS-vuh)
Lit. daughter of the commandment. A girl who has achieved the age of 12 and is consequently obligated to observe the commandments. Also, a ceremony marking the fact that a girl has achieved this age.
Beards
Traditionally, Jewish men wore full beards and long sideburns called in Hebrew peyot (pay-OHT) to observe the commandment in Lev. 19:27 not to round the corners of your head or mar the corners of your beard. There are points of Jewish law that allow some shaving, so you may see Orthodox Jews without full beards or peyot. Chasidic Jews do not follow this leniency. This subject has not yet been addressed in a page.
Beginning of Day
A day on the Jewish calendar begins at sunset. When a date is given for a Jewish holiday, the holiday actually begins at sundown on the preceding day. See When Holidays Begin.
Beit Din (BAYT DIN)
Lit. house of judgment. A rabbinical court made up of three rabbis who resolve business disputes under Jewish law and determine whether a prospective convert is ready for conversion.
Beit Hillel (BAYT HIL-el; BAYT hil-EL)
Lit. House of Hillel. A school of thought during the Talmudic period, generally contrasted with the stricter, more legalistic views of Beit Shammai.
Beit Knesset (BAYT K'NESS-et)
Lit. house of assembly. A Hebrew term for a synagogue.
Beit Midrash (BAYT MID-rahsh)
Lit. house of study. A place set aside for study of sacred texts such as the Torah and the Talmud, generally a part of the synagogue or attached to it.
Beit Shammai (BAYT SHAH-mahy)
Lit. House of Shammai. A school of thought during the Talmudic period, generally contrasted with the more lenient, humanistic views of Beit Hillel.
Beliefs
Judaism has no dogma, no formal set of beliefs that one must hold to be a Jew. In Judaism, actions are far more important than beliefs, although there is certainly a place for belief within Judaism. See What Do Jews Believe?; The Nature of G-d; Human Nature; Kabbalah; Olam Ha-Ba: The Afterlife.
Benjamin
1) Son of Jacob (Israel). Ancestor of one of the tribes of Israel; 2) The tribe that bears his name.
Bentsch (BENTSCH)
Yiddish: bless. To recite a blessing. Usually refers to the recitation of the birkat ha-mazon (grace after meals). See Prayers and Blessings; Common Prayers and Blessings.
Berakhah (B'RUHKH-khah; b'ruhkh-KHAH); pl: Berakhot (b'ruhkh-KHOHT)
A blessing. A prayer beginning with the phrase "barukh atah..." (blessed art Thou...). See Prayers and Blessings; Common Prayers and Blessings.
Berurya
A woman of great learning, and the wife of Rabbi Meir. The Talmud records several instances where her opinions on Jewish Law were accepted over those of her male contemporaries. See The Role of Women.
Beta Israel
The black Jews of Ethiopia, sometimes referred to as Falashas. See Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews.
Betrothal
The first part of the two-part process of Jewish marriage, which creates the legal relationship without the mutual obligations. In Hebrew, it is called "kiddushin."
Bible
Also referred to as the Tanakh. The Jewish Bible more or less corresponds to what non-Jews call the "Old Testament." See Torah.
Bimah (BEE-muh)
The pedestal on which the Torah scrolls are placed when they are being read in the synagogue; i.e., the pulpit.
Binah (bee-NAH)
Intuition, understanding, intelligence. A quality that women supposedly have in greater degree than men. Also, in kabbalistic thought, one of the Ten Sefirot.
Birkat Hachamah (BEER-kaht hah-chah-MAH)
The Blessing of the Sun, once every 28 years, when the halakhic vernal equinox occurs on the fourth day at the 0 hour of the day (6 PM Tuesday). The blessing is recited at dawn of that day on the Jewish calendar, which is Wednesday morning (a Jewish day starts at sunset and continues until sunset on the next secular day).
Birkat Ha-Mazon (BEER-kaht hah mah-ZOHN)
Lit. blessing of the food. Grace after meals. The recitation of birkat ha-mazon is commonly referred to as bentsching.
Birth
See Birth and the First Month of Life.
Birth Control
Jewish law permits certain methods of birth control in appropriate circumstances.
Bishul Yisroel
A rule of kosher food preparation that requires a Jew to be involved in the cooking in some circumstances.
Blessing
A prayer beginning with the phrase "barukh atah..." (blessed art Thou...). See Prayers and Blessings; Common Prayers and Blessings.
Blintz (BLINTS)
Yiddish. A thin, crepe-like pancake rolled around a filling of potato and onion, cheese, or fruit.
Block Print
A style of writing the Hebrew Alphabet, commonly used in books.
B'nai Mitzvah (b'NEHY MITS-vuh)
Lit. children of the commandment. Plural of Bar Mitzvah. Children who have achieved the age of 13 and are consequently obligated to observe the commandments. Also, a ceremony marking the fact that children have achieved this age.
B'nei Noach (b'NEHY NOH-ahkh)
A movement of non-Jews who have consciously accepted the responsibility of following the Seven Laws of Noah.
Books
See Torah; Recommended Books and Publishers.
Brit Milah (BRIT MEE-lah)
Lit. covenant of circumcision. The ritual circumcision of a male Jewish child on the 8th day of his life or of a male convert to Judaism. Frequently referred to as a bris.
Burial
Under Jewish law, the dead must be buried in the earth, not cremated, and must be buried in a simple coffin, simply dressed. See Care for the Dead.
Burnt Offering
A type of sacrifice that represented complete submission to G-d's will. It was completely consumed by fire on the altar. In Hebrew, it was called an olah.

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C.E.
Common (or Christian) Era. Used instead of A.D., because A.D. means "the Year of our L-rd," and we do not believe that Jesus is our L-rd.
Calendar
Judaism uses a lunar/solar calendar consisting of months that begin at the new moon. Each year has 12 or 13 months, to keep it in sync with the solar year. See Jewish Calendar; The Jewish Calendar: A Closer Look; Current Calendar; Jewish Holidays.
Caro, Rabbi Joseph
Author of the Shulchan Arukh, the last of the great medieval codes of Jewish law, and one of the most respected compilations of Jewish law ever written.
Chag Sameach (KHAHG sah-MEHY-ahkh)
Hebrew. Literally, joyous festival. A greeting for any holiday, but especially Sukkot, Shavu'ot and Pesach (Passover). See Common Expressions and Greetings.
Chai (KHAHY, rhymes with Hi!)
Lit. living or life. The word is often used as a design on jewelry and other ornaments. Donations to charity are often made in multiples of 18, the numerical value of the word.
Challah (KHAH-luh)
A sweet, eggy, yellow bread, usually braided, which is served on Shabbat and holidays, confusingly named for the commandment to set aside a portion of the dough from any bread.
Chametz (KHUH-mitz)
Lit. leaven. Leavened grain products, which may not be owned or consumed during Passover.
Chanukkah (KHAH-nik-uh; KHAH-noo-kah)
Lit. dedication. An eight day holiday celebrating the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after it was defiled by the Seleucid Greeks. Also known as the Festival of Lights. See also Chanukkah Candle Lighting Blessings.
Chanukkat Ha-Bayit (KHAH-noo-KAHT hah BAHY-eet)
Lit. dedication of the house. A brief ceremony dedicating a Jewish household, during which the mezuzah is affixed to the doorposts. The procedure and prayers for affixing the mezuzah is available.
Chanukkiah (KHAH-noo-KEE-ah)
A name sometimes use for a Chanukkah menorah.
Charity
In Judaism, helping the poor and needy is as much an obligation as any of the more familiar ritual observances. It is referred to as tzedakah (righteousness).
Charoset (khah-ROH-set; khah-ROH-ses)
A mixture of fruit, wine and nuts eaten at the Passover seder to symbolize mortar used by the Jewish slaves in Egypt. See Pesach (Passover); Pesach Seder: How Is This Night Different.
Chasidism (KHAH-sid-ism); Chasidic (khah-SID-ic)
From the word "Chasid" meaning "pious." A branch of Orthodox Judaism that maintains a lifestyle separate from the non-Jewish world.
Chatat (khah-TAHT)
A sin offering. A type of sacrifice used to atone for and expiate unintentional sins.
Chazal
Acronym of the Hebrew phrase Chachameinu Zichronam Liv'racha, which means "our sages of blessed memory" or "our sages, may their memory be a blessing." Refers to the consensus of opinion expressed in the Talmud, or more generally the consensus of Jewish scholarship.
Chazzan (KHAH-zen)
Cantor. The person who leads the congregation in prayer. May be a professional or a member of the congregation.
Cheilek (pl. Chalakim) (KHEHY-lehk; khah-LAHK-eem)
A unit of time used in calculating the Jewish calendar, corresponding to 3-1/3 seconds, more commonly referred to in English as a "part." There are 18 parts in a minute and 1080 parts in an hour. See The Jewish Calendar: A Closer Look - Calendar Essentials.
Chelev (KHE-lev)
The fat surrounding organs, as distinguished from the fat surrounding muscles. Forbidden to be eaten under the laws of Kashrut.
Cheshvan
The eighth month of the Jewish year, occurring in October/November. Sometimes called Marcheshvan (bitter Cheshvan) because it is the only month with no holidays. See Months of the Jewish Year.
Chevra Kaddisha (KHEV-ruh kah-DEESH-uh)
Lit. holy society. An organization devoted to caring for the dead.
Children of Israel
The most common designation of the Jewish people used in Jewish literature. It signifies the fact that we are descended from Jacob, who was also known as Israel. See The Jewish People are a Family
Chillul Ha-Shem (khil-LOOL hah SHEM)
Lit. profanation of the Name. Causing G-d or Judaism to come into disrespect, or causing a person to violate a commandment. See The Name of G-d.
Chol Ha-Mo'ed (KHOHL hah MOH-ed; KHOHL hah moh-AYD)
The intermediate days of Pesach (Passover) and Sukkot, when work is permitted. See Pesach (Passover); Sukkot.
Cholent (TSCHUH-lent)
A slow cooked stew of beef, beans and barley, which is served on Shabbat.
Cholov Yisroel
A rule of kosher food preparation that requires a Jew observe milk from the time it is milked to the time it is bottled.
Chukkim (khook-EEM)
Jewish religious laws for which no reason is given in the Torah. Some believe that they are meant to show our obedience to G-d.
Chumash (KHUH-mish)
Lit. five. A compilation of the first five books of the Bible and corresponding readings from the prophets, organized in the order of the weekly Torah portions.
Chuppah (KHU-puh)
The wedding canopy, symbolic of the groom's home, under which the nisuin portion of the wedding ceremony is performed.
Circumcision
Removal of the foreskin, a commandment in Judaism performed on the 8th day of a male child's life or upon conversion to Judaism. Referred to in Hebrew as brit milah or in Yiddish as a bris.
Clergy
See Rabbis, Priests and Other Religious Functionaries.
Clothing
Although Chasidic Jews wear special and distinctive clothing, other Jews have no special requirements other than dressing modestly and not cross-dressing. For information about ritual clothing, see Tzitzit and Tallit; Yarmulke.
Commandments
Judaism teaches that G-d gave the Jews 613 commandments, which are binding on Jews but not on non-Jews. See Halakhah: Jewish Law; A List of the 613 Mitzvot; Aseret ha-Dibrot: The "Ten Commandments".
Confirmation
A ceremony performed in some Reform and Conservative synagogues to replace or supplement the Bar Mitzvah.
Conservative
One of the major movements of Judaism, accepting the binding nature of Jewish law but believing that the law can change. See Movements of Judaism in the United States Today.
Contraception
Jewish law permits certain methods of birth control in appropriate circumstances.
Conversion
Judaism does not seek out converts, and actively discourages converts (because a person does not need to be a Jew to be righteous in G-d's eyes), but conversion to Judaism is possible. See also Who is a Jew?; Jewish Attitudes Towards Non-Jews.
Cooking
See Jewish Cooking; Kashrut: Jewish Dietary Laws.
Counting of the Omer
The counting of the days between Passover and Shavu'ot.

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Daf Yomi (DAHF yoh-MEE)
Lit. page of the day. Refers to the practice of studying a page of Talmud every day.
Dagesh (dah-GEHSH)
A dot found in the center of some Hebrew letters in pointed text, used as an aid to pronunciation. See Vowels and Points.
Dan
1) Son of Jacob (Israel). Ancestor of one of the tribes of Israel; 2) The tribe that bears his name.
Daniel
A book of the Torah, or the writer of that book. The book is included in the Writings, not the Prophets, because by definition prophecies are meant to be proclaimed, and his visions were meant to be written, not proclaimed. See Prophets and Prophecy.
Dati (DAH-tee)
Orthodox Jews in Israel.
Daven (DAH-ven)
Yiddish: Pray. Observant Jews daven three times a day, in addition to reciting blessings over many common activities. See Prayers and Blessings; Jewish Liturgy; Common Prayers and Blessings.
Days of Awe
Ten days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, a time for introspection and considering the sins of the previous year.
Death
In Judaism, death is not a tragedy, even when it occurs early in life or through unfortunate circumstances. Death is a natural process.
Dechiyah (pl. Dechiyot) (d'-KHEE-yah; d'-khee-YOHT)
A rule postponing the date of the new year when calculating the Jewish Calendar. There are four dechiyot, but some are more commonly applied than others. See The Jewish Calendar: A Closer Look - Calculating the Calendar.
Diaspora
Any place outside of the land of Israel where Jews live. Refers to the fact that Jews were dispersed from the land of Israel by the Romans after the last Jewish War. The Hebrew/Yiddish term for this is "galut" (pronounced gah-LOOT or gah-LOOS).
Divorce
Judaism has always accepted divorce as a fact of life, albeit an unfortunate one, and permits divorce for any reason, but discourages divorce. See also Marriage.
D'Oraita (d'awr-AHY-tah)
A law that comes come directly from the Torah (either explicitly or implicitly). Distinguished from d'rabbanan, laws instituted by the rabbis.
D'Rabbanan (d'-rah-bah-NAHN)
A law instituted by the rabbis. Distinguished from d'oraita, laws that come directly from the Torah (either explicitly or implicitly).
Dreidel
A top-like toy used to play a traditional Chanukkah game.
Dreyfus, Captain Alfred
A Jewish officer in the French military who was unjustly convicted of passing secrets to the Germans. His trial sparked a wave of anti-Jewish sentiment that inspired the early Zionist political movement.

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Ein Sof (ayn sohf)
Lit. without end. In Jewish mysticism, the true essence of G-d, which is so transcendent that it cannot be described and cannot interact directly with the universe.
Elokaynu
A substitute for a name of G-d. See The Name of G-d.
Elul
The sixth month of the Jewish year, a time of repentance in preparation for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. See also Months of the Jewish Year.
Ephraim
1) Son of Joseph. Ancestor of one of the tribes of Israel; 2) The tribe that bears his name.
Erev
Lit. evening. The evening part of a day, which precedes the morning part of the same day because a "day" on the Jewish calendar starts at sunset. For example, if your calendar says that Yom Kippur is on September 25, then Erev Yom Kippur is the evening of September 24, which is also part of Yom Kippur. See Jewish Holidays - When Holidays Begin,
Esau
Son of Isaac; older twin brother of Jacob (Israel). He had little respect for the traditions of his ancestors, and sold his birthright for a bowl of lentil stew.
Essenes
A movement of Judaism that began approximately 2200 years ago. It died out shortly after the destruction of the Temple. See Movements of Judaism in Ancient Times.
Esther
One of the heroes of the story of Purim. Also, the book in the Bible that tells her story. See Purim; Torah.
Ethics
Laws are at the heart of Judaism, but a large part of Jewish law is about ethical behavior. See Love and Brotherhood, Speech and Lashon Ha-Ra, Tzedakah: Charity, and Treatment of Animals.
Ethiopian Jews
The Jews of Ethiopia, whose customs and practices are somewhat different than those of Ashkenazic or Sephardic Jews. See Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews.
Etrog (ET-rohg)
A citrus fruit grown in Israel and other parts of the Mediterranean, used to fulfill the commandment to "rejoice before the L-rd" during Sukkot. See also Blessing over the Arba Minim.
Euthanasia
Euthanasia, suicide and assisted suicide are strictly forbidden by Jewish law, because life is so precious. See Life, Death and Mourning for more information.
Evil Impulse
Humanity was created with a dual nature: an impulse to do what is right an a selfish (evil) impulse. Free will is the ability to choose which impulse to follow.

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Falashas
The black Jews of Ethiopia, who prefer to be known as the Beta Israel. See Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews.
Family Purity
Laws relating to the separation of husband and wife during the woman's menstrual period. Also referred to as the laws of niddah or taharat ha-mishpachah.
Fast Days
Several Jewish holidays are fasts, upon which we may neither eat nor drink. See Yom Kippur; Tisha B'Av; Minor Fasts.
Festivals
See Jewish Holidays and pages following it, especially Passover, Shavu'ot and Sukkot.
Firstborn
If a woman's first child is a male child born by natural childbirth, then the child must be redeemed from a kohein (priest) by a procedure called Pidyon Ha-Ben. In addition, firstborn males must observe a special fast the day before Pesach (Passover), commemorating the fact that they were saved from the plague of the first born.
Fleishik (FLAHYSH-ik)
Yiddish: meat. Used to describe kosher foods that contain meat and therefore cannot be eaten with dairy. See Kashrut - Separation of Meat and Dairy.
Food
See Jewish Cooking; Kashrut; Pesach (Passover) Cooking Tips.
Four Parshiyot (pahr-shee-OHT)
Four special Torah readings added to the weekly cycle of readings during the month before Pesach (Passover).
Four Questions
A set of questions about Passover, designed to encourage participation in the seder. Also known as Mah Nishtanah (Why is it different?), which are the first words of the Four Questions. See Pesach (Passover) and Pesach Seder: How Is This Night Different.
Four Species
Fruit and branches used to fulfill the commandment to "rejoice before the L-rd" during Sukkot. See also Blessing over the Arba Minim.
Free Will
Humanity was created with a dual nature: an impulse to do what is right and a selfish (evil) impulse. Free will is the ability to choose which impulse to follow. See Human Nature - The Dual Nature.
Funerals
See Life, Death and Mourning.

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Gabbai (GAH-bahy)
A lay person who volunteers to perform various duties in connection with Torah readings at religious services.
Gad
1) Son of Jacob (Israel). Ancestor of one of the tribes of Israel; 2) The tribe that bears his name.
Galut (gah-LOOT or gah-LOOS)
Lit. exile or captivity. Any place outside of the land of Israel where Jews live. Refers to the fact that Jews were exiled from the land of Israel by the Romans after the last Jewish War.
Gan Eden
Lit. Garden of Eden. A place of spiritual reward for the righteous dead. This is not the same place where Adam and Eve lived.
G-d
A way of avoiding writing a name of G-d, to avoid the risk of the sin of erasing or defacing the Name. See The Name of G-d; The Nature of G-d.
Gebrochts (geh-BRAWKHTS)
Yiddish: lit. broken. An additional strictness that some observe during Pesach (Passover), to avoid eating any matzah product that has come into contact with liquid after being baked. No matzah ball soup for you if you follow this rule! See Pesach Laws and Customs.
Gefilte Fish (g'-FIL-tuh)
Yiddish: lit. stuffed fish. A traditional Jewish dish consisting of a ball or cake of chopped up fish.
Gehinnom (g'hee-NOHM); Gehenna (g'HEHN-uh)
A place of spiritual punishment and/or purification for a period of up to 12 months after death. Gehinnom is the Hebrew name; Gehenna is Yiddish.
Gemara (g'-MAHR-uh)
Commentaries on the Mishnah. The Mishnah and Gemara together are the Talmud.
Gematria (g'-MAH-tree-uh)
A field of Jewish mysticism finding hidden meanings in the numerical value of words.
Genealogy
Jews historically were not as interested in documenting their pedigrees as gentiles, but genealogy has become popular in recent years, and is necessary to prove Jewish status for those moving to Israel.
Gentiles
See Jewish Attitudes Toward Non-Jews; Non-Jews Visiting a Synagogue.
Gesundheit (g'-SUND-hahyt)
Yiddish. Literally, health. This is the normal response when somebody sneezes. See Common Expressions and Greetings.
Get (GET)
A writ of divorce. Also called a sefer k'ritut.
Gezeirah (g'-ZAY-ruh)
A law instituted by the rabbis to prevent people from unintentionally violating commandments.
Glatt Kosher (GLAHT KOH-sher)
A standard of kashrut that requires an additional degree of stringency in the inspection of the lungs of cattle, to determine whether the lungs are free from adhesions. See Kashrut: Jewish Dietary Laws.
G'milut Chasadim
Acts of lovingkindness.
Golem (GOH-luhm)
Lit. an unformed thing. 1) A term used in the Talmud to describe Adam before he had a soul. 2) A creature of Jewish folklore, a man made of clay and brought to life. See Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism.
Gossip
Gossiping is a serious sin in Judaism. See Speech and Lashon Ha-Ra.
Goy
Lit. nation. A non-Jew, that is, a member of one of the other nations. There is nothing inherently insulting about the term; the word "goy" is used in the Torah to describe Israel. See Jewish Attitudes Toward Non-Jews.
Grace After Meals
Referred to in Hebrew as Birkat Ha-Mazon. It is one of the most important prayers in Judaism, one of the very few that the Bible commands us to recite.
Grager (GREG-er; GRAG-er)
A noisemaker used to blot out the name of Haman during the reading of the Megillah on Purim.
Guide for the Perplexed
Rambam's masterpiece of Jewish philosophy and theology, written from the perspective of an Aristotelian philosopher.
Guilt Offering
A type of sacrifice used to atone for sins of stealing things from the altar, for when you are not sure whether you have committed a sin or what sin you have committed, or for breach of trust.
Gut Shabbes (GUT SHAH-biss)
Yiddish. Literally, good Sabbath. A general, all-purpose Shabbat greeting. See Common Expressions and Greetings.
Gut Yontiff (GUT YAHN-tiff)
Yiddish. Literally, good holiday. A general, all-purpose holiday greeting. See Common Expressions and Greetings.

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Haftarah (hahf-TOH-ruh)
Lit. conclusion. A reading from the Prophets, read along with the weekly Torah portion. See Torah Readings.
Haggadah (huh-GAH-duh)
The book read during the Passover Seder, telling the story of the holiday. See Pesach (Passover); Pesach Seder: How Is This Night Different.
Hakafot (hah-kah-FOHT)
Lit. circuits. Processions around the synagogue carrying the lulav and etrog for the holiday of Sukkot, or carrying the Torah around the synagogue for the holiday of Simchat Torah. See Sukkot - Arba Minim: The Four Species; Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah
Halakhah (huh-LUHKH-khuh)
Lit. the path that one walks. Jewish law. The complete body of rules and practices that Jews are bound to follow, including biblical commandments, commandments instituted by the rabbis, and binding customs. See also Torah; A List of the 613 Mitzvot.
Hallel
Lit. praise G-d. Psalms 113-118, in praise of G-d, which are recited on certain holidays. See Jewish Liturgy.
Haman (HAY-men)
The villain of the story of Purim.
Hamentaschen (HAH-men-TAH-shen)
Lit. Haman's pockets. Triangular, fruit-filled cookies traditionally served or given as gifts during Purim. See Purim; Recipe for Hamentaschen.
Hamesh Hand; Hamsa Hand
An inverted hand with thumb and pinky curling outward. A popular motif in Jewish jewelry.
Haredi
Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel.
Ha-Shem (hah SHEM)
Lit. The Name. The Name of G-d, which is not pronounced. The phrase "ha-Shem" is often used as a substitute for G-d's Name.
Hatafat Dam Brit (hah-tah-FAHT DAHM BRIT)
A symbolic circumcision of a person who has already been circumcised or who was born without a foreskin. It involves taking a pinprick of blood from the tip of the penis. See Brit Milah: Circumcision.
Ha-Tikvah
Lit. The Hope. The anthem of the Zionist movement and the state of Israel.
Havdalah (Hahv-DAH-luh)
Lit. separation, division. A ritual marking the end of Shabbat or a holiday. See Havdalah Home Ritual.
Heaven
The place of spiritual reward for the righteous dead in Judaism is not referred to as Heaven, but as Olam Ha-Ba (the World to Come) or Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden). See Olam Ha-Ba: The Afterlife.
Hebrew
The language of the Torah, in which all prayer should be recited. See Hebrew Alphabet; Hebrew Language: Root Words.
Hebrew Fonts and Word Processors
See Hebrew Alphabet.
Hekhsher (HEHK-sher)
A symbol certifying that food or other products satisfy Jewish dietary laws and are kosher.
Hell
The place of spiritual punishment and/or purification for the wicked dead in Judaism is not referred to as Hell, but as Gehinnom or She'ol. According to most sources, the period of punishment or purification is limited to 12 months, after which the soul ascends to Olam Ha-Ba or is destroyed (if it is utterly wicked). See Olam Ha-Ba: The Afterlife.
Herzl, Theodor
The founder of the Zionist political movement in the late 1800s.
High Holidays
The holidays of Rosh Hashanah, the Days of Awe and Yom Kippur are commonly referred to as the High Holidays or the High Holy Days.
Hillel (HIL-el; hil-EL)
One of the greatest rabbis recorded in the Talmud. His more liberal views of Jewish law are often contrasted with the stricter views of Shammai. Also: a Jewish college student organization under the auspices of B'nai Brith.
Hiloni
Secular Jews in Israel.
History
See The Patriarchs and the Origins of Judaism; Moses, Aaron and Miriam.
Holidays
Judaism has over a dozen holidays, ranging from deeply solemn fast days like Yom Kippur to all-out parties like Purim. See Jewish Holidays and pages following it.
Holishkes (HOH-lish-kuhs)
Cabbage leaves stuffed with meatballs served in a tomato-based sweet and sour sauce.
Homosexuality
Homosexual orientation is not a sin in Judaism, but homosexual acts are. Male-male sex is forbidden by the Torah. Lesbian sex is not prohibited by the Torah, but is generally considered prohibited as "licentiousness."
Hoshanah Rabbah (hoh-SHAH-nuh RAH-buh)
Lit. great hosanna. The seventh day of Sukkot, on which seven circuits are made around the synagogue reciting a prayer with the refrain, "Hosha na!" (please save us!).
Human Nature
Humanity is in the image of G-d, in that we have the ability to think, reason and understand. Humanity was created with a dual nature: an impulse to do what is right an a selfish (evil) impulse. Free will is the ability to choose which impulse to follow.

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Image of G-d
Humanity was created in the image of G-d, which means we have the ability to reason and discern; however, G-d has no physical form or image. See The Nature of G-d.
Interfaith Marriage
Marriage to a non-Jew is not recognized as "marriage" in Jewish law. The increasing frequency of intermarriage is a source of great concern to traditional Jews. See also Marriage.
Isaac
Son and spiritual heir of Abraham. Father of Jacob (Israel). One of the three Patriarchs of Judaism.
Ishmael
Firstborn son of Abraham by Sarah's Egyptian maidservant, Hagar. According to both Muslim and Jewish tradition, he is the ancestor of the Arabs.
Israel
1) The land that G-d promised to Abraham and his descendants. 2) The northern kingdom that was home to the "ten lost tribes." 3) Alternate name for Jacob. 4) A country in the Middle East located in the ancient homeland that has a predominantly Jewish population and government.
Issachar
1) Son of Jacob (Israel). Ancestor of one of the tribes of Israel; 2) The tribe that bears his name.
Iyar
The second month of the Jewish year, occurring in April/May. See Months of the Jewish Year.

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Jacob (Israel)
Son of Isaac. Father of twelve sons, who represent the tribes of Judaism. One of the three Patriarchs of Judaism.
Jerusalem
The holiest city in Judaism, King David's capital and the site of King Solomon's Temple and the Second Temple. Since ancient times, Jews have faced Jerusalem during prayer, and have prayed daily for a return to Israel and Jerusalem. See The Land of Israel.
Jew
A person whose mother was a Jew or who has converted to Judaism. According to the Reform movement, a person whose father is a Jew is also a Jew. Although the term is derived from the term "Judahite" (meaning a member of the tribe of Judah or a citizen of the kingdom of Judah), it has historically been applied to the patriarchs, the matriarchs and all of the descendants of Jacob and all converts to their faith. See Who Is a Jew?
Jewish Law
The complete body of rules and practices that Jews are bound to follow, including biblical commandments, commandments instituted by the rabbis, and binding customs.
Jewish Race
The Jews are not a race. See What is Judaism?; Are Jews a Race?
Jewish Religion
Judaism is the religion of the Children of Israel, that is, the Jewish people. Most of the pages on this site deal with the Jewish religion to one extent or another. See especially What is Judaism?; What Do Jews Believe?
Jewish Star
The six-pointed star emblem commonly associated with Judaism, also known as the Magen David, the Shield of David or the Star of David.
Joseph
Son of Jacob (Israel). Ancestor of two of the tribes of Israel. He was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, but became powerful in Egypt and paved the way for his family's settlement there.
Judah
1) Son of Jacob (Israel). Ancestor of one of the tribes of Israel; 2) The tribe that bears his name; 3) The Southern Kingdom after the death of Solomon when Israel was split into two kingdoms; the Kingdom of Judah included the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and part of the tribe of Levi.
Judah Ha-Nasi (JOO-duh hah NAH-see)
Compiler of the Mishnah.
Judaism (JOO-dee-ism; JOO-duh-ism)
The religion of the Children of Israel, that is, the Jewish people. See What is Judaism?; What Do Jews Believe?

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Kabbalah (kuh-BAH-luh)
Lit. tradition. Jewish mystical tradition.
Kaddish (KAH-dish)
Aramaic: holy. A prayer in Aramaic praising G-d, commonly associated with mourning practices. See also Jewish Liturgy. Full text of the Mourner's Kaddish is available.
Kapparot
Lit. atonements. A custom during the Days of Awe.
Karaites (KAH-rah-ahyts)
Lit. People of the Scripture. A sect of Judaism that, like the ancient Sadducees, does not accept the oral Torah, but relies solely on the written scriptures. By contrast, Rabbinical Judaism believes that G-d taught Moses an oral Torah at the same time that He gave the written one. The Karaites are now a very small sect, though they claim that at one time they attracted 40 percent of the Jewish population. See their website at Karaite Jews of America.
Kareit (kah-REHYT)
The penalty of spiritual excision, imposed by G-d. Certain sins, such as failure to circumcise, are so severe that one who violates them has no place in the World to Come.
Kashrut (KAHSH-rut; KAHSH-root; kahsh-ROOT)
From a root meaning "fit," "proper" or "correct." Jewish dietary laws.
Kavanah (kuh-VAH-nuh; kah-vah-NAH)
Concentration, intent. The frame of mind required for prayer or performance of a mitzvah (commandment).
Kavod Ha-Met (kuh-VOHD hah MAYT)
Lit. respect for the dead. One of the purposes of Jewish practices relating to death and mourning.
Keriyah (k'REE-yuh)
Lit. tearing. The tearing of one's clothes upon hearing of the death of a close relative. See Mourning.
Ketubah (k'TOO-buh)
Lit. writing. The Jewish marriage contract.
Kiddush (KID-ish)
Lit. sanctification. A prayer recited over wine sanctifying Shabbat or a holiday. See also Common Prayers and Blessings.
Kiddush Ha-Shem (ki-DOOSH hah SHEM)
Lit. sanctification of The Name. Any deed that increases the respect accorded to G-d or Judaism, especially martyrdom. See The Name of G-d.
Kiddushin
Lit. sanctification. The first part of the two-part process of Jewish marriage, which creates the legal relationship without the mutual obligations.
Kippah (KEE-puh)
The skullcap head covering worn by Jews during services, and by some Jews at all times, more commonly known as a yarmulke.
Kislev
The ninth month of the Jewish year, occurring in November/December. See Months of the Jewish Year.
Kitniyot (kit-NEE-yot; kit-NEE-yos)
Foods that are prohibited during Pesach (Passover) by the rulings of Ashkenazic rabbis. Sephardic Jews do not follow these restrictions. Includes rice, corn, peanuts, and legumes (beans).
Kittel (KIT-'l, rhymes with little, but the t is pronounced distinctly))
The white robes in which the dead are buried, worn by some during Yom Kippur services.
Klezmer
A style of music in Yiddish culture normally characterized by wailing, squealing sounds of clarinets. See Yiddish Music.
Knaydelach (KNAY-duhl-ahkh)
Yiddish: dumplings. Commonly refers to matzah balls. Can also be used as a term of affection for small children. See Jewish Cooking.
Knesset (kin-EHS-eht)
Lit. assembly. The Israeli legislative body. See The Land of Israel - Israel Today
Knish (KNISH)
Yiddish. A potato and flour dumpling stuffed with potato and onion, chopped liver or cheese.
Kohein (pl. Kohanim) (KOH-hayn; koh-HAHN-eem)
Priest. A descendant of Aaron, charged with performing various rites in the Temple. This is not the same thing as a rabbi.
Kol Nidre (KOHL NID-ray)
Lit. all vows. The evening service of Yom Kippur, or the prayer that begins that service.
Kosher (KOH-sher)
Lit. fit, proper or correct. Describes food that is permissible to eat under Jewish dietary laws. Can also describe any other ritual object that is fit for use according to Jewish law.
Kugel (KOO-gul; KI-gul)
Yiddish: pudding. A casserole of potatoes, eggs and onion, or a dessert of noodles, fruits and nuts in an egg based pudding.

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Ladino (Luh-DEE-noh)
The "international language" of Sephardic Jews, based primarily on Spanish, with words taken from Hebrew, Arabic and other languages, and written in the Hebrew Alphabet.
Lag b'Omer (LAHG BOH-mayr)
The 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer. A minor holiday on which the mourning restrictions of the Omer period are lifted.
Lashon Ha-Ra (LAH-shohn HAH-rah; luh-SHOHN hah-RAH)
Lit. the evil tongue. Sins against other people committed by speech, such as defamation, gossip, swearing falsely, and scoffing.
Latkes (LAHT-kuhs; LAHT-kees)
Potato pancakes traditionally eaten during Chanukkah.
L'Chayim (l'-KHAHY-eem)
Lit. to life. A common Jewish toast. See Common Expressions and Greetings.
Leah
Wife of Jacob. Mother of six of his sons. Sister of Rachel. One of the Matriarchs of Judaism.
Leap Year
A year with an extra month, to realign the Jewish lunar calendar with the solar year. See Jewish Calendar.
Levi (LAY-vee); Levite (LEE-vahyt)
1) A descendant of the tribe of Levi, which was set aside to perform certain duties in connection with the Temple; 2) Son of Jacob (Israel). Ancestor of the tribe of Levi.
Liberal
One of the most liberal movements of Judaism in the United Kingdom, but somewhat more traditional than the American Reform Movement.
Life
In Judaism, life is valued above almost all else, and almost any commandment can be violated to save a life.
Life after Death
Contrary to popular belief, Judaism does believe in an afterlife, but it is not the primary focus of our religion and there is a lot of room for personal opinion about the nature of the afterlife.
Lilith
A character from rabbinical folklore, a female demon who seduces men and threatens babies and women in childbirth. Some feminists have tried to reinterpret her as a hero of female empowerment, relying on a rather questionable source.
Liturgy
Observant Jews pray three times a day, and Judaism has an extensive liturgy. See Prayers and Blessings; Jewish Liturgy; Yom Kippur Liturgy; Common Prayers and Blessings.
Love and Brotherhood
Laws are at the heart of Judaism, but a large part of Jewish law is about love and brotherhood, the relationship between man and his neighbors.
Lox (LAHKS)
Smoked salmon. Commonly served on a bagel.
L-rd
A way of avoiding writing a name of G-d, to avoid the risk of the sin of erasing or defacing the Name. See The Name of G-d.
L'Shanah Tovah (li-SHAH-nuh TOH-vuh; li-shah-NAH toh-VAH)
Lit. for a good year. A common greeting during Rosh Hashanah and Days of Awe. See Common Expressions and Greetings.
Lubavitch (luh-BUH-vitsh)
A sect of Chasidic Judaism that is active in outreach to other Jews and has a high media presence.
Lulav (LOO-lahv)
Lit. palm branch. A collection of palm, myrtle and willow branches, used to fulfill the commandment to "rejoice before the L-rd" during Sukkot. See also Blessing over the Arba Minim.

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Ma'ariv (MAH-reev)
Evening prayer services. See Jewish Liturgy.
Maccabees
1) A name for the family of heroes of the story of Chanukkah, derived from the nickname of one of the sons, Judah the Maccabee. 2) Books telling the story of Chanukkah that are found in some bibles but are not accepted as scripture by Jews.
Machmir (makh-MEER)
Strict application of Jewish law in cases of doubt. When there is a doubt in a matter of Torah law, you must be machmir (strict); when there is a doubt in a matter of rabbinic law, you may be makil (lenient). See The Difference Between Torah Law and Rabbinic Law
Machzor (MAHKH-zawr)
A special prayer book for the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Maftir (MAHF-teer)
Lit. The person who reads or blesses the reading of the last part of the Torah reading and the entire haftarah reading.
Magen David (mah-GAYN dah-VEED; MAH-gen DAH-vid; MOH-gen DAY-vid)
Lit. shield of David. The six-pointed star emblem commonly associated with Judaism.
Mah Nishtanah
Lit. Why is it different? A set of questions about Passover, designed to encourage participation in the seder. Also known as the Four Questions. See Pesach (Passover) and Pesach Seder: How Is This Night Different.
Maimonides (mahy-MAH-ni-dees)
Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, one of the greatest medieval Jewish scholars. Commonly referred to by the acronym 'Rambam'.
Makil (mah-KEEL)
Lenient application of Jewish law in cases of doubt. When there is a doubt in a matter of Torah law, you must be machmir (strict); when there is a doubt in a matter of rabbinic law, you may be makil (lenient). See The Difference Between Torah Law and Rabbinic Law
Mamzer (MAHM-zer)
Lit. bastard. The child of a marriage that is prohibited and invalid under Jewish law, such as an incestuous union.
Manasseh
1) Son of Joseph. Ancestor of one of the tribes of Israel; 2) The tribe that bears his name.
Marriage
Marriage is vitally important in Judaism, and refraining from marriage is considered unnatural. Marriage is not solely for the purpose of procreation, but is primarily for the purpose of love and companionship. See also Interfaith Marriages; Kosher Sex; Divorce.
Masekhtot
A subdivision of the Mishnah and Talmud.
Mashgiach
A person who certifies that food is kosher.
Mashiach (mah-SHEE-ahkh)
Lit. anointed. A man who will be chosen by G-d to put an end to all evil in the world, rebuild the Temple, bring the exiles back to Israel and usher in the world to come. Generally translated as "messiah," but the Jewish concept is very different from the Christian one.
Masorti
Jews in Israel who are traditionally observant but not Orthodox.
Masturbation
Jewish law strictly prohibits male masturbation. Female masturbation is a matter of less clarity, but it is also frowned upon.
Matzah (pl. Matzot) (MAHTZ-uh; matz-OHT)
Unleavened bread traditionally served during Passover.
Matzah Ball Soup
Thin chicken soup with dumplings made from matzah meal.
Matzah Meal
Crumbs of matzah, commonly used in Jewish Cooking in much the same way that other cultures use flour or bread crumbs.
Mazel Tov (MAHZ-z'l TAWV)
Lit. good luck. A way of expressing congratulations. Note that this term is not be used in the way that the expression "good luck" is used in English. See Common Expressions and Greetings.
Meal Offerings
An offering of meal or grain.
Mechitzah (m'-KHEETZ-uh)
The wall or curtain separating men from women during religious services.
Megillah (m'-GILL-uh)
Lit. scroll. One of five books of the Bible (Esther, Ruth, Song of Songs, Lamentations, and Ecclesiastes). The remaining books are referred to as sefers (books). Usually refers to the book of Esther. See Purim. In Yiddish, the term can be used to refer to something that is long, drawn out and excessively detailed.
Melachah (m'-LUH-khuh)
Lit. work. Work involving creation or exercise of control over the environment, which is prohibited on Shabbat and certain holidays.
Mendele Moykher Sforim
Little Mendel the Bookseller. The pen name of Sholem Yankev Abramovitsch, one of the first great Yiddish fiction writers. See Yiddish Literature.
Menorah (m'-NAW-ruh; me-NOH-ruh)
A candelabrum. Usually refers to the nine-branched candelabrum used to hold the Chanukkah candles. Can also refer to the seven-branched candelabrum used in the Temple. See also Chanukkah Candle Lighting Blessings; Ritual Items in the Synagogue.
Messiah
Anglicization of the Hebrew, "mashiach" (anointed). A man who will be chosen by G-d to put an end to all evil in the world, rebuild the Temple, bring the exiles back to Israel and usher in the world to come. It is better to use the Hebrew term "mashiach" when speaking of the Jewish messiah, because the Jewish concept is very different from the Christian one.
Messianic Age
A period of global peace and prosperity that will be brought about by the messiah when he comes.
Mevushal
The process of pasteurizing wine, commonly used with American kosher wine to avoid certain kashrut issues.
Mezuzah (m'-ZOO-zuh; m'-ZU-zuh)
Lit. doorpost. A case attached to the doorposts of houses, containing a scroll with passages of scripture written on it. The procedure and prayers for affixing the mezuzah is available.
Midrash (MID-rash)
From a root meaning "to study," "to seek out" or "to investigate." Stories elaborating on incidents in the Bible, to derive a principle of Jewish law or provide a moral lesson.
Mikvah (MIK-vuh)
Lit. gathering. A ritual bath used for spiritual purification. It is used primarily in conversion rituals and after the period of sexual separation during a woman's menstrual cycles, but many Chasidim immerse themselves in the mikvah regularly for general spiritual purification.
Milchik (MIL-khig)
Yiddish: dairy. Used to describe kosher foods that contain dairy products and therefore cannot be eaten with meat. See Kashrut - Separation of Meat and Dairy.
Minchah (MIN-khuh)
1) Afternoon prayer services. See Jewish Liturgy. 2) An offering of meal or grain. See Food and Drink Offerings.
Minhag (MIN-hahg)
Lit. custom. A custom that evolved for worthy religious reasons and has continued long enough to become a binding religious practice. The word is also used more loosely to describe any customary religious practice.
Minyan (MIN-yahn; MIN-yin)
The quorum necessary to recite certain prayers, consisting of ten adult Jewish men. See Group Prayer.
Miriam
Older sister of Moses and Aaron, and a prophetess in her own right. She helped Moses and Aaron lead the Children of Israel out of Egyptian bondage.
Mishnah (MISH-nuh)
An early written compilation of Jewish oral tradition, the basis of the Talmud.
Mishneh Torah (MISH-ne TOH-ruh; MISH-nay TOH-ruh)
A code of Jewish law written by Rambam. One of the most respected compilations of Jewish law ever written.
Mitnagdim (mit-NAG-deem)
Lit. opponents. Orthodox Jews who are not Chasidic.
Mitzvah (MITS-vuh); pl: Mitzvot (mits-VOHT)
Lit. commandment. Any of the 613 commandments that Jews are obligated to observe. It can also refer to any Jewish religious obligation, or more generally to any good deed. See Halakhah: Jewish Law; A List of the 613 Mitzvot.
Mitzvot Aseh (mits-VOHT ah-SEH)
Commandments to do something, such as the commandment to honor your mother and father. In English, these are called positive commandments. See Halakhah: Jewish Law.
Mitzvot Lo Ta'aseh (mits-VOHT loh tah-ah-SEH)
Commandments not to do something, such as the commandment not to murder. In English, these are called negative commandments. See Halakhah: Jewish Law.
Mizrachi Jews (miz-RAHKH-khee) or Mizrachim (miz-rahkh-KHEEM)
Jews from Northern Africa and the Middle East, and their descendants. Approximately half of the Jews of Israel are Mizrachi. See Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews.
Mohel (Maw-y'l; rhymes with oil)
Lit. circumciser. One who performs the ritual circumcision of an 8-day-old male Jewish child or of a convert to Judaism. See Brit Milah: Circumcision.
Molad (moh-LAHD)
Lit. birth. The new moon, which marks the beginning of the month on the Jewish calendar. See The Jewish Calendar: A Closer Look - Calendar Essentials.
Mordecai (MOR-duh-khahy)
One of the heroes of the story of Purim.
Moses
The greatest of all of the prophets, who saw all that all of the other prophets combined saw, and more. See also Prophets and Prophecy.
Motzaei Shabbat (moh-tsah-AY shah-BAHT)
The night after Shabbat. Shabbat ends at nightfall on Saturday; the term motzaei Shabbat is used to refer to the period on Saturday night after Shabbat ends. See Shabbat; When Holidays Begin.
Motzi Sheim Ra (MOH-tsee SHAYM RAH)
A person who "spreads a bad report"; that is, who tells disparaging lies. It is the worst of the sins involving speech. See Speech and Lashon Ha-Ra.
Mourning
Judaism has extensive mourning practices broken into several periods of decreasing intensity.
Movements
The denominations, branches or sects of Judaism, although the distinctions between Jewish movements are not as great as those between Christian denominations.
Muktzeh (MUK-tseh; "muk" rhymes with "book")
Lit. that which is set aside. Objects that are set aside (and not permitted to be used or handled unnecessarily) on Shabbat.
Musaf (MOO-sahf; MU-sahf)
An additional prayer service for Shabbat and holidays. See Jewish Liturgy.
Music
See The Music of Pesach (Passover); Chanukkah Music; Yiddish Music.
Mysticism
Mysticism and mystical experiences have been a part of Judaism since the earliest days, but specific beliefs in this area are open to personal interpretation.

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Nachman of Breslov
An 18th century Chasidic tzaddik and founder of the Breslover Chasidic sect.
Nachmanides
Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, one of the greatest medieval Jewish scholars. Commonly referred to by the acronym 'Ramban'.
Name of G-d
Judaism has a wide variety of names for the Creator; however, these names are not casually written down because of the risk that someone might destroy the writing, an act of disrespect for G-d and His Name.
Names
Jewish children are ordinarily given a formal Hebrew name to be used for religious purposes. See Naming a Child.
Naphtali
1) Son of Jacob (Israel). Ancestor of one of the tribes of Israel; 2) The tribe that bears his name.
Nation
Throughout this site, the term "nation" is used in the classical sense, meaning a group of people with a shared history and a sense of a group identity. As the term is used in this site, a nation is not necessarily a territorial or political entity. When referring to a territorial or political entity, this site uses the term "country" or "state." The Jewish People are considered to be a nation, contrasted with the other nations of the world. See The Jews Are a Nation or a People.
Navi (pl. Nevi'im) (nah-VEE; n'-vee-EEM)
From niv sefatayim meaning "fruit of the lips." A prophet. A spokesman for G-d, chosen to convey a message or teaching. Prophets were role models of holiness, scholarship and closeness to G-d. Also: A section of the Tanakh containing the writings of the prophets.
Negative Commandments
Commandments not to do something, such as the commandment not to murder. In Hebrew, these are called mitzvot lo ta'aseh (commandments not to do). See Halakhah: Jewish Law.
Ne'ilah (n'-EE-luh)
Lit. closing. The closing service of Yom Kippur.
Ner Tamid (NAYR tah-MEED)
Lit. continual lamp. Usually translated "eternal flame." A candelabrum or lamp near the ark in the synagogue that symbolizes the commandment to keep a light burning in the Tabernacle outside of the curtain surrounding the Ark of the Covenant.
Nesekh
An offering of undiluted wine.
New Year
See Rosh Hashanah.
Niddah (nee-DAH)
The separation of husband and wife during the woman's menstrual period. Also refers to a woman so separated. Also referred to as taharat ha-mishpachah or family purity.
Nihum Avelim
Lit. comforting mourners. One of the purposes of Jewish practices relating to death and mourning.
Nikkud (pl. N'kkudim) (ni-KOOD; n-kood-EEM)
A system of dots and dashes used to indicate vowels and other pronunciation in Hebrew.
Nissan
The first month of the Jewish year, occurring in March/April. See Months of the Jewish Year.
Nisuin
Lit. elevation. The second part of the two-part Jewish marriage process, after which the bride and groom begin to live together as husband and wife.
Noahic Commandments
Seven commandments given to Noah after the flood, which are binding on both non-Jews and Jews.
Number of Followers
There are approximately 13-14 million Jews in the world. For details and links to population resources, see Jewish Population.
Numbers
In Hebrew, all letters have a numerical value, and numbers are written using letters. See Numerical Values of Words.
Numerology
See Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism; Numerical Values of Words.

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Offerings
Jewish practices of sacrifices and offerings were extensive in ancient times, but have not been practiced since our Temple was destroyed, because we are not permitted to bring offerings anywhere else.
Olah (oh-LAH)
Derived from a root meaning ascension. A burnt offering, a type of sacrifice that represented complete submission to G-d's will. It was completely consumed by fire on the altar.
Olam Ha-Ba (oh-LAHM hah-BAH)
Lit. The World to Come. 1) The messianic age; 2) the spiritual world that souls go to after death.
Old Testament
The Jewish Scriptures more or less correspond to what non-Jews call the "Old Testament." Jews call it Written Torah or the Tanakh.
Omer (OH-mayr)
A unit of measure, often translated as "sheaf." The period between Passover and Shavu'ot is known as the Omer period, because we count the days from the time that the first omer of barley was brought to the Temple. See The Counting of the Omer.
Onah
The wife's right to have regular sexual relations with her husband, a right that is fundamental to every Jewish marriage and that cannot be diminished by the husband. See Kosher Sex; Marriage.
Oral Torah (TOH-ruh)
Jewish teachings explaining and elaborating on the Written Torah, handed down orally until the 2d century C.E., when they began to be written down in what became the Talmud.
Order
A division of the Mishnah and Talmud.
Original Sin
Judaism completely rejects the doctrine of original sin. See Birth; The Dual Nature.
Origins of Judaism
According to Jewish tradition, the religion now known as Judaism was founded by our ancestor, Abraham, almost 4000 years ago.
Orthodox
One of the major movements of Judaism, believing that Jewish law comes from G-d and cannot be changed.

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Parah Adumah (Pahr-AH ah-doo-MAH)
Lit. red heifer. An animal used as an offering in an unusual and mysterious ritual to purify from the defilement of contact with the dead.
Pareve (PAHR-ev)
Yiddish: neutral. Used to describe kosher foods that contain neither meat nor dairy and therefore can be eaten with either. See Kashrut - Separation of Meat and Dairy.
Parokhet
The curtain inside the Ark (cabinet where the Torah scrolls are kept).
Parshah (PAHR-shah)
A weekly Torah portion read in synagogue. To find this week's portion, check the Current Calendar.
Passover
Holiday commemorating the Exodus from Egypt. The holiday also marks the beginning of the harvest season.
Patriarchs
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The forefathers of Judaism.
Peace Offering
A type of sacrifice expressing thanks or gratitude.
Pentecost
A festival commemorating the giving of the Torah and the harvest of the first fruits, known to Jews as Shavu'ot.
Peretz, I.L. (Yitzhak Leib)
An early writer of Yiddish fiction. See Yiddish Literature.
Perutah (pe-ROO-tuh)
A small copper coin, sufficient to acquire a wife by money.
Pesach (PEH-sahkh, PAY-sahkh)
Lit. exemption.1) One of the Shalosh R'galim (three pilgrimage festivals), a holiday commemorating the Exodus from Egypt, known in English as Passover. The holiday also marks the beginning of the harvest season. 2) The paschal lamb that, in Temple times, was sacrificed on this holiday.
Peyot (pay-OHT)
From the phrase Peyot ha-Rosh, meaning Corners of the Head. Traditionally, Jewish men wore long sideburns called in Hebrew peyot (pay-OHT) and full beards to observe the commandment in Lev. 19:27 not to round the corners of your head or mar the corners of your beard. There are points of Jewish law that allow some shaving, so you may see Orthodox Jews without full beards or peyot. Chasidic Jews do not follow this leniency. This subject has not yet been addressed in a page.
Pharisees (PHAR-i-sees)
A movement of Judaism that began approximately 2200 years ago. It is the forerunner of rabbinic Judaism, which encompasses all of the movements of Judaism in existence today.
Phylacteries
Leather pouches containing scrolls with passages of scripture, used to fulfill the commandment to bind the commandments to our hands and between our eyes. Jews refer to them as tefillin. The Greek term "phylacteries" literally means "amulets" and is offensive to some.
Pidyon Ha-Ben (peed-YOHN hah-BEHN)
Lit. redemption of the son. A ritual redeeming the firstborn son from his obligation to serve in the Temple.
Pirkei Avot (PEER-kay ah-VOHT)
Lit. Ethics of the Fathers. A tractate of the Mishnah devoted to ethical advice from many of the greatest rabbis of the early Talmudic period.
Points
Marks used to indicate vowels and other pronunciation tips in certain Hebrew texts. Texts with such marks are referred to as "pointed texts."
Polygamy
In Biblical times, a man was permitted to marry more than one wife, but this was never common. A woman could never marry more than one man. Around 1000 C.E., Ashkenazic Jewry banned polygamy, but it continued to be permitted for Sephardic Jews. Polygamy is not permitted in the state of Israel. See Marriage - The Marital Relationship
Population
There are approximately 13-14 million Jews in the world. For details and links to population resources, see Jewish Population.
Pork
One of the many foods forbidden under Jewish dietary laws. The prohibition against eating pork is the one best known, because throughout history people have oppressed Jews by forcing us to eat pork.
Positive Commandments
Commandments to do something, such as the commandment to honor your mother and father. In Hebrew, these are called mitzvot aseh (commandments to do). See Halakhah: Jewish Law.
Prayer
Prayer is a central part of Jewish life. Observant Jews pray three times daily and say blessings over just about every day-to-day activity. See Prayers and Blessings; Jewish Liturgy; Common Prayers and Blessings.
Pre-Marital Sex
Although the Torah does not prohibit pre-marital sex, Jewish tradition strongly condemns the irresponsibility of sex outside of the context of marriage. See Kosher Sex.
Priest
A descendant of Aaron, charged with performing various rites in the Temple. This is not the same thing as a rabbi. See Kohein.
Promised Land
The land of Israel, which G-d promised to Abraham and his descendants.
Pronunciation
Historically, Ashkenazic Jews have had a somewhat different pronunciation of certain Hebrew letters than Sephardic Jews; however, the Sephardic pronunciation is becoming predominant because it is the one used in Israel. See Hebrew Alphabet.
Prophets
1) A spokesman for G-d, chosen to convey a message or teaching. Prophets were role models of holiness, scholarship and closeness to G-d; 2) A section of Jewish scripture containing the writings of the Prophets.
Purim (PAWR-im)
Lit. lots (as in "lottery"). A holiday celebrating the rescue of the Jews from extermination at the hands of the chief minister to the King of Persia.
Pushke (PUSH-kuh or PUSH-kee or PISH-kuh or PISH-kee)
Yiddish, from the Polish word puszka, which means tin can. A box in the home or the synagogue used to collect money for donation to the poor. See Tzedakah: Charity.

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Qorban (pl. Qorbanot) (Kawr-BAHN; kawr-BAHN-oht)
From a root meaning to draw near. A sacrifice or offering.

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Rabbi (RA-bahy)
A religious teacher and person authorized to make decisions on issues of Jewish law. Also performs many of the same functions as a Protestant minister. When I speak generally of things that were said or decided by "the rabbis," I am speaking of matters that have been generally agreed upon by authoritative Jewish scholars over the centuries.
Rabbinical Judaism (ruh-BIN-i-kul)
A general term encompassing all movements of Judaism descended from Pharisaic Judaism; that is, virtually all movements in existence today.
Rachel
Favorite wife of Jacob. Mother of Joseph and Benjamin. One of the Matriarchs of Judaism.
Rakheel (Rah-KHEEL)
A tale-bearer. Derived from a word meaning trader or merchant. Tale-bearing is a serious sin in Judaism. See Speech and Lashon Ha-Ra.
Rambam (RAHM-bahm)
Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, one of the greatest medieval Jewish scholars. "Rambam" is an acronym (RMBM). Better known to the secular world as Maimonides.
Ramban
Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, one of the greatest medieval Jewish scholars. Also known as Nachmanides.
Rashi (RAH-shee)
Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, one of the greatest medieval Jewish scholars.
Rashi Script
A style of writing used to distinguish commentary from the text it comments upon. Named for Rashi, the greatest commentator.
Rebbe (REHB-bee)
Usu. translated Grand Rabbi. The leader of a Chasidic community, often believed to have special, mystical power. When Lubavitcher Chasidim speak of "The Rebbe," they are referring to Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
Rebbetzin (REB-i-tsin)
The wife of a rabbi. See The Role of Women.
Rebecca
Wife of Isaac. Mother of Jacob and Esau. One of the Matriarchs of Judaism.
Recipes
See Jewish Cooking.
Reconstructionism
One of the major movements of Judaism, an outgrowth of Conservative that does not believe in a personified deity and believes that Jewish law was created by men.
Red Heifer (Red Cow)
An animal used as an offering in an unusual and mysterious ritual to purify from the defilement of contact with the dead.
Red Magen David (mah-GAYN dah-VEED; MAH-gen DAH-vid; MOH-gen DAY-vid)
The Israeli equivalent of the Red Cross. "Magen David" is the Hebrew name of the six-pointed Jewish star.
Reform
One of the major movements of Judaism, believing that Jewish law was inspired by G-d and one can choose which laws to follow.
Reincarnation
Belief in reincarnation is not in conflict with Judaism. Many Chasidic sects and other mystically-inclined Jews believe in reincarnation, either as a routine process or in extraordinary circumstances.
Responsa
Answers to specific questions of Jewish law, written by the most respected rabbis of their time.
Responsa Project
A project at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, to compile the vast body of responsa literature into a computer database. For more information, see their website.
Resurrection
Belief in the eventual resurrection of the dead is a fundamental belief of traditional Judaism.
Reuben
1) Son of Jacob (Israel). Ancestor of one of the tribes of Israel; 2) The tribe that bears his name.
Rituals
See Shabbat, Jewish Holidays and specific holidays listed under it, Brit Milah: Circumcision, Bar Mitzvah, Bat Mitzvah and Confirmation, Marriage, Divorce, Life, Death and Mourning, Prayers and Blessings, Common Prayers and Blessings, and Qorbanot: Sacrifices and Offerings.
Root Word
A set of (usually) three consonants that conveys the central meaning of a Hebrew word. Prefixes, suffixes and vowels added to the root clarify the precise meaning.
Rosh Chodesh (ROHSH CHOH-desh)
Lit. head of the month. The first day of a month, on which the first sliver of the new moon appears. It is a minor festival today, though it was a more significant festival in ancient times. See also Jewish Calendar; The Jewish Calendar: A Closer Look.
Rosh Hashanah (ROHSH hah SHAH-nuh; RUSH-uh SHAH-nuh)
Lit. first of the year. The new year for the purpose of counting years.
Rules
See Halakhah: Jewish Law, A List of the 613 Mitzvot (Commandments), or pages dealing with specific rules, such as Shabbat or Kashrut.

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Sabbath
A day of rest and spiritual enrichment. See Shabbat; Shabbat Evening Home Ritual; Havdalah Home Ritual.
Sacrifice
Jewish practices of sacrifices and offerings were extensive in ancient times, but have not been practiced since our Temple was destroyed, because we are not permitted to bring offerings anywhere else.
Sadducees (SAD-yoo-sees)
A movement of Judaism that began approximately 2200 years ago. It died out shortly after the destruction of the Temple.
Safek (sah-FEHK)
Doubt or uncertainty in a matter of Jewish law. When there is safek in a matter of Torah law, you must be machmir (strict); when there is safek in a matter of rabbinic law, you may be makil (lenient). See The Difference Between Torah Law and Rabbinic Law.
Sages
Refers generally to the greatest Jewish minds of all times. See Sages and Scholars.
Sandek (SAN-dek)
The person given the honor of holding the baby during a ritual circumcision. Sometimes referred to as a godfather.
Sanhedrin (sahn-HEE-drin)
The "Supreme Court" of the ancient Jewish state, in the tradition established in Exodus chapter 18. According to tradition, the Oral Torah was given to Moses and passed on a continuous line to Joshua, then to the elders, then to the prophets then to the Sanhedrin. It decided difficult cases and cases of capital punishment. It also fixed the calendar, taking testimony to determine when a new month began.
Sarah
Wife of Abraham. Mother of Isaac. One of the Matriarchs of Judaism.
Script
A style of writing the Hebrew Alphabet.
Scriptures
The Jewish Bible, also referred to as the Tanakh. More or less corresponds to what non-Jews call the "Old Testament." See Torah.
Second Day of Holidays
An extra day is added to many holidays because in ancient times, there was doubt as to which day was the correct day.
Seder (SAY-d'r)
Lit. order. 1) The family home ritual conducted as part of the Passover observance. 2) A division of the Mishnah and Talmud. See Pesach (Passover) and Pesach Seder: How Is This Night Different.
Sefer K'ritut (SAY-fayr KREE-toot)
Lit. scroll of cutting off. A writ of divorce. Also called a get.
Sefirot (se-fee-ROHT)
Lit. emanations. In Jewish mysticism, the emanations from G-d's essence that interact with the universe.
Sekhakh (s'-KHAHKH)
Lit. covering. Material used for the roof of a sukkah during the holiday of Sukkot.
Selichot (s'lee-KHOHT; SLI-khus)
Prayers for forgiveness, especially those that are added to the liturgy during the month of Elul, as the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur approach.
Semikhah (s'-MIKH-uh)
Essentially, a rabbinical degree, authorizing a person to answer questions and resolve disputes regarding Jewish law.
Sephardic Jews (s'-FAHR-dic) or Sephardim (seh-fahr-DEEM)
Jews from Spain, Portugal, North Africa and the Middle East and their descendants, who are culturally different from Jews with origins in other parts of the world. Jews from North Africa and the Middle East are often described separately as Mizrachi Jews.
Services
Observant Jews pray three times a day in formal worship services. See Jewish Liturgy, Yom Kippur Liturgy, Synagogues, Shuls and Temples.
Se'udat Havra'ah
Lit. the meal of condolence. The first meal that a family eats after the burial of a relative, prepared by a neighbor. See Mourning.
Sex
Sex is not shameful, sinful or obscene. It is not solely for the purpose of procreation. When sexual desire is satisfied between a husband and wife at the proper time, out of mutual love and desire, sex is a mitzvah. See also Marriage.
Shabbat (shah-BAHT; SHAH-bis)
Lit. end, cease, rest. The Jewish Sabbath, a day of rest and spiritual enrichment. See also Shabbat Evening Home Ritual; Havdalah Home Ritual.
Shabbat Ha-Chodesh (shah-BAHT hah-CHOH-desh)
The sabbath on which we read Parshat Ha-Chodesh, one of the Four Parshiyot, special Torah readings added to the weekly cycle of readings during the month before Pesach (Passover). Parshat Ha-Chodesh establishes the Hebrew calendar.
Shabbat Ha-Gadol (shah-BAHT hah-gah-DOHL)
Lit. The Great Sabbath. The sabbath before Pesach (Passover). A special Haftarah reading regarding the End of Days and the return of the prophet Elijah is read.
Shabbat Hazon (shah-BAHT hah-ZOHN)
Lit. The Sabbath of Vision. The sabbath before Tisha B'Av, a fast mourning the destruction of the Temple. A special Haftarah reading regarding Isaiah's vision of the Temple's destruction is read.
Shabbat Mevarekhim
Lit. Sabbath of Blessing. The Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh (the beginning of the new month) when the prayer leader at services recites a blessing praying that the new month will be a good one.
Shabbat Nachamu (shah-BAHT NAH-chah-moo)
Lit. The Sabbath of Consolation. The sabbath after Tisha B'Av, a fast mourning the destruction of the Temple. On this week and the six following weeks, special Haftarah readings of consolation for the loss of the Temple are read.
Shabbat Parah (shah-BAHT pah-RAH)
The sabbath on which we read Parshat Parah, one of the Four Parshiyot, special Torah readings added to the weekly cycle of readings during the month before Pesach (Passover). Parshat Parah explains the procedure for the offering of the Red Heifer (Parah Adumah), a ritual of purification.
Shabbat Shalom (shah-BAHT shah-LOHM)
Hebrew. Literally, sabbath peace or peaceful sabbath. A general, all-purpose Shabbat greeting. See Common Expressions and Greetings.
Shabbat Sheqalim (shah-BAHT sh'-kah-LEEM)
The sabbath on which we read Parshat Sheqalim, one of the Four Parshiyot, special Torah readings added to the weekly cycle of readings during the month before Pesach (Passover). Parshat Sheqalim discusses the census conducted through donations of a half-shekel coin.
Shabbat Shirah (shah-BAHT SHEE-rah)
Lit. The Sabbath of the Song. The sabbath when we read Parshat Beshalach as part of our regular weekly Torah readings. Parshat Beshalach contains the Song at the Sea, one of the ten true Songs in history.
Shabbat Shuvah (shah-BAHT SHOO-vah)
The sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Special Haftarah readings regarding repentance and Divine mercy are read.
Shabbat Zakhor (shah-BAHT zah-KHAWR)
The sabbath on which we read Parshat Zakhor, one of the Four Parshiyot, special Torah readings added to the weekly cycle of readings during the month before Pesach (Passover). Parshat Zakhor contains the commandment regarding the tribe of Amalek.
Shacharit (SHAHKH-reet)
Morning prayer services. See Jewish Liturgy.
Shalach Manos (SHAH-lahkh MAH-nohs)
Lit. sending out portions. The custom of sending gifts of food or candy to friends during Purim.
Shalom (shah-LOHM)
Hebrew. Literally, peace. A way of saying "hello" or "goodbye." See Common Expressions and Greetings.
Shalom Aleikhem (shah-LOHM ah-ley-KHEM; SHOH-lehm ah-LEH-khem)
Hebrew and Yiddish. Peace upon you. A traditional greeting. Also the pen name of a Yiddish author, best known for a collection of short stories that was the basis for the musical Fiddler on the Roof. The traditional response to the greeting is Aleikhem Shalom (and upon you, peace). See Common Expressions and Greetings; Yiddish Literature.
Shalosh R'galim (shah-LOHSH ri-GAH-leem)
Lit. three feet or three times. A collective term for the three biblical pilgrimage festivals: Pesach (Passover), Shavu'ot and Sukkot. In the days of the Temple, Jews from around the world made pilgrimages to Jerusalem to make offerings in the Temple in honor of these holidays.
Shammai (SHAH-mahy)
One of the great rabbis of the Talmud. His stricter views of Jewish law are often contrasted with those of Hillel.
Shammus (SHAH-mis)
Lit. servant. 1) The candle that is used to light other Chanukkah candles; 2) the janitor or caretaker of a synagogue. See also Chanukkah Candle Lighting Blessings.
Shavua Tov (shah-VOO-ah TOHV)
Hebrew. Literally, good week. A greeting exchanged at the end of Shabbat. See Common Expressions and Greetings.
Shavu'ot (shuh-VOO-oht; shah-VOO-uhs)
Lit. weeks. One of the Shalosh R'galim (three pilgrimage festivals), a festival commemorating the giving of the Torah and the harvest of the first fruits.
Shechinah (sh'-KHEE-nuh)
The Divine Presence of G-d, generally represented as a feminine quality. See The Nature of G-d; Prophets and Prophecy.
Shechitah (sh'-KHEE-tuh)
Lit. destruction or killing. Kosher slaughter.
Shema (sh'-MAH)
One of the basic Jewish prayers. See also Jewish Liturgy; Signs and Symbols.
Shemini Atzeret (sh'MEE-nee aht-ZE-ret)
Lit. the eighth (day) of assembly. The day (or two days) after Sukkot.
Shemoneh Esrei (sh'MOH-nuh ES-ray)
Lit. eighteen. A prayer that is the center of any Jewish religious service. Also known as the Amidah or the Tefilah. See Jewish Liturgy.
She'ol
A place of spiritual punishment and/or purification for a period of up to 12 months after death. Often referred to as Gehinnom.
Sheva Brakhos (SHE-vuh BRUH-khohs)
Lit. seven blessings. The seven blessings recited during the nisuin portion of the Jewish wedding ceremony.
Shevarim (she-vahr-EEM)
One of four characteristic blasts of the shofar (ram's horn). See Rosh Hashanah.
Shevat
The eleventh month of the Jewish year, occurring in January/February. See Months of the Jewish Year.
Shield of David
The six-pointed star emblem commonly associated with Judaism.
Shiksa
A derogatory term for a non-Jewish female. See Jewish Attitudes Toward Non-Jews.
Shiva (SHI-vuh)
Lit. seven. The seven-day period of mourning after the burial of a close relative.
Shkutz
A derogatory term for a non-Jewish male. See Jewish Attitudes Toward Non-Jews.
Sh'lamim (shlah-MEEM)
Lit. peace [offering]. A type of sacrifice expressing thanks or gratitude.
Shloshim (shlohsh-EEM)
Lit. thirty. The thirty-day period of mourning after the burial of a close relative.
Shochet (SHOH-khet)
Kosher slaughterer.
Shofar (sho-FAHR)
A ram's horn, blown like a trumpet as a call to repentance. See Rosh Hashanah; Rosh Chodesh.
Sholem Aleichem
One of the most popular writers in the Yiddish language, best known for his stories of Tevye the milkman and his daughters, which were adapted into the musical Fiddler on the Roof. See Yiddish Literature
Shomerim (shohm-REEM)
Lit. guards, keepers. People who sit with a body between the time of death and burial. See Care for the Dead.
Shtetl (pl. Shtetlach) (SHTEHT-l; SHTEHT-lahkh)
Yiddish: small town, village. A small town with a substantial Jewish population, or a Jewish ghetto, in the Yiddish-speaking parts of Europe (central or eastern Europe). Most of the shtetlach were wiped out in the Holocaust. The Jewish genealogy website JewishGen hosts or links to a lot of sites devoted to individual shtetls. See ShtetLinks on their site.
Shul (SHOOL)
The Yiddish term for a Jewish house of worship. The term is used primarily by Orthodox Jews.
Shulchan Arukh (SHUL-khahn AH-rukh)
A code of Jewish law written by Joseph Caro in the 16th century. The last of the great medieval codes of Jewish law, and one of the most respected compilations of Jewish law ever written.
Siddur (SID-r; sid-AWR)
Lit. order. Prayer book. See Jewish Liturgy.
Sidrah (SID-ruh)
Lit. order. A weekly Torah portion read in synagogue.
Simchat Torah (SIM-khat TOH-ruh)
Lit. rejoicing in the law. A holiday celebrating the end and beginning of the cycle of weekly Torah readings.
Simeon
1) Son of Jacob (Israel). Ancestor of one of the tribes of Israel; 2) The tribe that bears his name.
Sin Offering
A type of sacrifice used to atone for and expiate unintentional sins.
Singer, Isaac Bashevis
A Nobel Prize winning author who wrote in the Yiddish language, best known to Americans for his story Yentl the Yeshiva Boy, which was adapted into a movie by Barbara Streisand. Singer hated that movie. See Yiddish Literature.
Sivan
The third month of the Jewish year, occurring in May/June. See Months of the Jewish Year.
Slander
Slander is a serious sin in Judaism, even if the disparaging comment is true. See Speech and Lashon Ha-Ra.
Songs
See The Music of Pesach (Passover).
Speech
For information about the power of speech and sins committed through speech, see Speech and Lashon Ha-Ra. For information about pronouncing the Name of G-d, see The Name of G-d.
STA"M
A type style used in writing the Hebrew Alphabet, distinguished by crowns on certain letters. Used in Sifrei Torah, Tefillin and Mezuzot.
Star of David
The six-pointed star emblem commonly associated with Judaism.
Stones on Graves
It is customary in some Jewish communities to place small stones or rocks on a gravesite. I have heard two explanations of this custom: 1) it's a like leaving a calling card for the dead person; or 2) it was a substitute for a tombstone in areas where tombstones tended to get desecrated. See Life, Death and Mourning.
Sukkah (SUK-uh)
Lit. booth. The temporary dwellings we live in during the holiday of Sukkot. See also Blessing for Dwelling in the Sukkah.
Sukkot (soo-KOHT; SUK-uhs)
Lit. booths. One of the Shalosh R'galim (three pilgrimage festivals). A festival commemorating the wandering in the desert and the final harvest. Also known as the Feast of Tabernacles or the Festival of Ingathering. See also Sukkot Blessings.
Symbols
See Signs and Symbols.
Synagogue (SIN-uh-gahg)
From a Greek root meaning "assembly." The most widely accepted term for a Jewish house of worship. The Jewish equivalent of a church, mosque or temple.

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Tabernacles
A festival commemorating the wandering in the desert and the final harvest, known to Jews as Sukkot.
Taharat Ha-Mishpachah (tah-HAH-raht hah-meesh-PAH-khah)
Lit. family purity. Laws relating to the separation of husband and wife during the woman's menstrual period. Also referred to as the laws of niddah.
Takkanah (t'-KAH-nuh)
A law instituted by the rabbis and not derived from any biblical commandment.
Tale-Bearing
Tale-bearing is a serious sin in Judaism. See Speech and Lashon Ha-Ra.
Tallit (TAH-lit; TAH-lis)
A shawl-like garment worn during morning services, with tzitzit (long fringes) attached to the corners as a reminder of the commandments. Sometimes called a prayer shawl.
Tallit Katan (TAH-lit kuh-TAHN)
Lit. small tallit. A four-cornered, poncho-like garment worn under a shirt so that we may have the opportunity to fulfill the commandment to put tzitzit (fringes) on the corners of our garments.
Talmud (TAHL-mud)
The most significant collection of the Jewish oral tradition interpreting the Torah.
Tammuz
The fourth month of the Jewish year, occurring in June/July. See Months of the Jewish Year.
Tanakh (tuhn-AHKH)
Acronym of Torah (Law), Nevi'im (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings). Written Torah; what non-Jews call the Old Testament.
Taryag Mitzvot
613 Commandments. "Taryag" is a way of pronouncing the numeral 613, which is made up of the letters Tav (numerical value 400), Reish (200), Yod (10) and Gimmel (3). See A List of the 613 Mitzvot (Commandments); Halakhah: Jewish Law; Hebrew Alphabet: Numerical Values.
Tashlikh (TAHSH-likh)
Lit. casting off. A custom of going to a river and symbolically casting off one's sins. See Rosh Hashanah.
Tefilah (t'-FEE-luh)
Prayer. Sometimes refers specifically to the Shemoneh Esrei prayer. See Prayers and Blessings; Jewish Liturgy; Common Prayers and Blessings.
Tefillin (t'-FIL-lin)
Phylacteries. Leather pouches containing scrolls with passages of scripture, used to fulfill the commandment to bind the commandments to our hands and between our eyes.
Tekiah (t'-KEE-uh)
One of four characteristic blasts of the shofar (ram's horn). See Rosh Hashanah.
Tekufah (Tekufot, Tekufat)
An astronomical turning point (equinox or solstice), or the season associated with that turning point. They are named for the month in which they usually occur: tekufat Nissan (spring equinox), tekufat Tammuz (summer solstice), tekufat Tishri (fall equinox) and tekufat Tevet (winter solstice).
Temple
1) The central place of worship in ancient Jerusalem, where sacrifices were offered, destroyed in 70 C.E. 2) The term commonly used for houses of worship within the Reform movement.
Tenets
Judaism has no dogma, no formal set of beliefs that one must hold to be a Jew. In Judaism, actions are far more important than beliefs, although there is certainly a place for belief within Judaism. See What Do Jews Believe?; The Nature of G-d; Human Nature; Kabbalah, Olam Ha-Ba: The Afterlife.
Teruah (t'-ROO-uh)
One of four characteristic blasts of the shofar (ram's horn). See Rosh Hashanah.
Teshuvah (t'-SHOO-vuh)
Lit. return. repentance.
Tevet
The tenth month of the Jewish year, occurring in December/January. See Months of the Jewish Year.
Tevilah (teh-VEE-luh)
Immersion in the mikvah, a ritual bath used for spiritual purification. It is used primarily in conversion rituals and after the period of sexual separation during a woman's menstrual cycles, but many Chasidim undergo tevilah regularly for general spiritual purification.
The Jewish People
Another name for the Children of Israel. It is a reference to the Jews as a nation in the classical sense, meaning a group of people with a shared history and a sense of a group identity rather than a territorial and political entity. See The Jews Are a Nation or a People.
Theater
See Yiddish Theater.
Tisha B'Av (TISH-uh BAHV)
Lit. The Ninth of Av. A fast day commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples, as well as other tragedies.
Tishri
The seventh month of the Jewish year, during which many important holidays occur. See also Months of the Jewish Year.
Tombstone
Jewish law requires that a tombstone be prepared, so that the deceased will not be forgotten and the grave will not be desecrated.
Torah (TOH-ruh)
In its narrowest sense, Torah the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, sometimes called the Pentateuch or the Five Books of Moses. In its broadest sense, Torah is the entire body of Jewish teachings.
Torah Readings
Each week, a different portion of the Torah and the Prophets are read in synagogue.
Torah Scroll
The Torah (Bible) that is read in synagogue is written on parchment on scrolls.
Tractate
A subdivision of the Mishnah and Talmud.
Transliteration
The process of writing Hebrew using the Roman (English) alphabet. More an art than a science. See also Yiddish Transliteration, which is somewhat more standardized.
Treif (TRAYF)
Lit. torn. Food that is not kosher.
Trope
Cantillation. The distinctive melodies used for chanting readings from the Torah and Haftarah. See Torah Readings.
Tu B'Shevat (TOO bish-VAHT)
Lit. 15th of Shevat. The new year for the purpose of counting the age of trees for purposes of tithing.
Tzaddik (TSAH-deek)
Lit. righteous person. A completely righteous person, often believed to have special, mystical power.
Tzedakah (tsi-DUH-kuh)
Lit. righteousness. Generally refers to charity.
Tzedukim (tse-DOO-keem)
A movement of Judaism that began approximately 2200 years ago. It died out shortly after the destruction of the Temple. Better known in English as the Sadducees.
Tzenarena
The first major literary work written in the Yiddish language, it is a collection of traditional biblical commentary and folklore written in Yiddish for women, because most women could not read Hebrew. See Yiddish Literature
Tzimmes (TSIM-is)
Yiddish. A sweet stew. The word can also refer to making a big fuss over something.
Tzitzit (TZIT-sit)
Fringes attached to the corners of garments as a reminder of the commandments.

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Ufruf (UF-ruf)
The groom's aliyah on the Shabbat before his wedding.
Unpointed Text
Hebrew text written without vowel points. Hebrew should be written without vowels; however, many texts add vowel points to aid pronunciation and comprehension. See Hebrew Alphabet.
Unveiling
It is a custom in many Jewish communities to keep a deceased's tombstone covered for the first twelve months after death, and to ceremonially unveil the tombstone on the first anniversary of the death. See Life, Death and Mourning.

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Vowels
Traditionally, Hebrew is written without vowels. However, the rabbis developed a system of vowel markings as an aid to pronunciation.

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Wedding
See Marriage; A Typical Wedding Ceremony.
Weitzman, Chaim
A founder of the Zionist political movement, and the first president of the State of Israel.
Western Wall
The western retaining wall of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, which is as close to the site of the original Sanctuary as Jews can go today. Commonly known as the Wailing Wall.
Women
In traditional Judaism, women are for the most part seen as separate but equal. Women's obligations and responsibilities are different from men's, but no less important. See also Marriage.
Work
Activities involving creation or exercise of control over the environment, which are prohibited on Shabbat and certain holidays.
World to Come
1) The messianic age; 2) the spiritual world that souls go to after death.
Writings
A section of Jewish scripture containing various writings.
Written Torah (TOH-ruh)
The scripture that non-Jews call the Old Testament.

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Ya'akov
Jacob (Israel). Son of Isaac. Father of twelve sons, who represent the tribes of Judaism. One of the three Patriarchs of Judaism.
Yad (YAHD)
Lit. hand. Hand-shaped pointer used while reading from Torah scrolls.
Yahrzeit (YAHR-tsahyt)
Yiddish: lit. anniversary. The anniversary of the death of a close relative. See Mourning.
Yarmulke (YAH-mi-kuh)
From Tartar "skullcap," or from Aramaic "Yirei Malka" (fear of the King). The skullcap head covering worn by Jews during services, and by some Jews at all times.
Yasher koach (YAH-shehyr KOH-ahkh)
Hebrew. Literally, straight strength. Figuratively, may you have strength, or may your strength be increased. A way of congratulating someone for performing a mitzvah or other good deed. See Common Expressions and Greetings.
Yavneh
Center of Jewish learning after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. See Yochanan ben Zakkai.
Year
Judaism uses a lunar/solar calendar consisting of months that begin at the new moon. Each year has 12 or 13 months, to keep it in sync with the solar year. Years are counted from the date of Creation. See Jewish Calendar.
Yemenite Jews
The Jews of the Middle Eastern country of Yemen, whose customs and practices are somewhat different than those of Ashkenazic or Sephardic Jews. See Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews.
Yetzer Ra (YAY-tser RAH)
Lit. evil impulse. The selfish desire for satisfaction of personal needs, which can lead a person to do evil if not restrained by the yetzer tov. See Human Nature; Kosher Sex.
Yetzer Tov (YAY-tser TOHV)
Lit. good impulse. The moral conscience, which motivates us to follow G-d's law. See Human Nature.
Yiddish (YID-ish)
The "international language" of Ashkenazic Jews, based primarily on German with words taken from Hebrew and many other languages, and written in the Hebrew Alphabet.
Yitzchok
Isaac. Son and spiritual heir of Abraham. Father of Jacob (Israel). One of the three Patriarchs of Judaism.
Yizkor (YIZ-kawr)
Lit. may He remember... Prayers said on certain holidays in honor of deceased close relatives. See Mourning.
Yochanan ben Zakkai
Founder of the school at Yavneh, which became the center of Jewish learning for centuries.
Yom Ha-Atzma'ut (YOHM hah ahts-mah-OOT)
Israeli Independence Day.
Yom Ha-Shoah (YOHM hah shoh-AH)
Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Yom Ha-Zikkaron (YOHM hah zee-kah-ROHN)
Israeli Memorial Day.
Yom Kippur (YOHM ki-PAWR)
Lit. Day of Atonement. A day set aside for fasting, depriving oneself of pleasures, and repenting from the sins of the previous year.
Yom Yerushalayim (YOHM y'-roo-shah-LAH-yeem)
Holiday celebrating the reunification of Jerusalem in the hands of the modern state of Israel.

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Zealots
A movement of Judaism that began approximately 2200 years ago. It died out shortly after the destruction of the Temple.
Zebach Sh'lamim (zeh-BAKH shlah-MEEM)
Lit. peace offering. A type of sacrifice expressing thanks or gratitude.
Zebulun
1) Son of Jacob (Israel). Ancestor of one of the tribes of Israel; 2) The tribe that bears his name.
Zionism (ZAHY-uhn-ism)
A political movement to create and maintain a Jewish state. The word is derived from Zion, another name for Jerusalem.
Zohar (zoh-HAHR)
The primary written work in the mystical tradition of Kabbalah.

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