Glossary of Jewish Terms

Adar: The 12th month of the Jewish year, occurring in February/March. Adar contains the holiday of Purim. In the Jewish calendar, seven out of nineteen years are leap years, and in those years there is additional month of Adar known as Adar II.

Adonai: God (lit, “My Lord”), a title of reverence. Used in prayer, not common speech.

Afikomen: A half-piece of matzoh that is broken in two during during the early part of the Passover seder and set aside to be eaten after the meal. Jews have different customs relating to the afikomen. In some families the head of the household hides the afikomen for the children to hide; in others, the children steal the afikomen and ransom it back.

Agunah: Lit. anchored. An agunah is a woman who is stuck in a marriage because her husband has disappeared or refuses to grant her a divorce.

Alefbet: The Hebrew alphabet. The first two letters are alef and bet.

Aleinu: Prayer recited near the end of every prayer service. Lit. “It is upon us [it is our obligation] to praise” God. 

Aliyah (noun): lit. elevation. Means going up for reading the Torah, and for moving to the Land of Israel.

Amidah: Lit. standing. A prayer that is the center of Jewish religious service, said in a whisper while standing. Also known as Shemoneh Esrei.

Amud: Lectern found in synagogues

Aninut: Period of mourning between death and burial.

Aramaic: Vernacular language of Jews in the Land of Israel in the first century. Important texts such as the Talmud and the Mourner’s Kaddish are written in Aramaic.

Arba Minim: Lit. four species. Used during the holiday of Sukkot, the arba minim are lulav (date frond), hadass (myrtle bough), aravah (willow branch), and etrog (citron fruit.) When bound together, the lulav, hadass and aravah are collectively referred to as “the lulav.”

Ark: see Aron Kodesh

Aron Kodesh: Lit. holy chest. Cabinet where Torah scrolls are kept.

Ashkenazi Jews: Jews from Eastern Europe, France and Germany and their descendants. 

Av: Fifth month of the Jewish year, occurring in July/August.

Avelut: The year of mourning observed after the burial of a parent.

Avinu Malkeinu: Lit. Our Father, Our King. A penitential prayer sung during the Days of Awe, from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur.

Ba’al Shem Tov: Lit. Master of the Good Name. Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer (1698-1760), founder of Chassidic Judaism. Also known with acronym  BeShT.

Bar Mitzvah: Lit. son of the commandment. A boy who has reached the age of 13 and is required to observe the commandments. Also referred to the ceremony marking this life cycle event.

Bat Mitzvah: Lit. daughter of the commandment. A girl who has reached the age of 12 and is required to observe the commandments. Also referred to the ceremony marking this life cycle event.

Beit Din: Lit. house of judgement. A rabbinical court made up of three rabbis who resolve disputes under Jewish law, and determine whether a prospective convert is ready to complete conversion. 

Beit Knesset: Lit. house of assembly. Commonly used to mean synagogue. 

Beit Midrash: “House of Learning” – a study hall located in a synagogue, school or other building.

Bentsch: Lit. bless (Yiddish). Commonly used to refer to birkat ha-mazon, the blessing after meals.

Beshert: Lit. destiny (Yiddish). Often used to describe one’s soulmate, or any fortuitous event which seems like Divine providence.

Binah: Knowledge, insight, understanding the feelings of others. Women are believed to have a greater degree of binah than men. In kabbalistic teachings, binah is one of the Ten Sefirot.

Birkat Ha-Mazon: Grace after meals. Commonly referred to as “bentsching.”

Cheshvan: The eighth month of the Jewish calendar, occurring in October/November. Sometimes called Mar Cheshvan (bitter Cheshvan) because it is the only month without a Jewish holiday.

Chevra Kadisha (pronounced KHEV-ruh kah-DEESH-uh): Lit. holy society. Organization of community members who care for the dead.

Chillul Ha-Shem (pronounced khil-LOOL ha SHEM): Lit. profanation of the Name. When a Jew acts immorally in front of others, causing disrespect for God or Judaism.

Cholent (pronounced TSCHUH-lent): A slow-cooked stew served for Shabbat lunch. Usually includes beans, barley, meat and potatoes.

Chosson: Bridegroom 

Chumash (pronounced KHUH-mish): Lit. five. The Five Books of Moses and readings from the Prophets, organized by weekly Torah portions.

Chuppah (pronounced KHU-puh): Wedding canopy.

Chutzpah (noun): audacious self-confidence

Cholent: A hearty stew eaten for Shabbat lunch. It cooks at a low heat all night to provide hot food on Shabbat, when cooking is forbidden.

Conservative: A movement of Judaism that considers Jewish law binding but also subject to change in accordance with societal changes.

Counting of the Omer: Counting the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot.

Daf Yomi: Lit. page of the day. A program of Talmud study in which people read the entire Talmud on the same schedule, one page a day for 7.5 years.

Daven: Pray

Days of Awe: The ten days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, a time of self-reflection and repentance for sins of the previous year

D’Oraita: A law that comes directly from the written Torah

D’Rabbanan: A law instituted by the Sages

Diaspora: Jewish communities outside of Israel

Dreidel: A spinning top that children play with during Chanukah

D’var Torah: A speech based on a part of the Torah, often the weekly Torah portion. Also known as a drash.

Elul: The sixth month of the Hebrew calendar, a time of repentance and introspection in preparation for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Erev tov: Good evening!

Etrog: Citron fruit, one of the “four Species” waved during the Sukkot holiday (var: esrog) 

Family Purity: Laws relating to marital separation during the wife’s menstrual period. Known as Niddah laws or Taharat Ha-Mishpacha 

Fleishik: Food made with meat, that cannot be eaten with dairy according to kosher dietary laws.

Four Species: Vegetation used to perform rituals of the Sukkot holiday. The species are willow, myrtle, etrog and palm. They are held together and waved in the Sukkah after reciting a special blessing.

Galut (alt: Galus): Exile, specifically from the Land of Israel

Gemara: Commentary on the Mishna, plus further decrees and teachings of the Sages. Compiled around 500 CE.

Glatt: Lit. “smooth” (Yiddish). Refers to the lungs of an animal, which must be smooth, without any blemishes that would make it treif (not kosher.) Often used incorrectly to simply mean “extra kosher.”

Haftarah: A series of selections from the books of Prophets that are readd publicly read in synagogue.

Hallel: Lit. “Praise.” Hallel is a prayer of thanksgiving added to the morning synagogue service on Jewish holidays. The Hallel prayer is comprised of Psalms 113-118

HaMotzi:  Blessing said over bread

Hashem: God (lit. “The Name”)

Hasidic: Member of an Orthodox Jewish sect known as Hasidism, a spiritual revival movement that arose in Eastern Europe in the 18th century. Hasid (noun), Hasidic (adj), Hassidim (plural noun). Alt spelling: Chasid, Chassid.

Kaddish:  ancient Jewish prayer of thanks and praise. Often used to refer to the Mourner’s Kaddish recited for the dead.

Kallah: Bride

Kibbitz – Chat, especially with friends

Kiddush – lit. “sanctification” is a blessing recited over wine or grape juice performed by the head of a Jewish household at the start of Shabbat or a holiday.

Kippah: A skullcap worn by Jewish men. Synonym: Yarmulke

Klutz:  Someone who is awkward, accident-prone

Kodesh:  holy

Kosher – Food that complies with the Jewish dietary laws, known as kashrut. The laws of kashrut are primarily derived from Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14:1-21.

Kvell (verb): to burst with pride, esp. at the accomplishments of one’s children

Kvetch: complain

Laila tov: Good night!

L’chaim: Lit. “To Life!” Said when making a toast. Sometimes used as a noun i.e. “Can I pour you another L’Chaim?

Litvish: The Lithuanian approach to Torah study, which was typically more rational and intellectual than the Hasidic approach.

Malach – Angel, messenger

Masechet – tractate of the Talmud

Mazel tov: lit. good luck. Commonly used to mean “congratulations”

Melech – King

Mensch – lit. man. Commonly used to mean “good person”

Meshugenah – Crazy person

MidrashBiblical exegesis. Most commonly refers to the Midrash Rabbah, a compilation of the sages’ comments on the Torah. The word is also used to describe textual interpretation by other Jews, often shortened to “drash.”

Milchig – Food made with dairy, that cannot be eaten with meat according to kosher dietary laws.

Mishnah: Written version of the Oral Law given to Moses at Mt. Sinai, plus further decrees and teachings of the Sages. Compiled around 200 CE.

Mishpoche – Family

Mizrachi Jews: Jews from North Africa and the Middle East and their descendants.

Modern Hebrew: The language of the modern State of Israel, revived by Eliezer Ben-Yehuda in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Mussar: Jewish ethical teachings on how to be a good person.

Neshama: Soul, spirit

Nachas: (noun) pride at the accomplishments of one’s children

Pareve – Food that contains neither milk nor meat, and is therefore permitted to be eaten with either milk or meat, according to kosher dietary laws.

Parsha – Weekly Torah portion. The Torah (Five Books of Moses) is divided into 54 parshas. One parsha is read each week, and the full cycle is read over the course of one Jewish year.

Punim – Face

Ruach – spirit, breath, wind

Sephardic Jews: Jews from Spain, Portugal, North Africa and the Middle East and their descendants. Jews from North Africa and the Middle East are also known as Mizrachi Jews.

Shalom: Hebrew word meaning peace, wholeness, tranquility. Used as a greeting to mean both hello and goodbye.

Schlep – Carry something that’s heavy or awkward (schlep groceries), or drag yourself with some reluctance (schlep to the store)

Schmooze – Chat, sometimes with a business connotation, i.e. networking

Tachlis – The essence of a matter, i.e. “talk tachlis” = “get to the point”

Talmud: Central text of of the Jewish Oral Tradition, touching on law, custom, tales and meaningful living. Comprised of the Mishnah and the Gemara

Tanakh: The Hebrew Bible, consisting of 24 books, including the Torah (Five Books of Moses), Nevi’im (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings, including Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther.)

Tizku L’mitzvos – may you merit to do more mitzvot (commonly said as thank you for charitable donations)

Torah: Most commonly used to refer to the Five Books of Moses, but also to the entirety of Jewish teaching and practice.

Treif – Food that is not kosher. Jewish law prohibits Jews from eating treif.

Tzadik: A saintly, righteous individual

Umeborakh: And may you be blessed

Verklempt – Overcome with emotion

Yad – Hand, pointer (usually made of silver) used to follow text during Torah reading.

Yarmulke: See kippah

Yasher koach: lit. may your strength be firm/straight. Commonly used as a congratulatory exclamation any time a person does a deed that benefits others in a holy way, for example reading from the Torah or sharing Torah wisdom.

Yeshiva: An Orthodox Jewish school focusing on traditional Jewish texts and learning in chavrusa (study pairs)

Yiddish: Language spoken by Jews in eastern and central Europe before the Holocaust, and in certain Hasidic communities today. It is a mixture of Hebrew and German.

Zaydie – Grandfather


With thanks to JewFaq



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