Glossary of Jewish Terms

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

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

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.

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

Bracha – blessing

Bubbie – Grandmother

Challah – lit. dough offering. When the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was standing, a portion of dough was separated and offered to the Kohanim (priests.) We still separate a symbolic piece of challah when we make dough, but today the word “challah” usually refers to bread (often braided) that is served on Shabbat and Jewish holidays.

Chavrusa: A traditional method of learning Torah through discussion between two students

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.

Daven – Pray

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

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

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. 

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

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

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. 

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

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 

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

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

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 (shlep groceries), or drag yourself with some reluctance (shlep 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. 

Verklempt – Overcome with emotion 

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

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



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