For some, Judaism is a religion. For others, Judaism is a culture. For other still, it’s both. And like many religions and cultures, there is language that goes with it.
To help you wade through some of the more common words, we’ve put together this glossary. (You’ll also find all of these words highlighted in articles on our site. Just move your mouse over the word to see definitions.)
“Dessert” in Greek, it refers to the matzah that is hidden at the beginning of the Passover seder and which, customarily, children look for and ransom back to the adults before the conclusion.
Alternate spelling: Afikoman.
Al Shlosha Devarim
Hebrew for “on three things,” the first words (and name) of a song in some Jewish worship services.
Alternate spellings: Al Shlosha D’varim.
The Hebrew alphabet, of which alef and bet are the first two letters.
Alternate spellings: Alef Beis, Alef Bet, Alef-Beis, Alef-bet, Aleph Beis, Aleph Bet, Aleph Beth, Aleph-Beis, Aleph-Bet, Aleph-Beth. Note: “Beis” is the Ashkenazior Yiddishpronunciation of the letter bet.
Hebrew for “our duty,” it’s the name and first word of a prayer recited at the end of three daily services in traditional Jewish liturgy.
Alternate spellings: Alaynu, Aleinu.
Hebrew for “going up,” it refers to the honor of saying the blessing over the Torah reading. It can also refer to the act of immigrating to Israel. (e.g. “After falling in love with Jerusalem, Rachel and Christopher made aliyah.”)
Alternate spellings: Aliya. Sometimes pluralized as “Aliyahs,” the plural form is “Aliyot” or Aliyos.”
Tefilat Amidah, Hebrew for “The Standing Prayer,” is the central prayer of Jewish liturgy. It is recited during every prayer service. Traditionally it’s recited individually in silence, then repeated aloud as a congregation; some congregations omit the silent recitation and/or abbreviate the repetition.
See also:Shmoneh Esreh.
A cabinet- or cupboard-like structure that houses the Torah(s) in a synagogue.
Ark or Aron: look for it in the synagogue.
Hebrew for “cupboard” or “closet,” it usually refers to the ark, a structure that houses the Torah(s) in a synagogue.
See also:Aron Kodesh.
Hebrew for “holy cupboard” or “holy closet,” a name for the ark, a structure that houses the Torah(s) in a synagogue.
Having Jewish family origins in Germany or Eastern Europe.
Of the culture of Jews with family origins in Germany or Eastern Europe.
Jews with family origins in Germany or Eastern Europe.
Yiddish for “calling up,” it’s a celebration of a couple on the Jewish Sabbath prior to their wedding. It usually involves the honor of an aliyah (saying the blessing over the Torah). After the Torah reading, the congregation customarily sings a congratulatory song and may also throw candies at the couple.
Alternate spellings: Auf ruf.
Hebrew for “please” and “you’re welcome.”
Hebrew for “son of the commandments.” In modern Jewish practice, Jewish boys come of age at 13. When a boy comes of age, he is officially a bar mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bar mitzvah’s coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The female equivalent is “bat mitzvah.”
Alternate spellings: Bar Mitzva.
Baruch Atah Adonai
Hebrew for “Blessed are You [,my God].” Introductory words to many Jewish prayers. “Adonai” may be translated in other ways, such as Lord or Ruler.
Alternate spellings: Baruch Ata Adonai, Barukh Atah Adonai, Barukh Ata Adonai.
Hebrew for “welcome” (when welcoming a female).
Alternate spellings: Baruch habaah, baruch haba’ah, barukh ha’ba’ah, barukh habaah, barukh haba’ah.
Hebrew for “welcome” (when welcoming a male).
Alternate spellings: Baruch habah, baruch haba, barukh ha’bah, barukh habah, barukh haba.
Hebrew for “welcome” (when welcoming more than one female).
Alternate spellings: Baruchot ha’bahot, baruchot habaot, barukhot ha’ba’ot, barukhot ha’bahot, barukhot habaot.
Hebrew for “daughter of the commandments.” In modern Jewish practice, Jewish girls come of age at 12 or 13. When a girl comes of age, she is officially a bat mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bat mitzvah’s coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The male equivalent is “bar mitzvah.”
Alternate spellings: Bat mitzva, bas mitzvah.
Rabbinic court involved in matters of Jewish law, including conversion and traditional divorce procedures.
Alternate spellings: Beis din.
In Yiddish, “bentshn” means “to bless.” It means “blessing” and refers to saying the blessing after meals, “Birkat Hamazon” (Hebrew for “Blessing on Nourishment”).
Alternate spellings: Bensching, bentshing.
Hebrew for “blessing” (and “bounty”). Plural form is “brachot.”
Alternate spellings: Beracha, berakhah, bracha, b’racha, bracho, brakha, brakhah. Alternate spellings for plural: Berachot, brachos, brachas, brakhas, brakhosbrakhot.
Bimah: can you spot it in this video?
The elevated area or platform in a synagogue, from which Torah is read. Worship service leaders, such as clergy, may lead services from the bimah as well.
Alternate spellings: Bima.
Engagement blessings, part of Jewish wedding service.
Alternate spellings: Bircat erusin, birchot erusin, birkas erusin.
Hebrew for “Blessing on Nourishment,” the blessing after meals.
Alternate spellings: Birkat Hamazon, birkas hamazon, birkas ha’mazon.
Hebrew for “the wedding blessings,” also known as sheva brachot (“the seven blessings”), are blessings that are recited for a couple as part of their marriage ceremony.
Alternate spellings: Bircat nissuin, bircat nisuin, birchot nissuin, birchot nisuin, birkas nisuin, birkat nisuin, birkot nissuin, birkot nisuin.
An international program that sends thousands of young Jews to Israel each year for free.
A thin crepe-like pancake that’s fried, folded or wrapped around a fruit or cream cheese filling, and then fried again.
Alternate spellings: Blintz.
Hebrew plural of “bar mitzvah” or “bat mitzvah.” In modern Jewish practice, Jewish children come of age at 13. When a child comes of age, he or she is officially a bar mitzvah (“son of the commandments”) or bat mitzvah (“daughter of the commandments”) and considered an adult. The terms are commonly used as a short-hand for the bar/bat mitzvah’s coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration.
Alternate spellings: B’nai mitzva, bnai mitzvah, bnai mitzva.
Hebrew for “covenant of circumcision,” a ritual for Jewish boys when they are 8 days old. It is commonly known as “bris,” which is the Ashkenazi or Yiddish pronunciation of “brit.”
Alternate spellings: Brit, bris, bris milah, brit mila, bris mila.
Hebrew for “daughter’s covenant,” a ceremony or ritual for welcoming baby girls into the Jewish community. The “t” is commonly pronounced as an “s,” which is the Ashkenazi or Yiddish pronunciation of “brit.”
Alternate spellings: Bris bat, bris bas.
Hebrew for “welcome” (when welcoming more than one male or a group of males and females).
Alternate spellings: Bruchim habaim, bruchim ha’ba’im, brukhim habaim, brukhim ha’baim, brukhim ha’ba’im.
Yiddish for “grandmother.”
Alternate spellings: Bubbie, bubby.
A member of the Jewish clergy who leads a congregation in songful prayer. (“Hazzan” in Hebrew.)
Hebrew for “happy holiday,” can be used as a greeting.
Alternate spellings: Hag Sameach.
Challah: most frequently an egg bread that is braided.
A bread that comes in a few different varieties; its most common variation is a braided egg bread, though there are water challahs that don’t have eggs, and there are whole-wheat challahs which sometimes also don’t have eggs. It is customary to being Sabbath and holiday meals by saying blessings and eating challah.
Alternate spellings: Challe, challeh, challahs, challot, challos, hallah.
Hebrew for “leavened,” foods that are not kosher for Passover, such as bread and wheat-based products. It refers to products that are both made from one of five types of grain and have been combined with water and left to stand raw (rise) for longer than eighteen minutes.
Alternate spellings: Hametz, chometz, chumetz, hometz, humetz.
Derived from the Hebrew word “cheres,” which means clay, it’s a mixture of fruit, nuts, and wine eaten as part of the Passover seder. Symbolizing the mortar that the Hebrew slaves used to build the cities for Pharaoh in Egypt, it’s one of the symbolic food items on the seder plate.
Alternate spellings: Charoses, haroset, haroses.
Hebrew for “pious,” commonly refers to a member of an Orthodox Jewish mystic movement founded in the 18th century in Eastern Europe by Baal Shem Tov that reacted against Talmudic learning and maintained that God’s presence was in all of one’s surroundings and that one should serve God in one’s every deed and word. Adjective form: chasidic.
Alternate spellings: Hasid, hasidic.
Hebrew for “cantor,” a member of the Jewish clergy who leads a congregation in songful prayer.
Alternate spellings: Chazzan, hazan, hazzan.
Chesed shel emet
Hebrew for “true kindness,” refers to burial of the dead.
Alternate spellings: Chesed shel emes, hesed shel emet, hesed shel emes.
Hebrew for “weekdays of the festival,” refers to the intermediate days of Passover and Sukkot. For example, the first two days of Passover are a holiday, but the next days are not; on the first days, work is not permitted according to traditional Jewish law, but on the intermediate days work is permitted.
Alternate spellings: Chol hamoed, hol ha’moed, hol hamoed.
From the Yiddish word “tsholnt,” a stew that is brought to a boil before the Sabbath and then kept warm overnight to fully cook in time for Saturday’s lunch. There are several different stories for the origin of the word, though most seem to connect it to Old French, “chalant” (“to warm”) or “chaud lent” (“hot slow”).
Alternate spellings: Chulent
Chuppah: simple or ornate, big or small, the wedding canopy under which the couple stands.
Hebrew for “canopy” or “covering,” the structure (open on all four sides) under which a Jewish wedding ceremony takes place. In its simplest for, it consists of a cloth, sheet, or tallit stretched or supported over four poles.
Alternate spellings: Chupah, chuppa, huppah, huppah, huppa, hupah.
A Yiddish word meaning audacity, for good or for bad; commonly used to imply something was gutsy. Derived from the Hebrew word for “insolence.”
Alternate spellings: Chutzpa, hutzpah.
A ceremony created by the Reform movement as a way for young adults to show their decision to embrace Jewish study and reaffirm their commitment to Judaism. Confirmation is typically held at the end of the tenth grade.
Yiddish for “prayer,” it’s often used as a verb in English. (“I’m going to daven Saturday morning.”)
Alternate spellings: Davven.
From the Yiddish word for “prayer,” it’s often used as a verb in English. (“I’m davening at services tonight.”)
Alternate spellings: Davvening, davening, davvenning.
Hebrew for “enough for us,” it’s the refrain and name of a liturgical song from the Passover seder.
Alternate spellings: Dayenu.
Dreidel: a spinning top, enjoyed on Hanukkah.
Yiddish for “spin,” a four-sided spinning top played with during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.
Alternate spellings: Dreydel, dreydl.
The plural form of the Yiddish word “spin,” four-sided spinning tops played with during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.
Hebrew for “word of Torah,” a lesson or sermon based on the weekly reading of the Torah.
Alternate spellings: DvarTorah.
Short for “d’var Torah,” Hebrew for “word of Torah,” a lesson or sermon based on the weekly reading of the Torah.
Alternate spellings: Dvar.
Hebrew for “Land of Israel,” a biblical name for Israel.
Hebrew for “mixture,” a ritual enclosure that traditionally observant Jewish communities construct in their neighborhoods as a way to permit the transference of objects from one domain type to another. For example, it allows Jews to carry food, push strollers, etc. from their homes through public areas on the Sabbath and holidays, acts that otherwise would not by allowed by traditional Jewish law.
Etrog: yellow citron, one of the ritual items used on Sukkot.
Hebrew word for a yellow citron, used ritually in the holiday of Sukkot. Plural form is “etrogim.”
Alternate spellings: Esrog, esrogim.
God. In traditional Jewish circles, it is forbidden to write or say God’s full Hebrew name. This custom has carried over into English by some, who write “God” without the vowel (o) and replace it with a hyphen. Some use variations of this, such as G!d or G@d.
Yiddish for “stuffed fish,” a patty made of ground up varieties of fish, matzo meal and spices, boiled in fish broth. A popular dish on Passover, sometimes served on Shabbat and other holidays as well.
Yiddish for “money,” usually refers to chocolate coins given on Hanukkah (and used as bets during the dreidel game).
Yiddish for “gentile,” or someone who is not Jewish. Some use this term with affection, however it’s still largely understood to have a derogatory connotation. Plural is “goyim,” sometimes angliacized as “goys.”
Yiddish for “good Sabbath,” a customary greeting leading into, and during, the Sabbath.
Alternate spellings: Gut Shabbes
Yiddish for “good week,” a customary greeting on Saturday evenings after the Sabbath ends (when the new week begins).
Yiddish for “happy holiday,” can be used as a greeting.
A selection from the books of Prophets that is read following the weekly Torah portion. There is a Haftorah for each Torah portion.
Alternate spellings: Haftara, haftarah, Haftora.
Hebrew for “telling,” the text that outlines the order of the Passover seder. There are many, many versions of this book, which dates back almost 2,000 years. Because we are commanded to expand upon the story, the Haggadah contains ancient interpretations, as well as stage directions and explanations, for the Passover meal.
Alternate spellings: Hagaddah.
Plural form of the Hebrew for “telling,” it’s the text that outlines the order of the Passover seder. There are many, many versions of this book, which dates back almost 2,000 years. Because we are commanded to expand upon the story, the Haggadah contains ancient interpretations, as well as stage directions and explanations, for the Passover meal.
Alternate spellings: Hagaddot, haggados.
Hebrew for “Jewish law,” it’s the body of Jewish religious law including biblical law (those commandments found in the Torah), later Talmudic and rabbinic law, as well as customs and traditions.
Alternate spellings: Halacha, halakhah, halachah.
Derived from the Hebrew for “Jewish law,” it’s pertaining or according to the body of Jewish religious law including biblical law (those commandments found in the Torah), later Talmudic and rabbinic law, as well as customs and traditions.
Alternate spellings: Halachic.
Hamentaschen: pastries enjoyed on Purim.
Yiddish for “Haman’s pockets,” and shaped after the three-corner hat of Haman (the villain of the Purim story), these are triangular cookies with poppy seed, jam or fruit filling in the middle. This is the plural form of the word; one of these treats is a hamentasch.
Alternate spellings: Hamantaschen, hamantashen, hamentashen, homentaschen, homentashen.
Hebrew for “brings forth” or “expels,” the first unique or identifying word of the blessing over bread (“…brings forth bread from the earth”). Some say this blessing over bread, others recite it as a catch-all before a meal.
Alternate spellings: HaMotzi, Ha-motzi, Motzi.
Hanukkah (known by many spellings) is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd Century BCE. It is marked by the lighting of a menorah and the eating of fried foods.
Alternate spellings: Channukah, Chanuka, Chanukah, Chanukkah, Hannukah, Hanuka, Hanukah, Hanukka.
Hanukkah: a winter holiday. For more information, check out our booklet.
Hebrew for “The Name.” Used as a substitute for the Hebrew name for God, which religious Jews are forbidden from uttering outside of prayer. (“This lovely dinner was provided by Ha’Shem — and the Goldsteins!” or “If, Ha’Shem willing, we arrive safely…”)
Alternate spellings: HaShem, Hashem, Ha-shem.
Hatafat dam brit
Hebrew for “drop of blood covenant,” it is a ritual circumcision for those already circumcised. (Usually men who are converting to Judaism.)
Alternate spellings: Hatafas dam bris.
Hebrew for “separation” or “distinction,” the ceremony marking the end of the Sabbath on Saturday evenings.
Alternate spellings: Havdala, Havdalla, Havdallah.
Hebrew for “fellowship,” a lay-led group that meets for Shabbat or holiday prayer services, life cycle events, and/or Jewish learning or discussion.
Alternate spellings: Havura, chavurah, chavura.
Hebrew: language of Jewish prayer and texts. Original Judaic Hebrew calligraphy artwork by Alan Najman. Inquiries can be sent to email@example.com
A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
Hebrew for “kosher approval,” marking found on food and some kitchen products (like tin foil or dish soap) that shows the item has been certified kosher.
Alternate spellings: Hechscher, heksher.
The Sephardi term for the ark, a cabinet- or cupboard-like structure that houses the Torah(s) in a synagogue.
Hebrew for “eulogy.”
Alternate spellings: Chesped.
Horah: a circle dance.
Hebrew, derived from the Greek word for “dance,” a variety of dances done in a circle, popular in Israel (and the Balkans) and danced at Jewish celebrations such as weddings.
Alternate spellings: Hora.
Hebrew for “holy,” a prayer found in Jewish prayer services. There are many versions of the Kaddish, the best known being the Mourner’s Kaddish, said by mourners.
Hebrew for “fit” (as in, “fit for consumption”), the action of making something kosher (like cleaning a kitchen).
Hebrew for “fit” (as in, “fit for consumption”), the Jewish dietary laws.
Alternate spellings: Kashrus.
Hebrew for “intention,” referring to having the proper mindset necessary for carrying out rituals or the commandments.
Alternate spellings: Kavvana.
Hebrew for “holiness,” refers to the prayer of holiness (the third section of the Amidah, or The Standing Prayer).
Hebrew for “tearing,” refers to the custom of mourners tearing a garment (usually a shirt, jacket or vest) or a ribbon (and affixing it to one’s garment) that is worn throughout the shiva period (the first stage of mourning).
Alternate spellings: Keriyah, kria, kriah.
Hebrew for “bringing close,” a term meaning Jewish outreach.
Alternate spellings: Kiruv.
Ketubah: for more information on wedding documents, read Choosing an Interfaith Ketubah.
Hebrew for “document,” a legal document that is both a prenuptial agreement and a certification that a Jewish marriage has taken place.
Alternate spellings: Ketuba.
Plural form of the Hebrew word “ketubah,” meaning “document,” a legal document that is both a prenuptial agreement and a certification that a Jewish marriage has taken place.
Alternate spellings: Ketubos.
Hebrew for “respect for the dead,” an important concept throughout Jewish bereavement rituals and customs.
Alternate spellings: Kevod hamet.
Hebrew for “sanctification,” a blessing recited over wine or grape juice to sanctify the Sabbath and Jewish holidays.
Hebrew for “holiness,” refers to the prayer of holiness (the third section of the Amidah, or The Standing Prayer).
Hebrew for “sanctification,” Jewish marriage is often referred to as Kiddushin, as one partner (traditionally, the bride) becomes “sanctified” (dedicated) to the other partner (traditionally, the groom).
Kippah: available in a variety of sizes, colors and materials.
Hebrew for “skullcap,” also known in Yiddish as a “yarmulke,” the small, circular headcovering worn by male Jews in most synagogues, and female Jews in more liberal congregations. Traditional Jews were kippot (plural of kippah) all the time.
Alternate spellings: Kipa, Kippa.
Plural of “kippah,” Hebrew for “skullcap,” also known in Yiddish as a “yarmulke,” the small, circular headcovering worn by male Jews in most synagogues, and female Jews in more liberal congregations. Traditional Jews were kippot (plural of kippah) all the time.
Alternate spellings: Kipot.
Yiddish word for a stuffed pastry, typically baked and round, filled with potato, meat or kasha.
Alternate spellings: Knishe.
Aramaic for “all vows,” the opening words and name of the first prayer that begins the evening service on Yom Kippur. Kol Nidre has come to refer to the name of the evening service itself.
Hebrew for a “gathering,” usually refers to a gathering or collection of scholars, or an institute for advanced Talmud study.
Hebrew for “fit” (as in, “fit for consumption”), the Jewish dietary laws.
Plural form of the Yiddish word “krepl,” dumplings filled with meat and usually cooked in soup.
Alternate spellings: Kreplach.
Yiddish word for a savory or sweet pudding made from either noodles, potatoes or matzah.
Alternate spellings: Kuggel.
Yiddish for “godfather,” often the individual who carries a baby in for his bris (circumcision).
Alternate spellings: Kvatter.
Yiddish for “godmother,” often the individual who carries a baby in for his bris (circumcision).
Alternate spellings: Kvatterin.
A language, also known as Judaeo-Spanish or Judezmo, once widely used by Sephardic communities, but now close to extinction. It is influenced by Hebrew, Arabic, Spanish and Turkish. It is comparable to the language of many Ashkenazi communities, Yiddish.
Hebrew for “33rd [day] of the Omer,” a minor Jewish holiday that falls 33 days after the start of Passover.
Alternate spellings: Lag B’omer(note: this spelling is gramatically incorrect).
Latke: potato pancake, usually fried in oil.
Yiddish word for a potato pancake, traditionally eaten during Hanukkah.
Alternate spellings: Latkah, latkahs, latkeh, latkehs, latkes.
Hebrew for “to life,” usually said as a celebratory toast. When couples become engaged, a celebration for them is often called a “l’chayim” as friends and family will offer the couple toasts for a happy life together.
Alternate spellings: L’chaim, l’chayyim, l’haim, l’hayim.
Hebrew for “from generation to generation.”
Alternate spellings: L’dor vador, l’dor v’dor(note: this spelling is gramatically incorrect).
Derived from the Yiddish word “leyenen,” meaning “read,” it refers to the act of reading (chanting) Torah.
Hebrew for “to a good year,” a typical greeting on Rosh Hashanah.
Alternate spellings: L’shana tova, l’shana tovah, l’shanah tova.
Hebrew for “what is different,” the first words of the Four Questions, traditionally recited by the youngest child at the Passover seder.
Alternate spellings: Ma nishtana, ma nishtanah, mah nishtana.
Hebrew for “good deeds.”
Alternate spellings: Maasim tovim.
Magen David: six-point star.
Hebrew for “shield of David,” it is more commonly recognized as the star of David, a six-point star. The symbol has origins in the Torah, and has been used as a symbol of Jewish identity and Judaism in Europe since the Middle Ages.
Alternate spellings: Mogein Dovid.
Hebrew for “Stronghold of Rock” (more commonly known in English as “Rock of Ages”), a Jewish liturgical poem sung on Hanukkah after lighting the candles.
Alternate spellings: Maoz Tsur, Ma’oz Tsur, Ma’oz Tzur.
Hebrew for “bitter,” one of the ritual food items on the Passover seder plate. Commonly represented by horseradish or romaine lettuce.
Hebrew word for an unleavened bread, traditionally eaten during the holiday of Passover.
Alternate spellings: Matza, matzo, matzoh, matzos.
Yiddish for “fried matzah,” a common Passover breakfast dish that can be savory or sweet, ranging in style from closer to an omelette to closer to French toast, made of matzah and egg.
Alternate spellings: Matza brei, matza brie, matzah brie, matzah brie, matzo brei, matzoh brei, matzoh brie, matzos brei.
Hebrew and Yiddish for “good luck,” a phrase used to express congratulations for happy and significant occasions.
Alternate spellings: Mazel tov.
Megillat Esther: scroll/book of Esther, read on Purim. For more information, check out our video, The Whole Megillah.
Hebrew for “scroll,” usually refers to the Scroll of Esther (“Megillat Esther”), the biblical book read on the holiday of Purim.
Hebrew for “Scroll of Esther” (or, Book of Esther), the biblical book read on the holiday of Purim.
Alternate spellings: Megillas Esther.
Yiddish term for an honorable, decent person, usually means “a person of integrity and honor,” someone of good character and a deep sense of what is right.
Alternate spellings: Mench, mentsh.
Hebrew for “candelabrum” or “lamp,” it usually refers to the nine-branched candelabrum that is lit for the holiday of Hanukkah. (A seven-branched candelabrum, a symbol of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, is a symbol of Judaism and is included in Israel’s coat of arms.)
Alternate spellings: Menora.
Yiddish for “crazy.”
Alternate spellings: Meshugah, meshuge, meshuggeneh.
Yiddish for “craziness.”
Yiddish for “crazy person.”
Hebrew for “doorpost,” it now refers to a small box containing a scroll (of the Hebrew text of the Shema prayer) which is affixed to the doorposts of Jewish homes. Strictly speaking, mezuzah only refers to the scroll itself, not the case in which it’s housed.
Alternate spellings: Mezuza.
Plural form of “mezuzah” (Hebrew for “doorpost”), it now refers to a small box containing a scroll (of the Hebrew text of the Shema prayer) which is affixed to the doorposts of Jewish homes. Strictly speaking, mezuzah only refers to the scroll itself, not the case in which it’s housed.
Hebrew for “May He Who blessed,” the first words of the prayer of the same name. Traditionally said in synagogue during the Torah service, a holistic prayer for physical and spiritual healing, asking for blessing, compassion, restoration and strength.
Alternate spellings: Mi Shabeirach, Mi shebeirach, Mi Sheberach, Mishabeirach, Mishebeirach, Mi-shebeirach, Mi-sheberach, M’shbeirach, M’shberach.
Hebrew for “story,” a way of interpreting biblical stories that often fills in the gaps left in the biblical narrative and expands on events of characters that are only hinted at.
Mikveh: water, bath used for ritual immersion.
Hebrew for “collection,” referring to the “collection of water,” is a bath used for the purpose of ritual immersion in Judaism. Today it is used as part of the traditional procedure for converting to Judaism, by Jews who follow the laws of ritual (body) purity, and sometimes for making kitchen utensils kosher.
Alternate spellings: Mikvah.
Hebrew for “count,” it refers to the quorum of ten Jewish adults (in some communities only men are counted; in others both men and women) required to hold a Torah service, recite some communal prayers, and the home-based recitation of the Kaddish. Minyan may also now refer to group that meets for prayer service, similar to a synagogue’s congregation or a havurah.
Hebrew for “repetition” (from the verb meaning “to study and review”), it refers to the first major written redaction of the Jewish oral traditions (“Oral Torah”). Mishnah is the first post-biblical collection of Jewish legal materials, and the primary building block of the Talmud (the major collection of Jewish law), as interpreted by the rabbis.
Alternate spellings: Mishna.
Hebrew for “commandment,” it has two meanings. The first are the commandments given in the Torah. (“You should obey the mitzvah of honoring your parents!”) The second is a good deed. (“Helping her carry her groceries home was such a mitzvah!”)
Alternate spellings: Mitzva.
Plural form of the Hebrew word “mitzvah” which means “commandment,” it has two meanings. The first are the commandments given in the Torah. (“You should obey the mitzvah of honoring your parents!”) The second is a good deed. (“Helping her carry her groceries home was such a mitzvah!”)
Alternate spellings: Mitzvahs, mitzvas, mitzvos, mitzvoth.
Hebrew for “eastern,” the term refers to Jews descended from the Jewish communities of the Middle East, North Africa and the Caucasus. The term Mizrahi is used in Israel in the language of politics, media and some social scientists for Jews from the Arab world and adjacent, primarily Muslim-majority countries.
Alternate spellings: Mizrachi.
Hebrew for “circumciser” (Yiddish term is “moyel”), the person who performs a ritual circumcision. The feminine form is “mohelet.”
Yiddish for “circumciser,” the person who performs a ritual circumcision. The Hebrew masculine form is “mohel,” the Hebrew feminine is “mohelet.”
National Conference of Synagogue Youth, the youth group of Judaism’s Orthodox in the United States, Canada, Israel and Chile. It offers local and regional Shabbat programming, summer programs and post-high school programs.
Hebrew for “locking,” the concluding prayer service on Yom Kippur. The name alludes to the closing of both the holiday and the final chance for prayers of repentance. The service ends with the blowing of the shofar.
Alternate spellings: Neila, Ne’ila, Neilah.
Hebrew for “soul” or “spirit,” the word literally means “breath.” In modern Judaism, it is believed that a person receives their soul from God with their first breath (based on Genesis 2:7).
North American Federation of Temple Youth, the youth group of Judaism’s Reform movement in North America. It offers local and regional youth groups, summer programs and post-high school programs.
Hebrew for “condolence of mourning,” a visit made to the mourners during the first week of mourning (the period known as shiva). This is also referred to as “making a shiva call” and is considered a mitzvah (a good deed or commandment).
Alternate spellings: Nichum avelim.
Hebrew term for a unit of dry measure, it was used to measure barley and is sometimes translated as “sheaf” (as in, “sheaf of barley”). Omer now refers to the period of 49 days from Passover to Shavuot. Today, instead of bringing an omer of barley to sacrifice, the days are counted (“counting the Omer”). It’s also a period of semi-mourning, when traditional Jews will refrain from partying, dancing, listening to live music, or cutting their hair.
Hebrew for “Sabbath joy,” the term for the light refreshments served after a Shabbat service.
Hebrew for “Haman’s ears,” these fried pieces of dough, shaped to look somewhat like an ear, and made with orange blossom water and orange peel, are drizzled with rich sugar syrup. They are a Sephardi treat for the holiday of Purim.
Alternate spellings: Oznai Haman.
Hebrew for “portion,” one of 54 sections of the Torah read, during Shabbat services, in order on a weekly basis throughout the year.
Alternate spellings: Parasha, parsha, parshah.
Plural form of “parashah,” Hebrew for “portion.” One of 54 sections of the Torah read, during Shabbat services, in order on a weekly basis throughout the year.
Alternate spellings: Parashas, parshahs, parshas, parshot.
The spring holiday commemorating the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The Hebrew name is “Pesach.” The Yiddish name is “Peysakh” or “Peysekh.”
Hebrew and Yiddish for “sidelock” or “sidecurls,” derived from the Hebrew word “pe’eh,” meaning “corner” or “side,” these are locks of hair that some Orthodox boys and men refrain from cutting or shaving.
Alternate spellings: Payos, peye, peyeh, peyes, peyos, peyot.
Hebrew for “saving a life,” a principle in Jewish law that the preservation of human life overrides virtually any other religious consideration.
Alternate spellings: Pikua hanefesh, pikuach ha’nefesh, pikuah ha nefesh, pikuah hanefesh, pikuah nefesh(note: most of these spellings are not gramattically correct).
Hebrew for “Chapters of the Fathers,” and commonly known as “Ethics of the Fathers,” a compilation of ethical teachings of the rabbis of the Mishnaic period. Included in the Mishnah, it’s the only tractate dealing exclusively with ethical and moral principles; there is little or no Jewish law included in these teachings.
Alternate spellings: Pirkei Avos, Pirkei Avoth.
Hebrew for “lots,” referring to the lots cast by Haman, the story’s antagonist, to determine the date on which to kill the Jewish people. It’s a spring holiday commemorating the Jewish people’s triumph. The story is told through the biblical Book of Esther; the namesake heroine, a Jewish woman, marries the Persian king. Their interfaith relationship is central to the story.
Hebrew for “my master,” the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation.
Hebrew for “master,” the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation. Another word for “rabbi.”
Yiddish for “my master,” derived from the Hebrew word “rabbi,” the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation. In some Orthodox communities, the title refers to the leader or founder of a particular hasidic movement (for example, the Lubavitcher Hasids refer to their rabbi as rebbe).
Hebrew for “Head of the Year,” the Jewish New Year. With Yom Kippur, known as the High Holy Days.
Alternate spellings: Rosh Hashana.
Yiddish term for a rolled pastry, often filled with chocolate or nuts, cinnamon, apricot or other flavors, and usually shaped like small crescent rolls.
Hebrew for “godfather,” the word is specific to the role of holding the baby during a brit milah ceremony.
Female version of the Hebrew word “sandek,” which means “godfather,” the word is specific to the role of holding the baby during a brit milah ceremony.
Hebrew for “order,” refers to the traditional course of events, or service, surrounding the Passover and Tu Bishvat meals.
Of the culture of Jews with family origins in Spain, Portugal or North Africa.
Alternate spellings: Sephardic.
Having Jewish family origins in Spain, Portugal or North Africa. The term literally means “Spanish” in Hebrew.
Jews with family origins in Spain, Portugal or North Africa.
Hebrew for “meal.” Often refers to a celebratory meal at a life cycle event.
Alternate spellings: Seudah, seudat.
Hebrew for “spinning top,” the four-sided toy played with during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah is more commonly known by its Yiddish name, “dreidel.”
Alternate spellings: sivivon.
The Hebrew word for the Jewish Sabbath, from sunset on Friday to nightfall on Saturday.
Alternate spellings: Shabbes, Shabbos.
Hebrew for “Sabbath [of] peace,” a greeting on or before the Jewish Sabbath.
Hebrew for “matchmaker,” someone who carries out a “shiddukh” (match).
Alternate spellings: Shadchan, shadchan, shadkhn.
Hebrew for “great peace,” the prayer for peace at the end of the traditional evening liturgy.
Hebrew for “helper,” a candle used to light all the other candles in the Hanukkah menorah.
Hebrew for “a good year,” a typical greeting on or before Rosh Hashanah.
Alternate spellings: Shana tova, shana tovah, shanah tova.
Hebrew for “a good week,” a typical greeting on Saturday night, after Havdalah, as the new week starts.
A Summer holiday commemorating the receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, it is also known as the Feast of Weeks, as it comes seven weeks after Passover begins.
Alternate spellings: Shavuos.
Hebrew for “Who has given us life,” part of a blessing thanking God for bringing us to a special or new moment.
Alternate spellings: Shehekheyanu, Sh’hekhiyanu.
Hebrew for “hear,” the first word and name of the central Jewish prayer and statement of faith. It is written on the scroll for a mezuzah.
Alternate spellings: Sh’ma.
Hebrew for “the seven blessings,” also known as birkot nissuin (“the wedding blessings”), blessings that are recited for a couple as part of their marriage ceremony.
Alternate spellings: Sheva berachot, sheva brachos.
Hebrew for “match,” as in a couple that has been set up.
Alternate spellings: Shidduch.
Hebrew for “matches,” as in couples that have been set up.
Alternate spellings: Shidduchim.
Hebrew for “seven,” refers to the seven days of mourning following the funeral of a family member. During this time the mourners often receive visitors (“shiva call”).
Hebrew for “thirty,” refers to the thirty days of mourning following the funeral of a family member.
Hebrew for “The Eighteen,” it’s an alternate name for Tefilat Amidah, Hebrew for “The Standing Prayer,” which is the central prayer of Jewish liturgy. It is recited during every prayer service. Traditionally it’s recited individually in silence, then repeated aloud as a congregation; some congregations omit the silent recitation and/or abbreviate the repetition.
Alternate spellings: Shmonah Esrai.
Simple musical instrument made from a ram’s horn that is blown in synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as well as each morning after daily services during the Hebrew month of Elul (the month leading up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur).
Yiddish for “synagogue.”
Hebrew for “Set Table,” also known as the Code of Jewish Law, it is the most authoritative legal code of Judaism, authored by Rabbi Yosef Karo in 1563.
Alternate spellings: Shulchan Aruch.
Yiddish for “sweat.”
Hebrew for “prayer book,” the plural is “siddurim.”
Hebrew for “gladness” or “joy,” it is often used to refer to a festive occasion or celebration, like a wedding, bat mitzvah, or bris.
Alternate spellings: Simcha, simchahs, simchas, simchat.
Hebrew for “daughter’s celebration,” a modern term for a naming ceremony for baby girls.
Alternate spellings: Simchas bas.
Hebrew for “Joy of Torah,” a fall holiday that celebrates the completion of the yearlong Torah cycle and the commencement of a new one.
Alternate spellings: Simchas Torah.
Plural form of the Hebrew “simchah,” Hebrew for “gladness” or “joy,” it is often used to refer to a festive occasion or celebration, like a wedding, bat mitzvah, or bris.
Alternate spellings: Simchos.
Plural form of “simchat bat,” Hebrew for “daughter’s celebration,” a modern term for a naming ceremony for baby girls.
Alternate spellings: Smachos bas.
Hebrew for “scribe,” someone who is trained in writing Torahs and other Jewish religious scrolls and texts.
Star of David
Known in Hebrew as “magen David” (literally,” shield of David”), it is more commonly recognized as the star of David, a six-point star. The symbol has origins in the Torah, and has been used as a symbol of Jewish identity and Judaism in Europe since the Middle Ages.
A Hebrew term for a doughnut, often eaten in Israel during Hanukkah. They are usually filled with jelly and covered in sugar.
Alternate spellings: Soofganiyot.
Sukkah: temporary structure built for the holiday of Sukkot.
Hebrew for “booth,” a temporary hut constructed for use during the week-long Jewish holiday of Sukkot (“booths”).
Alternate spellings: Succah, sukka.
Hebrew for “Booths,” it’s a fall holiday marking the harvest, like a Jewish Thanksgiving, complete with opportunities for dining and sleeping under the stars.
Alternate spellings: Succos, Succot, Sukkos.
Derived from the Greek word for “assembly,” a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, “shul.” Reform synagogues are often called “temple.”
An international program that sends thousands of young Jews to Israel each year for free.
Tallit and Tallis: prayer shawl.
Yiddish for “prayer shawl,” a ritual item that is worn and has knotted fringes (tzitzit) attached to the four corners. The plural form is “talleisim.”
Hebrew for “prayer shawl,” a ritual item that is worn and has knotted fringes (tzitzit) attached to the four corners. The plural form is “tallitot.”
Hebrew for “instruction” or “learning,” a central text of Judaism, recording the rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history. It has two parts: Mishnah (redacted c. 200 CE) and Gemara (c. 500 CE), an elucidation of the Mishnah.
Hebrew acronym standing for “Torah (Five Books of Moses), Nevi’im (Prophets), Ketuvim (Writings),” a name used in Judaism for the canon of the Hebrew Bible.
Hebrew for “send off” or “cast away.” On the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah it is customary to go to a body of moving water for a ceremony in which we cast off our sins by emptying crumbs from our pockets into the water. (See Micah 7:19.)
Hebrew for “prayer.” The plural form is “tefillot” or “tefillos.”
Tefillin: This Barbie models both a tallit and tefillin. (Thanks to Jen Taylor Friedman for creating her!)
Hebrew term derived from the word “to pray,” and translated into English as the unhelpful word “phylacteries.” A set of small black leather boxes containing scrolls on which the Torah verses are written, one goes on the upper arm (with the black leather straps wrapping down the arm and around the hand and fingers) and the other goes around the head (with the straps dropping down the back of the head).
Reform synagogues are often called “temple.” “The Temple” refers to either the First Temple, built by King Solomon in 957 BCE in Jerusalem, or the Second Temple, which replaced the First Temple and stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem from 516 BCE to 70 CE.
Hebrew for “repairing the world,” a goal of the Jewish covenant with God.
Summer holiday that includes a fast, commemorating the destruction of the ancient Temples in Jerusalem.
Torah: the scroll containing the first five books of the Bible.
The first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), or the scroll that contains them.
One of 54 sections of the Torah read, during Shabbat services, in order on a weekly basis throughout the year.
Yiddish term for that which is not kosher (in accordance with Jewish dietary law). Common treyf foods include shellfish and pig products (ham, bacon, etc.). Also, food or meals that combine dairy and meat products are treyf.
Alternate spellings: Trayf, treif.
Hebrew for “return,” the way of repenting for sins in Judaism. The term is most associated with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Alternate spellings: Teshuva, teshuvah, t’shuva.
Hebrew for “15th of [the month of] Shevat,” both a date and the name of a holiday celebrated on that date. A holiday that falls in January or February, it’s the New Year for trees.
Alternate spellings: Tu Beshvat, Tu B’Shevat, Tu B’Shvat(note: some of these spellings are not grammatically correct).
Hebrew for “tassel” or “fringe,” the name for specially knotted ritual fringes (strings). They appear on the four corners of a tallit (prayer shawl worn during prayer services) and tallit katan (small shawl, worn by observant Jews every day under their shirts).
Alternate spellings: Sisith, tzit tzit, tzitzis.
Hebrew term for a school or institute for the intensive study of Hebrew. Primarily found in Israel, “ulpan method” Hebrew classes are found around the world.
United Synagogue Youth, the youth group of Judaism’s Conservative movement in the United States, Canada and Mexico. It offers local and regional youth groups, summer programs and post-high school programs.
Hebrew for “time of [one] year,” referring to the anniversary of the day of a relative’s death.
Alternate spellings: Yahrtzeit, yartzeit. In Yiddish: yortsayt.
Yiddish for “skullcap,” also known in Hebrew as a “kippah,” the small, circular headcovering worn by male Jews in most synagogues, and female Jews in more liberal congregations. Traditional Jews were kippot (plural of kippah) all the time.
Alternate spellings: Yamulka, yarmulka
A language, literally meaning “Jewish,” once widely used by Ashkenazi communities. It is influenced by German, Hebrew and Slavic languages, and is written with the Hebrew alphabet. It is comparable to the language of many Sephardi communities, Ladino.
Hebrew for “remembrance,” a memorial prayer service.
Hebrew for “Day of Atonement,” the final of ten Days of Awe that begin with Rosh Hashanah. Occurs during the fall and is marked by a 24-hour fast. One of the most important Jewish holidays. See our Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Resource Page.
Yiddish for “holiday.”
Alternate spellings: Yontef, Yontev.
Abbreviation for the Hebrew “zichrono libracha” or “zichrona livracha” meaning “may his/her memory be a blessing.” It is common, when mentioning in writing the name of someone who has died, to add z”l after the person’s name. The full phrase is said when speaking.
Alternate spellings: ZL
Yiddish for “grandfather.”
Alternate spellings: Zaida, zaide.
Hebrew term, synonymous with Jerusalem.
A form of nationalism of Jews and Jewish culture that supports a Jewish nation state in territory defined as the Land of Israel.
A supporter of the ideal that Israel be defined as a Jewish nation state.