A glossary of Jewish terms
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Most of the terms in this glossary are Hebrew in origin. However since then Judaism has thrived in many countries and the language reflects this. Yiddish is a mixture of German, Russian and Hebrew developed by Jews throughout Eastern Europe. As with all languages that are transliterated (where the English spelling tries to recreate the sound of the original) there are acceptable differences in spelling.
Pronunciation note: The main form in this glossary is in green and is the Sephardic pronunciation. Main variants appear in red.


Abraham   Father of the Jewish nation and also father of Isaac and Jacob
Afikomen    Dessert. Portion of a matzah eaten near the end of the Seder
Agadah Aggadah Telling. Rabbinical teachings on moral values.
Aleinu   Key prayer at the conclusion of each service.
Aliyah   To go up. (i) Being called to read the Sefar Torah in the synagogue. (ii) The migration of Jews to Israel.
Amidah   Standing. The standing prayer.
Aron Hakodesh   Holy Ark. The focal point of the synagogue, containing Torah scrolls.
Ashkenazim   Jews of Central and Eastern European origin.
Bar Mitzvah   Son of the Commandment. A boy's coming of age at 13 years old, usually marked by a synagogue, ceremony and family celebration.
Bat Mitzvah Bat Chayil Daughter of the commandment. As above but for girls from 12 years old. May be marked differently between communities.
Bet Din   Jewish court which decides if a Jewish couple (usually Orthodox) may divorce.
Bet ha Knesset
Beit ha Knesset
House of assembly. Synagogue.
Bimah   Dias. Raised platform primarily for reading the Torah in the synagogue.
Brit Milah Berit Milah, Bris Circumcision. Ceremony performed at 8 days of age.
Challah Hallah Enriched bread used particularly on Shabbat and during festivals.
Chazan Hazzan, Cantor Leader of reading, singing and chanting in the services of some synagogues.
Chumash   Five. The Torah in the book form, used in the synagogue and the home.
Chuppah   The canopy under which the bride, grrom and Rabbi will stand during the marriage ceremony.
Circumcision   Religious rite of the Brit Milah, performed by a qualified mohel on all Jewish boys, usually on the eighth day after birth.
Conservative   Modern movement sometimes confused with Orthodox. It emphsises Zionism and allows some minor changes in litergy but is opposed to the more radical reforms of the Reform movement.
The Diasporia   Scattering. The time from 70 CE after the destruction of the temple when the Jews were scattered all over the world and there was no Israel until 1947.
The Exodus   The jounrney into slavery in Egypt out of which Moses led the people in the story of the Passover
The Exile   The period spend when the Babylonians captured the land of the Jews
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Gemara Gemarah Commentary on the Mishnah included in the Talmud.
Get   Bill of divorce in Jewish Law.
Genizah   Storage place for damaged religious texts.
Haftarah   Completion. Passages from Nevi'im (Prophets) read in the synagogue (linked to weekly Torah and festival readings).
Hagadah Haggadah Telling. A book used at Seder.
Halakah Halacha The Way. The code of conduct encompassing all aspects of Jewish life.
Hanukiah Chanukiah, Menorah Nine branched Hannukah lamp used at the festival of Hannukah.
Hanukkah Chanukah Dedication. An eight day festival of lights to celebrate the re-dedication of the temple following the Macabean victory over the Greeks.
Hasid Chasid, Hasidim (pl) Chasidim Pious. Member of the Orthodox movement of Hasidism.
Hasidism Chasidism A religious and social movement formed by the Israel Ball Shem Tov (from the 18th century onwards).
Havdalah   Distinction. Ceremony marking the conclusion of Shabbat.
Hebrew Ivrit Ancient Semitic language; language of the Tenakh (Hebrew Scripture) and also used by Jews for prayer and study. Also, everyday language in Israel.
Herod   The Roman governor of Judea during the time of Jesus.
Holocaust Shoah The extermination of six milllion Jews (as well as many others) by the Nazis beyween 1933 and 1945 CE.
Huppah Chuppah Canopy used for a wedding ceremony, under which the bride and groom stand.
Israel   One who struggles with God. The phrase refers to the world-wide Jewish community; the land of Israel and the modern state of Israel.
Issac   Son of Abraham
Jacob   The son of Isaac
Jew   A member of the Jewish race and a member of the religious group of Judaism 
Joseph   The son of Jacob
Judea   The Roman province in which Jesus of Nazereth was born and spend most of his life.
Kabalah Cabala Jewish mysticism.
Kaddish   Prayer publicly recited by mourners.
Kashrut   Laws relating to keeping a kosher home and lifestyle.
Ketubah Ketubbah Document that defines rights and obligations within Jewish marriage.
Ketuvim   Writings. Third section of the Tenakh..
Kibbutz Kibbutizim  (pl.) Israeli collective village based on socialist principles.
Kiddush   Holy. A prayer sanctifying Shabbat and festival days, usually recited over wine.
Kippah Yamulkah, Capel Head covering worn during prayers, Torah study, etc.. Some followers will wear it constantly.
Knesset   Assembly. Israeli parliament. 
Kol Nidrel Kol Nidre All vows. Prayer recited on the evening of Yom Kippur.
Korach   Name of the leader who defied Moses in the wilderness.
Kosher Kasher Fit; Proper. Foods permitted by Jewish dietary laws. (see also trayfah)
Ladino   Language used predominately by Sephardim.
Magen David   Shield of David, popularly called Star of David.
Maimonides   Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (1135-1204), a leading Jewish philosopher, medical writer and codifier of Jewish law.
Masada   The hill fort where the Zealots comitted suidcide rather than surrender to the Romans during the revolt in the 60s CE. An important place of pilgrimmage for Jews.
Mashiach Moshiah, Messiah The anointed one, who will herald in a new era for Judaism and all humankind.
Matzah Matzot (pl.) A flat cracker-like bread which has been baked before it rises; used at Pesach.
Menorah   Seven branched candelabrum which was lit daily in the Temple.
Mezuzah   A scroll placed on doorposts of Jewish homes, containing a section from the Torah and often enclosed in a decorative case.
Midrash   Collections of various Rabbinic commentaries on the Tenukah.
Mikveh   Ritual bath used for the immersion of people and objects.
Minhag   Religious Customs.
Minyan   Quorum of ten men, over the Bar Mitzvah age, required for a service. Progressive communities may include women but do not always require a minyan.
Mishnah   First writing down of the Oral Tradition. An authoritative document forming the part of the Talmud, codified about 200 CE.
Mishkan   Dwelling. The original traveling sanctuary used prior to the building of the permanent Temple in Jerusalem.
Mitzvah Mitzvot (pl.) Commandment. The Torah contains 613 mitzvot. Commonly used to describe good deeds.
Mohel   Person trained to perform Brit Milah.
Moses   Leader and lawgiver at the time of the Exodus.
Moshav Moshavim (pl.) Collective village or farm in Israel.
Ner Tamid   Eternal Light. The perpetual light above the Aron Hakodesh.
Nevi'im   Prophets. Second section of the Tenakh.
Noachide Laws   Seven Laws given to Noah after the flood, which are incumbent on all humankind. These laws form the foundation for a just society.
Orthodox   Modern name for strictly traditional Jews.
Parev Parveh Neutral foods, which are neither milk nor meat. e.g. vegetables, eggs, fish.
Pesach Passover Festival commemorative the Exodus from Egypt. One of the three biblical pilgrim festivals. Pesach is celebrated in the spring.
Pikei Avot Pirke Avoth Sayings of the Fathers. Part of the Mishnah containing ethics of Rabbinical sages.
Pikuakh Nefesh   Save a soul. The setting aside of certain laws in order to save a life.
Pogrom   Organised attack on Jews, especially frequent in 19th and early 20th century Eastern Europe.
Purim   Festival commemorating the rescue of Persian Jewry as told in the book of Ester.
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Rabbi   My teacher. An ordained Jewish teacher. Often the religious leader of a Jewish community.
Rashi   Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzak (1040-1105). A French rabbinical scholar and leading commentator on the Torah and Talmud.
Rebbe   Rabbi. The term used by Hasidim for their religious leader.
Reform   Modern movement encouraging changin traditional ways to accomodate contemporary needs.
Rosh Hashanah Rosh Ha-Shanah Head of the Year. Jewish New Year. 
Sandek   The 'sponsor' of a child to be circumcised in the ceremony of Brit Milah
Seder    Order. A home-based ceremonial meal during Pesah, at which the Exodus from Egypt is recounted using the Hagadah
Sefer Torah   Torah scroll. The five books of Moses handwritten on parchment and rolled to from a scroll.
Sephardim Sefardim Jews originating from Mediterranean countries, especially Spain, North Africa and the Middle East.
Shabbat Shabbos Day of spiritual renewal and rest commencing at sunset on Friday and terminating at sunset on Saturday.
Shatnez Shaatnez Garments containing a forbidden mixture of wool and linen.
Shavuot   Weeks. One of the pilgrim festivals. Shavuot is celebrated in the summer, seven weeks after Pesach.
Shekhina   The divine presence.
Shema   Major Jewish prayer affirming belief in one God. The Shema is found in the Torah.
Shiva   Seven days of intense mourning following the burial of a close relation. During this period all ordinary work is prohibited.
Shoah   Desolation. The suffering experienced by European Jews at the hands of the Nazis, including the systematic murder of six million Jews between 1933 and 1945.
Shofar   Ram's horn blown at the season of Rosh Hashananah.
Siddur   Order. Daily prayer book.
Simchat Torah   Rejoicing of the law. Festival celebrating the completion and recommencement of the cycle of the weekly Torah reading.
Sukkah Suhhot (pl.) Tabernacle; booth. A temporary dwelling used during Sukkot.
Sukkot   One of three biblical pilgrim festivals, Sukkot is celebrated in the Autumn.
Bet Haknesset
Building for Jewish public prayer, study and assembly.
Prayer shawl. Four cornered garment with fringes.
Talmud   Mishnah and Gemara, collected together.
Self-Judgment. Jewish prayer and meditation.
Tephilin, T'filin
Small leather boxes containing passages from the Torah, strapped on the forehead and arm for morning prayers on weekdays.
Temple   Sometimes used to refer to a synagogue esp. in North America. Also used to refer to the temple in Jerusalem, destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE of which only the Western Wall remains.
The collected 24 books of the Jewish Bible, comprising three section: Torah, Nevi'im and Ketuvim (Te; Na; Kh)
Ten Commandments   Part of the Law given to Moses on Mount Siani, Found in the book of Exodus (20:10ff)
Teshuva   Repentance. Returning to God.
Tikkun Olam
Care for the world and environment.
Torah   Law; teaching. The five books of Moses.
Treyfah   Foods which are forbidden under the laws of kosher.
Tu b'shevat   New Year for trees celebrated on the 15th day of Shevat.
Tzedaka   Righteousness. An act of charity.
Tzizit  Tzittzit  Fringes on the corners of the Tallit. Also commonly refers to the fringed undervest worn by some Jewish males. 
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Western Wall   The only remaining part of the temple destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, an important place of pilgrimmage for all Jews.
Yad   Hand-held pointer used in the reading the Sefer Torah
Yad Vashem   A place of memorial which commererates the holocaust
Yahrzeit   Year-time. Anniversary of a death.
Yamulkah  Capel, Kippah Head covering worn during prayers, Torah study, etc.. Some followers will wear it constantly.
Yeshiva   College for the study of the Torah and Talmud.
Yiddush   Language used predominately by Ashkenazim.
Yishuv   Ingathering. The Jewish community of Israel.
Yom Hashoah   Day to commemorate the Shoah.
Yom Kippur   Day of Atonement. Fast day occurring on the tenth day after Rosh Hashannah; a solemn day of Tefillah and Teshuva.
Zionism   Political movement securing the Jewish return to the land if Israel.