Glossary

Aggadah

Traditional Jewish literature; commentaries, aphorisms, legends of the Talmud.

ahavat Israel

Love for, devotion to, the Jewish people.

aliyah

1) “Ascent” toward Jerusalem, hence immigration to Israel; 2) the honor of being called up to read a section of the weekly portion of the Torah.

Amidah

The principal daily prayer, recited standing and silently.

Aufruf

The tradition in which a bridegroom is called to the Torah on the Shabbat preceding his wedding.

bar mitzvah

The ceremony marking the assumption of adult religious responsibilities, at age thirteen.

Beit (Ha)midrash

A house of study and prayer; a synagogue.

Besht

Initials of Baal Shem Tov, the “Master of the Good Name,” founder of the Hasidic movement.

Bimah

The raised platform used for the reading of the Torah.

B’nai B’rith

A Jewish social and philanthropic organization.

chuppah

At a wedding, the canopy under which the marriage ceremony is performed.

genizah

A hiding place for sacred books and objects.

Haganah

The well-known Jewish paramilitary self-defense organization in Palestine.

Halakhah

The body of rabbinical law.

Halakhic

Relating to Halakhah.

Hasid (Hasidim)     

Literally, “pious man.” A disciple of the movement founded by the Baal Shem Tov.

Havdalah

The ceremony at the conclusion of Shabbat marking its separation from the rest of the week.

heder

A religious elementary school; Hebrew school.

Irgun

A Jewish nationalist underground organization which fought against the British occupation in Palestine.

Kaddish

The prayer for the dead.

kipa

A skullcap, or yarmulka, worn by Jewish males.

Kol Nidre

The prayer opening the Yom Kippur evening service.

kosher

Ritually pure, in accordance with dietary laws.

Marranos

Spanish Jews who, though forced to convert to Catholicism, continued to practice Judaism clandestinely.

mezuzah

A parchment containing passages from the Pentateuch that is rolled into a case and affixed to the doorpost as an expression of faith.

midrash

A parable; a story that embodies and expresses moral teaching or a tenet of faith; also, a volume of midrashim.

Minha

The afternoon service.

minyan

A quorum of ten men required for a communal religious service.

Mishna

The codification of the Oral Law based upon the laws and commandments of the Torah, and the basis in turn for the Gemara, or Talmud.

mitzvah

A divine commandment.

Musaf

The additional service following the main morning service on the Shabbat and holidays.

Neilah

The concluding service of Yom Kippur.

Palmah

An elite Haganah strike force whose members were recruited from kibbutzim.

Pesach

Passover, the Jewish holiday celebrating the Exodus from Egypt.

Purim

The holiday (marked by games, exchanges of gifts, and skits) commemorating the victory of the Jews of Persia over their enemy Haman.

Rosh Hashana

The Jewish New Year.

rosh yeshiva

The head of a rabbinical academy.

Seder

The ritual meal on Passover, during which the story of the Exodus from Egypt is told.

Sefer Torah

Sacred parchment scroll containing the books of the Pentateuch.

Shaharit

The morning service.

Shavuot

Pentecost; chiefly commemorates the Giving of the Law on Mount Sinai.

shivah

The first period of mourning, which lasts seven days.

shofar

The ram’s horn used in Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services.

shtetl

A Jewish village in Eastern Europe.

shtibel

A Hasidic place of prayer.

shtreimel

The wide-brimmed fur hat traditionally worn by Hasidim.

siddur

A prayer book.

Simhat Torah

The holiday celebrating the completion of the year-long reading of the Torah, and the renewal of the cycle of readings, beginning with Genesis.

Sukkot

The Feast of Tabernacles.

tallit

A ritual prayer shawl.

Talmud

The vast collection of rabbinical teachings, laws, and commentaries based upon the Mishna (q.v.); also called the Gemara.

tefillin

Phylacteries—two small leather boxes containing four passages from the Pentateuch; one is strapped to the left forearm and one to the forehead during weekday morning prayers.

Tisha b’Av

The Ninth of Av, a day of fasting in memory of the destruction of the Temple, which according to tradition occurred on this date.

Torah

The five Books of Moses, or Pentateuch; in the broader sense, the sum total of Jewish lore and learning, of which the Pentateuch is the foundation.

Tsahal

The Israeli army.

Vidui

A confession of sins.

Yad Vashem

The Holocaust museum in Jerusalem.

yahrzeit

The anniversary of the death of a parent.

yeshiva

A talmudic academy.

(pl. yeshivot)

 

Yizkor

A service in memory of the dead, recited on the three festivals of Sukkot, Pesach, and Shavuot, and on Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur

The Day of Atonement, the culmination of the Ten Days of Penitence which begin with Rosh Hashana, and the most sacred day in the Jewish year.

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