Judaism is more than just a religion: it’s a culture, a language, a way of life. And, integrated fully into these Jewish traditions are unique words and sayings. Though words may have different roots or origins (Hebrew, Yiddish, German), their meanings are universal throughout the Jewish community. This glossary introduces some of the more common sayings appropriate for lifestyle and holiday events.


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Berachah (pl. Berachot) – Blessing.
Shehecheyanu – Literally: [God] who has kept us alive. This is the blessing for beginnings, happy occasions. It is also said at candle-lighting, Kiddush, and at certain other specific times during festival observance.
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B’rit HaChayim – Literally: covenant of life. A home ceremony for the naming of baby girls.
B’rit Milah – Covenant of circumcision, traditionally performed on the eighth day of a boy’s life.
Ken Ayin Hara (Kinna Hurra) – Literally: against the evil eye.
Kiddush Pe’ter Rechem – Modern ceremony celebrating the birth of the first child.
Kvater/Kvaterin – Godfather/Godmother: those who carry the baby into the b’rit ceremony
Mi Sheberach – Literally: May the One who blessed. A prayer usually, but not solely, recited after a person has been honored with a Torah blessing. There are various forms of this prayer, one of which is used to name a child.
Mohel – Highly skilled ritual circumciser.
Pidyon Haben/Habat – Literally: redemption of the (first-born) son/daughter. Home ceremony which takes place on the thirty-first day of a child’s life.
Sandak – Person who holds the baby during the ceremony.
Seudat Mitzvah – A festive meal which honors the observance of a mitzvah.
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Chanukah – Literally: dedication.
Chanukat HaBayit – Literally: dedication of the house. Ceremonial hanging of the mezuzah.
Chanukiah – Eight-branched Chanukah menorah.
Dreidel – Yiddish for top; used in Chanukah game. Known in Hebrew as sevivon.
Gelt – Yiddish word for money; given as a Chanukah present, used for playing dreidel.
Latke – Yiddish word for pancake. Potato latkes are traditionally eaten on Chanukah.
Menorah – Seven- or eight-branched candelabra. Most commonly used to refer to the eight-branched Chanukah lamp.
Nes Gadol Hayah Sham – Literally: A great miracle happened there. First letters of these four words are found on the dreidel.
Sufganiyot – Jelly doughnuts served in Israel on Chanukah.
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Ger/Gioret – One who is invited to join the Hebrew tribe. The masculine and feminine forms of the Hebrew term for convert.
Gerut – Conversion.
Halachah – Jewish Law.
Kabbalat Ol Mitzvot – Literally: acceptance of the yoke if the commandments.
Milah – Ritual circumcision.
Tevilah – Immersion in a ritual bath ( mikveh ) or any natural body of water which can serve as a mikveh.
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Chevrah Kadisha – Group of people entrusted with the mitzvah of preparing the body for burial.
El Malei Rachamim – Literally: God, full of compassion; memorial prayer.
Gan Eden – Literally: Garden of Eden; paradise.
Gehinom – Literally: Valley of Hinom; place of punishment.
Kaddish – Prayer praising God. There are several Kaddish prayers recited during the service, one of which is recited in memory of the departed.
Kevod HaMet – Honor due to the dead.
Keriah – Tearing of a garment or a ribbon as an expression of grief.
Minyan – Quorum of ten people necessary for public prayer.
Mitzvah – Commandment; obligatory responses to our Jewish traditions.
Taharah – Ritual purification.
Tachrichim – Burial shrouds.
Seudat Havra’ah – Literally: meal of condolence; prepared by the friends of the mourners.
Sheloshim – Thirty-day mourning period.
Shivah – Seven-day mourning period beginning with the burial.
Tzedakah – Literally: justice, righteousness; the Hebrew word we use for charity.
Unveiling – Dedication of the grave marker.
Yahrzeit – Anniversary of the death.
Yizkor – Memorial services held on Yom Kippur and on the last day of Pesach, Shavout, and Sukot.
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Bar/Bat (Bas) Mitzvah – Ceremony marking youngster’s reaching the age of religious majority.
Chavurah (pl. Chavurot) – Informal group which meets together for study and celebration.
Cheder – Old-fashioned term for Hebrew school. In Eastern Europe, it was the primary school.
Haftarah – Selection from the Prophets read or chanted after the weekly Torah portion.
Hebrew School – After-school Hebrew classes.
Kallah (pl. Kallot) – A conclave or retreat.
Religious School – Term that includes both Sunday school and Hebrew school, though in some synagogues it refers to only Sunday school. Sometimes Religious school is referred to as Torah school.
Shabbaton (pl. Shabbatonim) – A Sabbath program of study and celebration.
Talit (Talis) – Prayer shawl.
Sunday School – Classes in history, customs, and ceremonies.
Ulpan (pl. Ulpanim) – Intensive Hebrew course.
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Aufruf – Calling up of the bridegroom for Torah blessings on the Shabbat preceding the wedding.
Chanukat HaBayit – Literally: dedication of the house.
Chatan – Groom.
Chuppah – Canopy; it can be a talit, velvet or silk canopy, or floral arrangement.
Fasting – Bridal couple traditionally fasts on the wedding day prior to the ceremony.
Fleishig – Foods derived from meat or meat products.
Get – Religious divorce.
Glass (to Break) – There are various interpretations of the symbolism. The traditional explanation is that the glass is broken in memory of the destruction of the Temple.
Harei at mekudeshet li betaba’at zo kedat Mosheh v’Yisrael – Literally: Behold you are consecrated unto me, with this ring, according to the Law of Moses and Israel. This is the Hebrew nuptial formula.
Kalah – Bride.
Ketubah (pl. Ketubot) – Marriage contract.
Kiddush Cup – For wine, which is drunk after the Sheva Berachot.
Kiddushin – Marriage.
Klaf – Handwritten mezuzah scroll containing Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-21.
Kosher – Ritually fit.
Mezuzah – Ritual object consisting of a casing and a klaf (scroll) which is put on the doorpost(s) of the house.
Mikveh – Ritual bath traditionally visited by the bride prior to the wedding.
Milchig – Foods derived from milk or milk products.
Parve – Containing neither meat/meat derivatives nor milk/milk derivatives and which can be eaten with either milk or meat meals, e.g., fruits, vegetables, eggs.
Pushke – Tzedakah box.
Ring – Traditionally it is solid, without stones.
Sheva Berachot – Seven traditional blessings recited or chanted after the exchange of rings.
Trefe – Literally: torn apart; food that is not ritually fit. It is the opposite of kosher.
Yichud – Time spent alone together by the bride and groom immediately after the wedding ceremony.
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Afikoman – A Greek word meaning dessert. We make the matzah the official dessert of the seder meal. To keep the children alert during the seder, the afikoman is hidden. The children find it and the leader of the seder must redeem it.
Chamets – Leavened bread and anything made with wheat, rye, barley, oats, and spelt unless supervised to ensure that it has not leavened.
Charoset – A mixture of fruits, nuts, and wine. Its color and consistency is a reminder of the bricks and mortar used by the Israelite slaves.
Egg – Represents the additional Passover festive offering, the “chagigah,” in the Temple.
Haggadah (pl. Haggadot) – Literally: telling. It is our duty to tell the story of Passover, particularly to the children.
Karpas – A green herb such as parsley or a green vegetable such as celery or watercress. It symbolizes spring.
Ma’ot Chitim – Literally: wheat money; money collected prior to Passover to assist the needy to celebrate the holiday.
Maror – The bitter herbs such as horseradish symbolizing the bitter plight of the enslaved Israelites.
Matzah – The unleavened bread eaten in recollection of the hurried departure from Egypt. The eating of matzah is obligatory only at the seder. During the rest of Pesach, one may abstain from matzah as long as all chamets is avoided.
Opening the Door – We open the door to welcome symbolically the prophet Elijah.
Pesach – Passover.
Seder – Literally: order; refers to program of prayers and rituals for the home celebration.
Shabbat HaGadol – Literally: the Great Sabbath preceding Passover.
Shank Bone – Symbolic of the paschal sacrifice.
The Cup of Elijah – Elijah is the herald of the Messianic Era when justice and peace will be realized.
The Four Cups – Each has a specific place in the service. The first serves as the Kiddush; the second is taken at the conclusion of the first part of the seder; the third is the cup marking the conclusion of the grace after the meal; the fourth cup comes at the conclusion of the seder. The four cups are said to refer to the promises of redemption made by God to Israel.
The Four Questions – Questions asked at the seder. The answers to the questions form the rest of the Haggadah.
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Grogger – Noisemaker used to drown out Haman’s name.
Hamantashen – Filled three-cornered pastries supposed to represent Haman’s hat.
Megillah (pl. Megillot) – Literally: scroll. There are five megillot in the Bible. The one read on Purim is Megillat Esther.
Mishlo’ach Manot – Sending portions of food to friends to celebrate the holiday; also referred to as Shalach Monos.
Purim – Literally: lots.
Purim Schpiel – Humorous play put on at Purim.
Shabbat Zachor – The Shabbat immediately preceding Purim. Its name is taken from the additional Torah portion read that day- Deuteronomy 25:17-19 – which begins with the word ” zachor ” (remember).
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Chet – Literally: missing the mark; a Hebrew term for sin.
Gemar Chatimah Tovah – Literally: “May you finally be inscribed (in the Book of Life) for good.” After Rosh Hashanah and through Yom Kippur, this greeting is used.
High Holy Days – Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Also known as the High Holiday” or the Holidays.
L’Shanah Tovah Tikatevu – New Year greeting meaning “May you be inscribed (in the Book of Life) for a good year,” sometimes shortened to “Shanah Tovah.”
Machzor – High Holy Day prayer book.
Rosh Hashanah – Literally: the head of the year; the New Year.
Selichot – Penitential prayers.
Shofar – Ram’s horn.
Tashlich – Traditional ceremony in which individuals symbolically cast their sins into a body of water.
Teshuvah – Literally: returning; a Hebrew term for repentance.
Yom Tov – Literally: a good day. The term has come to mean holiday. It is often pronounced “Yuntiff” and the standard holiday greeting is “Good Yuntiff.”
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Challah – Braided egg bread, for Shabbat and festivals.
Havdalah – Literally: separation. Ceremony on Saturday night, dividing the Sabbath from the beginning of the week.
Kavanah – Intention.
Kiddush – Blessing recited or chanted over wine, emphasizing the holiness of Shabbat and festivals.
Kodesh – Holy.
Minyan – Quorum of ten necessary for public worship.
Mitzvah – Commandments.
Shabbat – Sabbath.
Shabbos – Yiddish and Ashkenazic Hebrew pronunciation for the Sabbath.
Tzedakah Box (Pushke in Yiddish) – Container for collecting money for charitable purposes. It is customary to give tzedakah prior to candlelighting in the home.
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Blintzes – Cheese- or fruit-filled crepes.
Confirmation – Ceremony marking completion of the religious school courses, often held on Shavuot.
Shavuot – Literally: weeks. This festival occurs seven weeks after Pesach.
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Aliyah -Literally: going up; the honor of being called to recite the blessings over the Torah.
Bimah – The raised platform in the synagogue where the Torah is read.
Hakafah (pl. Hakafot) – Torah procession(s) around the sanctuary.
Parashah – The weekly Torah portion.
Shemini Atseret – Literally: the eighth day of assembly; conclusion of Sukot.
Simchat Torah – Literally: Joy of the Torah. Holiday marking the conclusion of the yearly cycle of Torah readings and the beginning of the new cycle.
TaNaCH – Acronym for Torah, Nevi’im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings) – the three sections of the Hebrew Bible.
Torah – Literally: teaching. In a narrow sense it is the Five Books of Moses, hand-written on a parchment scroll. In a broad sense, it is everything which flows from this (i.e. Judaism).
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Etrog – Citron.
Hakafah (pl. Hakafot) – Procession, circling the sanctuary with the Torah.
Lulav – Palm branch, with myrtle and willow sprigs attached.
Sukah (pl. Sukot) – Booths, hut, or tabernacle covered with branches and decorated with hanging fruit, vegetables, and other decorations.
Sukkot – Feast of Booths. Name of one of the Three Pilgrimage Festivals.
Ushpizin – Mythic guests invited to the sukkah.
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Diaspora – Jewish communities outside of Israel.
Galut – Exile.
Hora – Israeli folk dance.
Yom HaAtzma-ut – Literally: Day of Independence; Israeli Independence Day.
Zionism – The belief that there should be a Jewish homeland in Zion (Israel).
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Anti-Semitism – An irrational hatred of Jews.
Mamaloshen – Literally: mother language; affectionate term for Yiddish.
Pogrom – Organized attack on the Jewish community.
Shtetl (pl. Shtetlach) – A small Jewish village in Eastern Europe.
Yiddish – Judeo-German; the everyday language of the Jews of Eastern Europe.
Yom HaShoah – Literally: Holocaust Day. A day set aside to remember the Holocaust and to honor the memory of those who perished.
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Kol Nidrei – Literally: all vows. Opening prayer for Yom Kippur eve.
Shabbat Shuvah – Sabbath of Return, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It gets its name from its haftarah which begins “Shuvah Yisrael , Return, O Israel” (Hosea 14:2).
Yahrzheit Candle – Memorial candle lit on the anniversary of a loved one’s death and also on those days when Yizkor is recited.
Yizkor – Memorial service recited on Yom Kippur, as well as the last days of Sukot, Pesach, and Shavuot.
Yom Kippur – Day of Atonement.
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