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The Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women

Features thousands of biographic and thematic essays on Jewish women around the world. Learn more

Encyclopedia Glossary


Statements that are not Scripturally dependent and that pertain to ethics, traditions and actions of the Rabbis; the non-legal (non-halakhic) material of the Talmud.


Woman who cannot remarry, either because her husband cannot or will not give her a divorce (get) or because, in his absence, it is unknown whether he is still alive.


Rabbinic authorities/halakhic decisors/biblical commentators who were active after the rishonim, beginning in the mid-16th c.


Lit. "ascent." A "calling up" to the Torah during its reading in the synagogue.


Lit. "standing." The primary element of each of the three daily prayer services.


Lit. (Aramaic) "spokesman." Scholars active during the period from the completion of the Mishnah (c. 200 C.E.) until the completion of the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds (end of the fourth and fifth centuries respectively), who were active primarily in the interpretation of the Mishnah. In the chain of tradition they follow the tanna'im and precede the savora'im.


Jews of European origin and their descendants, including most of North and South American Jewry.

Babylonian Talmud

The discussions and elaborations by the amora'im of Babylon on the Mishnah between early 3rd and late 5th c. C.E.; it is the foundation of Jewish Law and has halakhic supremacy over the Jerusalem Talmud.

bar mitzvah

Lit. "son of the commandment." A boy who has reached legal-religious maturity and is now obligated to fulfill the commandments


Lit. (Aramaic) "outside." Halakhah and aggadah from the tanna'ic period that was not included in Judah ha-Nasi's Mishnah.

bat mitzvah

Lit. "daughter of the commandment." A girl who has reached legal-religious maturity and is now obligated to fulfill the commandments

berit milah


bet din

Lit. "house of judgement." Jewish court of law

bet midrash (bet ha-midrash)

Houses of study (of Torah)


Lit. "elevated place." Platform in the synagogue on which the Torah reading takes place.

British Mandate

Mandate for Palestine given to Great Britain by the League of Nations in April 1920 to administer Palestine and establish a national home for the Jewish people. It was terminated with the establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948.


Judge in Jewish law cases; member of a rabbinic court.


Lit. (Greek) "dispersion." The Jewish community, and its areas of residence, outside Erez Israel.

Erez Israel

The Land of Israel


The lay leader of the Jewish community in Babylonia for the first 12 centuries C.E.


Head of the Torah academies of Sura and Pumbedita in 6th to 11th c. Babylonia.


Lit. "teaching," "study," or "learning." A compilation of the commentary and discussions of the amora'im on the Mishnah. When not specified, "Talmud" refers to the Babylonian Talmud.


Place for storing books or ritual objects which have become unusable.


Writ of (religious) divorce

Get me’useh

A get obtained under duress and therefore considered invalid.


The "guide" to the Passover seder containing the Biblical and Talmudic texts read at the seder, as well as its traditional regimen of ritual performances.


The legal corpus of Jewish laws and observances as prescribed in the Torah and interpreted by rabbinic authorities, beginning with those of the Mishnah and Talmud.


Mandated ceremony (Deut. 25:9


During the Temple period, the dough set aside to be given to the priests. In post-Temple times, a small piece of dough set aside and burnt. In common parlance, the braided loaves blessed and eaten on the Sabbath and Festivals.


Pre-Zionist era system whereby Diaspora Jews financed the Jewish communities in the holy cities of Erez Israel.


Synagogue cantor


Lit. "dedication." The 8-day "Festival of Lights" celebrated beginning on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev to commemorate the victory of the Jews over the Seleucid army in 164 B.C.E., the re-purification of the Temple and the miraculous eight days the Temple candelabrum remained lit from one cruse of undefiled oil which would have been enough to keep it burning for only one day.


An ultra-Orthodox Jew


A member of the hasidic movement, founded in the first half of the 18th century by Israel ben Eliezer Ba'al Shem Tov.


Jewish Enlightenment; European movement during the 1770s


Lit. "distinction, division." The blessing recited at the close of the Sabbath and Festivals to indicate the distinction between holy and ordinary days.


Synagogue cantor


Lit. "room." Old-style Jewish elementary school.


Ban; excommunication (generally applied by rabbinic authorities for disciplinary purposes).

Hibbat Zion

Lit. "love of Zion." Movement whose aim was national renaissance of Jews and their return to Erez Israel. Began in Russia in 1882 in response to the pogroms of the previous year. Led to the formation of Bilu, the first modern aliyah movement.

Hovevei Zion

Members of Hibbat Zion


bridal canopy

Jerusalem Talmud

The interpretations and elaborations of the Mishnah by the amora'im in the academies of Erez Israel. Editing completed c. 500 C.E.


The esoteric and mystical teachings of Judaism


Lit. (Aramaic) "holy." Doxology, mostly in Aramaic, recited at the close of sections of the prayer service. The mourner's Kaddish is recited at prescribed times by one who has lost an immediate family member. The prayer traditionally requires the presence of ten adult males.


Punishment of premature death at the "hands of Heaven" as a penalty for a prescribed number of sins committed deliberately.




The Jewish dietary laws delineating the permissible types of food and methods of their preparation.


Marriage document (in Aramaic) dictating husband's personal and financial obligations to his wife.

kevod ha-zibbur

Communal honor


A voluntary collective community, mainly agricultural, in which there is no private wealth and which is responsible for all the needs of its members and their families.


A voluntary collective community, mainly agricultural, in which there is no private wealth and which is responsible for all the needs of its members and their families.


Lit. "sanctification." Prayer recited over a cup of wine at the onset of the Sabbath or Festival.


The act whereby a person voluntarily obtains legal rights over an object.


Lit. "assembly." The 120-member parliament of the State of Israel.


Priests; descendants of Aaron, brother of Moses, who were given the right and obligation to perform the Temple services.

kosher (kasher)

Term used for ritually untainted food according to the laws of Kashrut (Jewish dietary laws).

Kotel (Kotel ha-Ma’aravi)

The Western Wall; the remaining Western section of the retaining walls that surrounded the Temple Mount during the Second Temple era.

Levirate marriage (yibbum)

Marriage between a widow whose husband died childless (the yevamah) and the brother of the deceased (the yavam or levir).


Moses ben Maimon (Rambam), b. Spain, 1138


Lit. "bastard." Offspring of a relationship forbidden in the Torah, e.g., between a married woman and a man other than her husband or by incest.


female/sing.: Member of the Haskalah movement.


Unleavened bread traditionally eaten on Passover.


Lit. "scroll." Designation of the five scrolls of the Bible (Ruth, Song of Songs, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther). The Scroll of Esther is read on Purim from a parchment scroll.


Synagogue partition between men and women

Melog property

Property which the woman brings at the time of marriage, for which her husband does not assume financial responsibility for the principal but has the right to the fruits (usufruct). The benefits or losses on that property accrue to the woman.


A type of non-halakhic literary activitiy of the Rabbis for interpreting non-legal material according to special principles of interpretation (hermeneutical rules).


Ritual bath




The quorum, traditionally of ten adult males over the age of thirteen, required for public synagogue service and several other religious ceremonies.


Codification of basic Jewish Oral Law; edited and arranged by R. Judah ha-Nasi c. 200 C.E.


A biblical or rabbinic commandment; also, a good deed.


Lit. "Eastern." Jew from Arab or Muslim country.


Contraceptive absorbent


Rebellious wife

moshav or moshav ovedim

Cooperative smallholder's village in Erez Israel combining some of the features of both cooperative and private farming.

moshav shittufi

Collective settlement which combines the collective production of the kibbutz with the private consumption typical of the moshav.


Lit. "village." The dominant pioneer settlement type of the Jews in Palestine between 1882


Nazirite; person who vows to abstain for a specific period (or for life) from grape and grape products, cutting his hair, and touching a corpse.


Maiden; a girl during the first six months after her twelfth birthday.




Female prophet


Menstruation; the menstruant woman; ritual status of the menstruant woman.


The final stage in the marriage process, which legally enables the bride and groom to live together as a couple.


female/sing.; individual(s) who immigrates to Israel, i.e., "makes aliyah."


Biblically mandated fulfillment of a wife's sexual needs.


A seven-day festival to commemorate the Exodus from Egypt (eight days outside Israel) beginning on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nissan. Also called the "Festival of Mazzot"; the "Festival of Spring"; Pesah.


A seven-day festival to commemorate the Exodus from Egypt (eight days outside Israel) beginning on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nissan. Also called the "Festival of Mazzot"; the "Festival of Spring"; Pesah.

pesikah (pesak)

Halachic decision; rabbinic ruling on the halakhah in a specific case, e.g., regarding the permissibility of an act.


Hebrew liturgical poem


Halachic decisor


Holiday held on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar (on the 15th day in Jerusalem) to commemorate the deliverance of the Jewish people in the Persian empire from a plot to eradicate them.


Moses ben Maimon (Rambam), b. Spain, 1138


Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac; b. Troyes, France, 1040


(Yiddish) Rabbi's wife; title for a learned or respected woman.

responsa (sing. responsum)

Halakhic decisions written by rabbinic authories in response to questions posed to them.


Rabbinic authorities/halakhic decisors/ biblical commentators of the mid-11th to mid-15th c.. The period of the rishonim followed that of the geonim and preceded that of the aharonim.

Rosh Ha-Shanah

The Jewish New Year, held on the first and second days of the Hebrew month of Tishrei. Referred to alternatively as the "Day of Judgement" and the "Day of Blowing" (of the shofar).

Rosh Hodesh

The new moon; the first day of the month; considered a minor holiday, especially for women.


(Aramaic) Babylonian scholars during c. 500


Lit. "order." The regimen of rituals, songs and textual readings performed in a specific order on the first two nights (in Israel, on the first night) of Passover.

Sefer Torah

Manuscript scroll of the Pentateuch used in public worship.


Rabbinic ordination


Descendants of the Jews who lived in Spain and Portugal before the explusion of 1492; primarily Jews of N. Africa, Italy, the Middle East and the Balkans.






Lit. "weeks." A one-day festival (two days outside Israel) held on the 6th day of the Hebrew month of Sivan (50 days, or 7 complete weeks, from the first day of Passover) to commemorate the Giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai; Pentecost; "Festival of the First Fruits"; "Festival of the Giving of the Torah"; Azeret (solemn assembly).

shelom bayit

Lit. "peace of the home." Reference to domestic harmony

She’erit Ha-peletah

Lit. "the surviving remnant" or "the saving remnant." Holocaust survivors


The first stage in the marriage process, in which the man and woman commit to marry each other in the future.


Lit. "seven." The seven-day mourning period held following the death of an immediate family member: spouse, parent, child or sibling.


Ram's horn blown during the month before and the two days of Rosh Ha-Shanah, and at the conclusion of Yom Kippur.


Person officially licensed by rabbinic authority to slaughter permitted animals or birds for food in accordance with Jewish dietary laws.


(Yiddish) Small-town Jewish community in Eastern Europe.

Shulhan Arukh

Lit. "the prepared table." A code of Jewish Law compiled by Joseph Caro (1488

simhat bat

Welcoming ceremony to celebrate the birth of a daughter. Has no fixed liturgical format; parents may follow any of a number of feminist-inspired models or create their own.

Simhat Torah

Lit. "rejoicing of the Torah." Holiday held on the final day of Sukkot to celebrate the completing (and recommencing) of the annual cycle of the reading of the Torah (Pentateuch), which is divided into portions one of which is read every Sabbath throughout the year.


Suspected adulteress


Talmudic discourse


Booth erected for residence during the holiday of Sukkot.


Lit. "booths." A seven-day festival (eight days outside Israel) beginning on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei to commemorate the sukkot in which the Israelites dwelt during their 40-year sojourn in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt; Tabernacles; "Festival of the Harvest."


Ritual purity

taharat ha-mishpahah

Lit. "family purity." Euphemistic reference to the laws of niddah.


Regulation supplementing the laws of the Torah enacted by a halakhic authority.


Four-cornered prayer shawl with fringes (zizit) at each corner.


Lit. "teaching," "study," or "learning." A compilation of the commentary and discussions of the amora'im on the Mishnah. When not specified, "Talmud" refers to the Babylonian Talmud.

Talmud Torah

Lit. "study of Torah," but also the name for organizations that established religious schools, and later the specific school systems themselves, including the network of afternoon Hebrew schools in early 20th c. U.S.


Lit. (from Aramaic teni) "to hand down orally," "study," "teach." A scholar quoted in the Mishnah or of the Mishnaic era, i.e., during the first two centuries of the Common Era. In the chain of tradition, they were followed by the amora'im.






Lit. "conditions." Document signed by both parties to a prospective marriage detailing the obligations of each party and the conditions under which the marriage will take place.

terefah (Yiddish: treif, trefa)

An otherwise kosher animal whose death is due to physical defects and is therefore forbidden to be eaten; term applied generally to food that is not kasher.


Torah she-bi-khetav: Lit. "the written Torah." The Bible; the Pentateuch; Tanakh (the Pentateuch, Prophets and Hagiographia)


Lit. "additions." Collections of comments made by Rashi's students and descendants who undertook to expand, elaborate and develop Rashi's commentary on the Talmud.


(Aramaic) A work containing a collection of tanna'itic beraitot, organized into a series of tractates each of which parallels a tractate of the Mishnah.


Female advocates in the rabbinic courts


Ritual impurity

White Papers

British government's papers of policy presented to Parliament. Between 1922 and 1939 six such documents were issued regarding Mandatory Palestine.


Levir; the brother of a man who died childless


The widow of a childless man whose brother (yavam or levir) is obligated to marry her to perpetuate the brother's name (Deut. 25:5


Marriage between a widow whose husband died childless (the yevamah) and the brother of the deceased (the yavam or levir).


Jewish community in Palestine prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. "Old Yishuv" refers to the Jewish community prior to 1882; "New Yishuv" to that following 1882.

Yom Kippur (Yom ha-Kippurim)

The Day of Atonement, which falls on the 10th day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei and is devoted to prayer and fasting.


Lit. "righteousness" or "justice." Charity



zeved ha-bat

Lit. "gift of a daughter." Birth ceremonies held in Sephardi, North African, and Syrian communities.


Fringes attached to each of the four corners of a special garment worn to fulfill a Biblical precept.

Zon barzel property

Property which the husband guaranteed to return at full value to the wife if they divorced.


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