You are here

Share Share Share Share Share Share Share

Encyclopedia Glossary

aggadah

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.

agunah

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.

aharon

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

aliyah

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

Amidah

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

amora

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.

Ashkenazim

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

baraita

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

Circumcision

bet din

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

bet midrash (bet ha-midrash)

Houses of study (of Torah)

bimah

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.

dayyan

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

Diaspora

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

Erez Israel

The Land of Israel

exilarch

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

gaon

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

Gemara

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.

genizah

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

get

Writ of (religious) divorce

Get me’useh

A get obtained under duress and therefore considered invalid.

Haggadah

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.

halakhah

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.

halizah

Mandated ceremony (Deut. 25:9

hallah

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.

halukkah

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

halutz

Synagogue cantor

Hanukkah

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.

haredi

An ultra-Orthodox Jew

hasid

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

Haskalah

Jewish Enlightenment; European movement during the 1770s

havdalah

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

hazzan

Synagogue cantor

heder

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

herem

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

huppah

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.

Kabbalah

The esoteric and mystical teachings of Judaism

Kaddish

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.

karet

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

kasharit

Courier

kashrut

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

ketubbah

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

kevod ha-zibbur

Communal honor

kevuzah

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.

kibbutz

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.

kiddush

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

kinyan

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

Knesset

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

kohen

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).

Maimonides

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

mamzer

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.

maskil

female/sing.: Member of the Haskalah movement.

mazzah

Unleavened bread traditionally eaten on Passover.

megillah

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.

mehizah

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.

Midrash

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

mikveh

Ritual bath

minhag

Custom

minyan

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

Mishnah

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

mitzvah

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

Mizrahi

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

mokh

Contraceptive absorbent

moredet

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.

moshavah

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

name

def

nazir

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.

na’arah

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

nedunyah

Dowry

nevi’ah

Female prophet

niddah

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

nissu’in

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

oleh

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

onah

Biblically mandated fulfillment of a wife's sexual needs.

Passover

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.

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.

piyyut

Hebrew liturgical poem

posek

Halachic decisor

Purim

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.

Rambam

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

Rashi

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

rebbetzin

(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.

rishon

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.

savora

(Aramaic) Babylonian scholars during c. 500

seder

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.

semikhah

Rabbinic ordination

Sephardim

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.

Shabbat

Sabbath

shadkhan

Matchmaker

Shavuot

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

shiddukhin

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

shivah

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

shofar

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

shohet

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

shtetl

(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.

sotah

Suspected adulteress

sugya

Talmudic discourse

sukkah

Booth erected for residence during the holiday of Sukkot.

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."

taharah

Ritual purity

taharat ha-mishpahah

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

takkanah

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

tallit

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

Talmud

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.

tanna

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.

tefillah

Prayer

tefillin

Phylacteries

tena’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

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

tosafot

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.

Tosefta

(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.

to’enet

Female advocates in the rabbinic courts

tumah

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.

yavam

Levir; the brother of a man who died childless

yevamah

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

yibbum

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

Yishuv

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.

zedakah

Lit. "righteousness" or "justice." Charity

zeni`ut

Modesty

zeved ha-bat

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

zizit

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.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Encyclopedia Glossary." (Viewed on September 26, 2018) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/glossary>.

Donate

Help us elevate the voices of Jewish women.

donate now

The JWA Podcast

listen now

Sign Up for JWA eNews

 

Discover Education Programs

Join our growing community of educators.

view programs