Glossary of Terms

The cultural and religious terms used in these interviews may be unfamiliar to some website visitors. Here is a glossary to help clarify.

Alev Hashalom: Lit. “may peace be upon them”; an honourific for the deceased, used for a non-rabbinic or biblical figure.

Aron HaKodesh: Lit. “holy ark”; the place in the synagogue where the Torah scrolls are kept.

Bar Mitzvah (Bat Mitzvah – female): Literally, Son (or daughter) or commandment. At 13 (12 for girls), a boy is responsible for his own mitzvot. In North America, this is celebrated with him reading from the Torah and a party afterwards.

Baruch Hashem: (literally) Thank G-d.

Bimah: Raised platform with a reading desk in a synagogue from where the Torah is read.

Brit Milah/Bris: Ritual circumcision for baby boys on their eighth day; part of the covenant with G-d.

Challah: Braided egg bread used on Shabbat and holidays.

Chanukat Bayit: Lit. “dedication of the house”.

Chavurat Hashir: Temple Beth Ora’s choir.

Cheder: Jewish school where children were taught religion and Hebrew language.

Chevra Kadisha: Burial society; Jewish men and women that see to it that bodies are properly prepared and observed before burial.

Cohen: Refers to those who are descended from the Kohanim, the priestly class in the times of the Temple.

Daven: In English, “pray”.

Derech eretz: Lit. “the way of the land”; acts of decency not formally mandated.

Frum: Yiddish, Jewishly observant.

Hamentaschen: Three cornered pastries with fillings such as jam, chocolate, poppy seeds, eaten on Purim.

Hannukah (Chanukah): Holiday commemorating the Greek desecration of the Second Temple and ensuing war between the Jews and Greeks, beginning of the Maccabean revolt and the rededication of the Second Temple.

Hatzlacha: Luck.

Heimishe: Yiddish, describing things that are “homey” or comforting.

Im Yirtzeh Hashem: “If G-d wills it”

Kashrut/kosher: Kashrut means a state of being kosher; kosher is food that adheres to strict dietary rules (ie not mixing meat and milk; no pork; etc).

Kiddush: The prayer over the wine recited on Shabbat evenings and meals, as well as holiday and festive meals.

Kiddush cup: The cup which holds the wine for kiddush.

Klezmer: A style of folk music that draws from Eastern European and Ashkenazi Jewish folk traditions.

Kollel: An institute for serious, full-time Jewish talmudic learning often led and maintained by Orthodox men.

Lag B’Omer: The 33rd day of the counting of the Omer; commemorates the day in which Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students stopped dying from a plague. For many, this day is when the mourning festivities in the Omer period finish.

Maariv: Evening prayer service

Machzor: Prayer book used for high holidays such as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Maftir: The last person called up to the Torah on Shabbat and morning services. 

Matzah: Unrisen “crackers” eaten on Passover.

Mashgiach: A Torah observant Jew who oversees the Kashrut status of a production company or restaurant.

Mechitza: Partition separating men and women during prayer services.

Menorah: Found in the Temple, a seven-branch lampstand of pure gold; today, used to hold Hanukkah candles.

Mezuzah: A piece of parchment (called a klaf) inside a decorative case hung on a doorpost to recognize a Jewish household.

Mincha: Afternoon prayer service

Minhag: Literally, custom.

Minyan: Prayer quorum of ten men (men means at least 13 years old in this case).

Mitzvah: a commandment; a good deed.

Mohel: The individual who performs the Brit, the ritual circumcision.

Motzei [Shabbat]: The rest of the evening once Shabbat is over.

Mussaf: An additional prayer service recited on Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh (the first day of the new month), Yom Tov, and Chol HaMoed.

Nusach: Exact text of prayer service; differences between Sephardic and Ashkenazic customs.

Oneg Shabbat: Literally “joy of Shabbat”; gathering held after Shabbat services involving food, socializing, discussion, and learning.

Pareve: Food made without dairy or meat ingredients.

Pesach: Passover; the Jewish holiday commemorating the exodus from Egypt.

Purim: Holiday commemorating when the Jews of Persia were nearly annihilated by King Ahashverosh’s advisor Haman, saved by Queen Esther and her uncle Mordechai.

Rebbe: Yiddish, Spiritual guide.

Rosh Hashanah: The Jewish new year. Literally, head of the year.

Tallis (singular; tallesim for plural): Fringed prayer garment worn during morning prayer services.

Talmud: central text of rabbinic Judaism; text includes the Mishna (written compendium of the Oral Law) and Gemara (elucidation of the Oral Law); compiled in the 4th and 5th centuries.

Ta’am: flavour; taste.

Tefillin: Phylacteries; cubic black leather boxes with leather straps men wear during morning prayer (weekday only).

Torah: Scroll of the five books of Moses.

Treif: Non-kosher food.

Schlep[ping]: Yiddish, to drag something around.

Seuda: Meal.

Seder: Ritual feast that occurs the first two nights of Passover (only one in Israel) that includes the retelling of the exodus from Egypt.

Shabbat/Shabbos: “Sabbath”; the seventh day, or day of rest G-d took and Jews have been given as a day for them too to rest.

Shabbaton: A retreat held on Shabbat.

Shacharis/Shacharit: Morning prayers.

Shaliach tzibbur: The person who leads the congregation in services.

Shammash: Salaried sexton in a synagogue.

Shochet: Kosher animal slaughterer.

Shul: Yiddish, Synagogue.

Shpiel: Yiddish; a long or involved story.

Simchat Torah: Holiday that marks the completion of the annual cycle of public Torah readings done on Shabbat.

Siddur/Siddurim (plural): Prayer book(s).

Vaad HaKashrut: Representative body overseeing kashrut in an area.

Yiddishkeit: Yiddish, Jewishness.

Yizkor: Memorial prayer services for the deceased. Typically said around high holidays such as Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Shavuot, etc.

Yom HaAtzmaut: Israeli Independence Day, celebrated according to the signing of the Israeli Declaration of Independence. Signed on May 14, 1948 on the 5th of Iyar in the Jewish calendar.

Yom Kippur: Jewish day of atonement. 

Yontif: Yiddish, “Yom Tov” or holiday.