Vocabulary of Jewish Life

Holiday words:

Etrog – A citrus fruit, grown in Israel, described in the Torah as the fruit of the beautiful tree.

Hag Ha’urim – Festival of lights, another name for Hanukkah.

Hanukiah – The 9 branched candelabra (menorah) used for Hanukkah.

Hol Hamoed – Partial festival days.  Refers to the days that fall in between the Yom Tov days of Sukkot and Pesah.

La”g Ba’omer – The 33rd day of the Omer, a day marked by festivities and bonfires in Israel.  In Gematria, Lamed = 30 and Gimel = 3 

Menorah – A generic candelabra, with any number of branches.  Also, the 7 branched candelabra that was in the Temple.

Omer – A measure of barley.  In Temple times, the first offering from the new season’s barley crop was brought on Shavuot.

S’chach – The covering for the Sukkah, consisting of cornstalks, bamboo poles, branches, or anything else that was harvested from the ground.

Sefirat Ha’Omer – The counting of the Omer.  The counting of the 50 days between Passover and Shavuot.

Shamash – “Server” – The extra candle that is used to light the Hanukkah lights.

Yamim Noraim – the days of awe.  Refers to the period of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Tikkun Leil Shavuot – A custom, originating in the world of Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, of spending the entire first night of Shavuot engaged in Torah study in preparation for receiving the Torah anew on the first morning of Shavuot.

Yom Tov, Hag – Festival days, such as the first two days of Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, Simhat Torah, Shavuot, and the first and last two days of Pesah.

Liturgical words:

Beracha – a blessing, usually starting with “Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha’olam …”

Chumash – The Pentateuch, the five books of Moses – Bereshit (Genesis), Sh’mot (Exodus), Vayikra (Leviticus), Bamidbar (Numbers), and D’varim (Deuteronomy).  The Chumash also contains the Haftarah.

Gelilah – rolling shut the Torah, and dressing it.

Golel(et) – the person who does Gelilah.

Haftarah – A selection from Nevi’im, the Prophets.

Hagbah – lifting the Torah after the Torah reading.

Magbiah/ha – the person who does Hagbah.

Hallel – A series of Halleluyah Psalms (113-118) of praise to God, recited on certain festive days in the Jewish calendar.

Havdalah – The ceremony concluding Shabbat, consisting of blessings over wine, spices, a three-wicked candle, and the separation between Shabbat and the weekdays.

Kabbalat Shabbat – A service on Friday evenings, originating in the world of Kabbalah, consisting of six Psalms (one for each day of the week, Sunday – Friday) followed by the hymn Lekha Dodi, welcoming Shabbat, and concluded by two final Psalms, including the Psalm for Shabbat.

Ma’ariv – The evening service.

Mi Sheberach – “May He who blessed.” A prayer recited during the Torah service for those who have had an Aliyah, for those who are ill, or for those who are celebrating a festive occasion.

Shaliah Tzibur – the person, representing the congregation, leading the service.

Parasha or Sidra – The section of the Torah read on a Shabbat morning.  The Torah is divided into 54 Parashot.  In order to finish the Torah in exactly one year if the year has lest than 54 weeks two Parashot may be combined and read together on several Shabbatot during the week.

Shaharit -The Morning service.

Siddur – The prayer book.

Sidra – See Parasha.Tana”kh – A Hebrew acronym for Torah, Nevi’im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings), the three parts of the Hebrew Bible.

Calender words:

Rosh Hodesh – the new month.  The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar.  Every new moon is the beginning of another month.

Adar Rishon/Adar Sheni – Since a lunar year is shorter than a solar year, in order for our holidays to occur at the proper season, 7 times during every 19 year cycle, we need to add a leap month to adjust the calendar.  The extra month is inserted just after the month of Adar, before Pesach.  The added month is known as Adar Sheni, second Adar; the first Adar is thus called Adar Rishon.

Tishre, Heshvan, Kislev, Tevet, Shevat, Adar, Nisan, Iyar, Sivan, Tammuz, Av, Elul – The twelve months of the Hebrew calendar.

Miscellaneous words:

Kabbalah – Jewish Mysticism.

Maimonides (1135-1204, Spain and Egypt) – Also know as Ramba”m, a Hebrew acronym for Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (in Hebrew, the double quotation mark indicates an abbreviation).  One of the greatest Halachists and Philosophers in Jewish history.  He was also a world renowned physician of the royal court in Cairo.

Tzedakah – Often translated as charity, which comes from a Latin root meaning love.  The Hebrew root of the word carries a sense of justice.  The difference is that we don’t necessarily give Tzedakah only out of a sense of love – we should give out of a sense of justice, because it is the right thing to do.

Pikuach nefesh – “preserving life.”

Teshuvah – In English, responsa.  Literally, the root of the word means ‘to come back,’ and from that we get the two primary meanings of ‘repentance’ and ‘answer’.  In the context this bulletin article, a teshuvah is an answer to a halachic question.

Kiddush Hashem – “Sanctification of the (God’s) name,” martyrdom.

Halakha – the system of Jewish law, based on the Torah, and developed through the Rabbinic documents of Mishnah, Gemarah (which together comprise Talmud), the Codes, and responsa literature.

Midrash – Homiletical and/or exegetical Rabbinic writings and commentary on Tanakh.