Glossary of Hebrew, Yiddish, and Sephardic Terms Used in SJH

Achdus ~ unity

Adjunta ~ the board of trustees of a Sephardic congregation

Agunah (plural: agunot) ~ an abandoned woman; a woman whose husband has disappeared or deserted her or who has refused to grant her a get, which would allow her to remarry

Aliyah (variant: aliya; plural: aliyot) ~ literally, going up; moving from the Diaspora to Israel; the act of going up to the bimah for an honor, such as reading from the Torah during religious services

Ark (or Aron Kodesh, Holy Ark) ~ the cabinet at the front of a synagogue where the Torah scrolls are kept

Aron Kodesh ~ literally Holy Ark, in which the Torah scrolls are kept

Amei-ha’arets ~ unlearned

Apikorsim ~ heretics

Ashkenazi (plural: Ashkenazim) ~ a Jew associated with central and eastern Europe; Ashkenazic ~ having to do with Ashkenazim and their practices

Barkhu ~ prayer recited at the beginning of a synagogue service as a call to worship

Bar mitzvah ~ traditional coming-of-age ritual for Jewish males reaching the age of thirteen

Bat mitzvah ~ modern coming-of-age ritual for Jewish females usually at age twelve or thirteen, introduced in the United States in the twentieth century

Beth din (plural: battei din) ~ rabbinical court

Bikhor kholim (also bikur holim) ~ visitation and relief of the sick and indigent

Bimah ~ platform from which services are led in a synagogue

Birkat ha-mazon ~ grace after meals

“Bist a Yid?” ~ Yiddish for “Are you a Jew?”

B’nai B’rith ~ literally, children of the covenant; Jewish social service fraternity established in 1843

B’nai mitzvah (plural for bar /bat mitzvah) ~ coming-of-age ritual for Jewish males reaching age of thirteen; and for girls reaching age twelve or thirteen, introduced in the twentieth century

B’nei (variant of B’nai) ~ sons of, children of

Borscht ~ a soup made primarily of beets and served hot or cold, often with sour cream

Borscht Belt ~ theaters and nightclubs associated with the Jewish summer resorts in the Catskills

Boruch atoh Adonai ~ literally, Blessed are you, Lord, the three Hebrew words that begin many Jewish blessings

Boychik ~ Yiddish for a young boy; commonly an endearment but may also be patronizing, as English “buddy”

Brit milah ~ ritual circumcision performed on males eight days old; based on biblical mark of covenant

Brivnshteler ~ manuals for teaching writing skills in Yiddish

Chabad (also Chabad-Lubavitch) ~ an acronym for the Hebrew words for wisdom, understanding, and knowledge; an alternative name for the Lubavitch movement, one of the most famous and powerful Hasidic sects

Chai ~ meaning life, its written symbol formed by the Hebrew letters het and yud, often adorning jewelry, as a pendant worn on a chain around the neck

Challah ~ braided bread eaten on Shabbat and on most Jewish holidays

Chametz ~ all foods that are forbidden on Passover, especially those that are leavened or fermented, which must be removed from the home in preparation for Passover

Chanukah, see Hanukkah

Chazerai ~ junk food or junk anything else; worthless, or cheap

Cheder (also heder) ~ small school, traditionally the first step in the education of a Jewish boy; in modern usage often any Hebrew school affiliated with a synagogue

Cherem (also cherum) ~ excommunication

Chesed ~ loving kindness

Chevra ~ an organization, a group of people

Chevra kadisha ~ literally, holy society; Jewish burial society

Chevra nashim ~ Jewish women’s cemetery society

Chillul HaShem (also hillul hashem) ~ a profanation of God’s name

Cholov Israel ~ milk or dairy products that have been under constant rabbinic supervision from the time of milking the cows until the completion of production and packaging with certification conveying a higher standard than milk merely certified kosher

Chometz ~ food not kosher for Passover

Chotosi ~ literally, I have sinned; transliteration of Ashkenazi pronunciation for Hatati in Israeli Hebrew

Chumash ~ a book containing the text of the Torah, often with commentary

Chuppah (variants: chippe, huppah) ~ wedding canopy

Chutzpah ~ gall, effrontery, brazen nerve, presumptuous arrogance

Conversos ~ Spanish and Portuguese Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity because of the Inquisition but whose conversion may or may not have been sincere or lasting; unlike the term Marranos, Conversos does not have derogatory implications

Crypto Jews ~ Persons remaining faithful to Judaism in secret while practicing another religion that they or their ancestors were forced to accept

Daven ~ pray; davening ~ praying

Dayenu ~ literally, It would have been enough; popular song from the Seder, which recounts God’s many miracles, each with the declaration “Dayenu”

Delancey Street ~ located in the heart of the old Jewish neighborhood on Manhattan’s Lower East Side

Deutschisha ~ Yiddish for a woman of German descent

Diaspora ~ Originating in the sixth century bce with the Babylonian exile, refers to Jewish communities and their residents living outside Palestine or modern Israel; more generally, people settling far from their original homeland; diasporic

Doven (variant: daven) ~ pray; dovening (or davening) ~ praying

Emunah ~ faith; belief

Eretz Yisra’el ~ Land of Israel, the Holy Land, historical Palestine

Erev ~ literally, evening, meaning the evening of when Jewish holidays and the Jewish Sabbath start; erev Rosh Hashanah ~ the evening at the start of Rosh Hashanah

Eruv (plural: eruvim) ~ a boundary line, usually a wire, enclosing an area within which carrying and pushing carriages is permissible on the Sabbath

Etz Hayim ~ “Tree of Life,” a song performed in synagogues when the ark is closed during Sabbath services, also often sung by children

Farbrengen ~ literally, gathering; a celebratory event in Chabad-Lubavitcher Hasidism featuring discussion, lecture, singing, storytelling, and refreshments

Farbrente (variant: ferbrente) ~ Yiddish for passionate, zealous

Feinschmecker (variant: faynshmeker) ~ literally, good taster; a person with refined, high-class, exacting taste; a snob; overly picky when used negatively, an aesthete or gourmet when used positively

Flanken ~ a particular cut of beef that is usually boiled or stewed

Frommer, frum ~ pious

Galitzianer ~ Jews who trace their ancestry to Galicia, formerly southeast Poland and parts of Russia

Gan Aden ~ Garden of Eden

Ganze mishpocha ~ whole family

Garin ~ core, or seed

Gedolim ~ great men, sages

Gefilte fish ~ poached, minced fish ball (usually whitefish, pike, or carp) mixed with bread crumbs or matzo meal, eggs, and onion

Gelt ~ money

Gemilut hasadim ~ literally, acts of lovingkindness; charitable acts requiring personal involvement and no thought of reward

Genizah ~ literally, hidden away; a closet or storage space in a synagogue where old prayer books and religious articles are stored until they can be buried according to Jewish law

Get ~ Jewish divorce decree

Glatt kosher ~ glatt means “smooth,” referring to the unblemished lungs of the slaughtered animal; a stringent version of kosher meat; glatt kosher often refers not only to meat, but also to any food, food store, or restaurant that meets the strictest kashrut standards

Goldene Medina ~ literally Golden Land; America

Golem ~ from medieval Jewish folklore, a being made into the form of a human from inanimate material and given life

Goy (plural: goyim) ~ Hebrew for gentiles, people who are not Jewish; Goyish ~ pertaining to goyim

Haftorah ~ portion of the Prophets read after and in conjunction with the Torah at Sabbath and holiday synagogue services

Haganah ~ the Zionist paramilitary organization in Palestine that became the Israel Defense Forces after Israel achieved independence in 1948

Haggadah ~ book read during the Passover seder describing the exodus from Egypt and related ritual and customs

Halacha (variant: halaka) ~ Jewish law; Halachic or Halakic ~ pertaining to Jewish law

Halitzah ~ Jewish ritual that releases a childless widow from her obligation to marry her brother-in-law

Hamentashen ~ triangular pastry, usually filled with prune or poppy seed, eaten during Purim

Hanukiyah ~ special candelabra, or menorah, designed with nine candle holders for Hanukkah candle lighting ceremony

Hanukkah (variants include Chanukah, Hanukah) ~ Feast of Lights, eight-day holiday commemorating victory of the Maccabees over Syrian rulers, 167 BCE

Hared (plural: Haredim; adjective: haredi) ~ highly observant Orthodox Jews

Hasidism ~ a Jewish mystical movement founded in Poland in the mid-eighteenth century; Hasidim ~ followers of Hasidism; Hasidic ~ of or relating to Hasidism

Haskalah ~ Jewish Enlightenment

Hatikvah ~ literally the hope, the national anthem of the State of Israel; before 1948, the anthem of the Zionist movement

Havurah ~ a Jewish fellowship group that meets informally for discussion, worship, and Jewish celebrations

Hazan (plural: hazanim) ~ cantor; religious leader leading prayers/chants during religious services

“Hevenu Shalom Aleichem” ~ literally, We bring peace to you; a popular Jewish folk song

Heymishe (also hamish or hamische) ~ familiar, homey, ordinary

High Holy Days (also High Holidays) ~ Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the two most important holidays on the Jewish calendar

Hillul hashem ~ see Chillel HaShem

“Hine Ma Tov” ~ literally, Look how good and pleasing; a hymn traditionally sung at Shabbat celebrations whose lyrics come from Psalm 133, “How good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”

Jewishkeit ~ Jewish culture

Juden ~ German for Jews

Judenrat ~ councils of Jewish community leaders, principally in twentieth-century eastern Europe, that acted as local governments in the ghettos established by the Nazis

Judenrein ~ a German word from Juden (Jews) and rein (eradication of an impurity), usually associated with the Holocaust; loosely means free of Jews

Judeophobia ~ antisemitism

Kabbalah ~ literally, to receive; the Jewish mystical tradition

Kabbalat Shabbat ~ literally, reception of the Sabbath; the beginning of the Sabbath in general and specifically the preliminary Friday evening service which welcomes the Sabbath

Kaddish ~ the mourner’s prayer

Kallah ~ meeting of scholars for religious study and discussion

Kashrut/kosher/kashres ~ Jewish laws governing food; the system of Jewish dietary laws; see kosher

Kehillah ~ New York Kehillah, derived from the shtetl tradition of representative community leadership; Jewish religious community; organizations joined together representing a Jewish community

Kesher Shel Barzel ~ literally, the iron link; Jewish social service fraternity established in 1860

Ketubbah ~ Jewish marriage contract

Ketuvi’im ~ the third and final division of the Hebrew Bible, the books that come after Nevi’im

Kibbutz (plural: kibbutzim) ~ a collective farm in Israel, often originally based on socialist principles

Kiddush ~ literally, sanctification; the blessing recited over wine; Kiddush cup  ~ a special goblet used for saying the blessing

Kiddushin ~ sanctification, holiness; also a ceremony of betrothal preceding marriage

Kippah (plural: kippot) ~ yarmulke, skull cap

Kishke ~ a form of sausage, animal intestine or casing stuffed with a mixture of flour, onion, fat, and spices

Klezmer ~ a joyous, eastern European style of improvisational instrumental music enjoying a revival in the United States

Kollel (plural: kollelim) ~ Adult education center for study that may include Torah, Talmud, and Jewish law

Kol Nidre ~ the name of service in the synagogue on the eve of Yom Kippur; prayer recited in the synagogue on the eve of Yom Kippur

Kosher or Kashrut/Kashruth ~ Jewish laws governing food; the system of Jewish dietary laws

Kristallnacht ~ literally night of broken glass, November 9–10, 1938; Nazi-sponsored pogrom throughout Germany and Austria bringing widespread murder, arrests, and destruction of property, including synagogues, escalating the violence against Jews

Kvell ~ to be extraordinarily pleased, proud, delighted

Kvetch, kvetching, kvetchy ~ to complain; a complainer

Ladino ~ language of Sephardic Jews based on Spanish and Hebrew

Landsman (plural: landsleit) ~ a fellow countryman; someone from the same area in Europe; Landsmanshaftn ~ social and benevolent societies comprised of landsmen

Lashon kodesh (also lashon-ha kodesh) ~ the Holy Language, Hebrew

L’dor vador ~ literally, from generation to generation; a statement of Jewish continuity

Lifnay darchay sholom ~ on behalf of peace

Luftmensch (plural: luftmenschen) ~ literally, man who lives on air; a dreamer, without known or a significant source of income, unrealistically optimistic

Macher ~ a mover and shaker; important man

Malshinim ~ informers; term used to describe medieval European Jews who informed on fellow Jews to the non-Jewish authorities

Mamaloschen ~ mother language; Yiddish

Mamzer ~ bastard (colloquial)

Marranos (also Maranos) ~ Spanish and Portuguese Jews who practiced their religion secretly to avoid the Inquisition; derogatory in original meaning; crypto-Jews

Maskil (plural: maskilim) ~ literally, enlightened; followers of Haskalah, a movement begun by European Jews in the late eighteenth century advocating adoption of Enlightenment values, integration into European society, and increased secular education, study of Jewish history, and Hebrew

Masorti ~ Hebrew term used for Conservative Judaism especially in Israel

Matzo ~ unleavened bread eaten primarily during Passover; matzo ball soup ~ a classic dish served at holiday meals in which balls similar to dumplings, made from matzo meal, eggs, and salt, are floated in chicken soup

Mazel tov ~ Yiddish for congratulations; literally, good luck

Mazel tov der mame un der alter ~ congratulations to the mother and the old man (i.e. father)

Mazkir ~ secretary

Mechitza ~ the physical separation, often a curtain or partition, between the men’s and women’s sections in a traditional synagogue

Mechula ~ bankrupt

Melamed (plural: melamdim) ~ Jewish teacher

Menorah ~ a candelabra with seven or nine lights that is used in Jewish observances

Mensch (plural: menschen) ~ upright, honorable, decent human being

Meshuggeneh ~ crazy, nuts, out of one’s mind

Meydl ~ girl

Mezuzah (plural: mezuzot) ~ literally, doorpost; a decorative case or tube holding a scroll inscribed with verses from the Torah and hung on the doorway to mark a Jewish home

Mikvah ~ (variant: mikveh; plural: mikvaot) ~ ritual bath

Minhag (plural: minhagim) ~ Jewish practice; Minhag America ~ Jewish ritual and customs according to American tradition; Minhag Ashkenaz ~ Jewish ritual according to Ashkenzic tradition; Minhag Sephardi ~ Jewish ritual according to Sephardic tradition

Minyan (plural: minyanim) ~ quorum of ten adult males traditionally required for public worship; some congregations now count adult women

Mishigas (variant: mishugas) ~ foolish, crazy behavior

Mishpachah (variant: mishpocha) ~ family, including extended relatives

Mitnagdim (adjective: mitnagdik) ~ Orthodox Jews in Europe who were opposed to the Hasidic movement, favoring disciplined study and rationalism

Mitzvah (plural: mitzvot) ~ commandment; good works or deeds

Mohel (plural: mohelim) ~ person who performs ritual circumcision

Momzer ~ devil, negative term for someone; literally, bastard

Moreh ~ one who teaches, guides, answers questions

Moshav ~ a cooperative settlement of individual farms in Israel

Mussafim ~ extra prayers added to the morning worship services during festivals, the High Holy Days, and Sabbath

Musar (or Mussar) ~ Jewish educational and cultural movement originating in nineteenth-century eastern Europe emphasizing the fervent practice of personal ethical behavior

Nebbish ~ a loser; a timid, meek, or ineffectual person

Ner Tamid ~ eternal light used in synagogue

Nevi’im ~ the second division of the Hebrew Bible, comprising the books of the Prophets, and coming after the Torah

Nudnick ~ simpleton; fool

Numerus clausus ~ legal clause limiting the number of Jews in specified endeavors; quotas for marriage licenses or college entrance

Oneg shabbat ~ reception after Sabbath services

Ongepatshket ~ haphazardly decorated or over decorated, messily overdone

Oy vey ~ Yiddish expression: oh, no; oh my gosh

Pale of Settlement ~ region of tsarist Russia in which Jews were required to live between 1791 and 1917

Parashah ~ portion of the Torah read at the weekly Sabbath service

Parnossah ~ livelihood

Passover ~ spring holiday commemorating the deliverance of the ancient Hebrews from Egyptian bondage

Pekl ~ backpack used by peddlers for merchandise

Pesach ~ Hebrew for Passover, spring holiday commemorating the deliverance of the ancient Hebrews from Egyptian bondage

Pesachdicke ~ kosher for Passover

Phylacteries ~ see tefillin

Pilpul ~ method of Talmudic study through intense analysis and academic debate

Pirkei Avot ~ Ethics of Our Fathers; Jewish ethical wisdom

Pogrom ~ organized violent attack, a massacre, against Jews

Purim ~ holiday celebrating the heroine Esther, who saved the Jews from the villain Haman

Rebbe ~ rabbi

Rebbetzin ~ rabbi’s wife

Refuseniks ~ Jews in the Soviet Union who were denied permission to leave the country. Many were granted exit visas beginning in the 1970s following worldwide protest and behind-the-scenes intervention

Responsa ~ opinions or interpretations on religious subjects

Rishus (or rishes) ~ from the Hebrew rish-ut, or wickedness; malice

Rosh chodesh ~ literally, head of the month; the celebration of the first day of a new month

Rosh Hashanah ~ literally, head of the year; the new year on the Hebrew calendar; one of holiest days of the Jewish year

Schlemiel (adj., schlemielesque) ~ loser, awkward, consistently unlucky, object of pity

Schmooze ~ to have a friendly, informal conversation; Schmoozer ~ someone who engages in friendly, informal conversation

Schmuser ~ a dialect term for shadchen

Schnorrer ~ moocher, someone who always lets the other person pick up the tab

Schweinefleish Juden and Schweinefleisch Rabbis ~ literally, pig flesh Jews and pig flesh rabbis, used pejoratively

Seder ~ ceremonial meal, usually held on the first and second evenings of Passover, commemorating the exodus from Egypt

Sefer Torah (plural: sifrei Torah) ~ a Torah scroll, first five books of the bible

Semicha ~ rabbinical ordination

Sephardic ~ having to do with Sephardim, Jews and Judaism originating in the Mediterranean region, especially Spain and Portugal

Shabbat (also shabbes or shabbos) ~ Jewish Sabbath; Friday night to Saturday night at the appearance of the first stars

Shabbat shalom ~ traditional Sabbath greeting; Sabbath peace or welcome

Shabbos goy ~ a non-Jew who is hired to perform certain tasks that are forbidden to observant Jews on the Sabbath

Shadchen ~ a traditional matchmaker, marriage broker

Shalom ~ literally, peace; used in Hebrew as a greeting or expression of good will

Shamash ~ a synagogue caretaker; a congregational official

Shanda ~ scandal, shame, embarrassment

Shavuot (variants include Shevuoth, Shavuoth, Sh’buoth, Shavuot, Sh’vuos, Shabuoth) ~ literally, weeks; spring harvest celebrated fifty days after Pesach on the anniversary of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai

Shekel ~ unit of money used in ancient and modern Israel; sometimes used as generic term for money

Shema (also Sh’ma) ~ Jewish confession of faith in the oneness of God, frequently recited during religious services

Shiksah ~ non-Jewish woman; often used pejoratively

Shiva ~ traditional seven days of mourning after a death

Shlimazel ~ an inept, bungling person; a born loser

Sh’ma ~ Jewish confession of faith in the oneness of God, frequently recited during religious services

Shmatta ~ literally, rag; a worn piece of clothing

Shmeering ~ bribery; a shmeer (in Yiddish) is a bit of something spread on a bagel, so shmeering is spreading a bit of money on someone, greasing a palm

Shmootz, shmutz ~ dirt, filth, stain

Shoah ~ the Holocaust, from the modern Hebrew word for catastrophic destruction

Shochet (plural: shochtim) ~ ritual slaughterer, kosher butcher

Shomer shabbos ~ strict observance of the Sabbath according to Halacha

Shtetl (plural: shtetlach) ~ small town or village in eastern Europe associated with Jewish residence

Shtick ~ a person’s way of doing something; an act

Shukhor (from Hebrew, shachor, black) ~ derogatory expression for a Black person, comparable to darky in English

Shul ~ congregation or synagogue

Shulchan ~ table

Shvartzeh ~ black; refers to African Americans, sometimes with negative connotation

Siddur ~ prayer book for holidays and festivals

Sidrah (variant: sedra; plural: sidrot) ~ the weekly portion of the Torah that is read in the synagogue on Shabbat

Sim shalom ~ literally, grant peace; a prayer for peace included in some Ashkenazic worship services

Simcha ~ blessing; blessed event

Simchat Torah ~ literally, Rejoicing in the Law; annual celebration marking the beginning of the annual cycle of Torah reading

Sivan ~ the ninth month on the Hebrew calendar corresponding to May or June

Smicha ~ rabbinic ordination

Sukkah ~ temporary open-air structure used for the festival of Sukkot

Sukkot ~ fall holiday or Festival of Tabernacles commemorating the Hebrews’ wanderings in the desert after the Exodus from Egyptian bondage

Tallit (variants: tallis, tallith; plural: tallitot, tallesim) ~ prayer shawl

Talmud ~ collection of post-biblical ancient teachings justifying and explaining Jewish law and texts; compilation of Mishna (code of Jewish religious and legal norms) and Gemara (discussions and explanations of Mishna)

Talmud torah ~ Jewish religious day school

Tanakh (or Tanach) ~ the acronym for the three divisions of the Hebrew Bible: Torah, Nevi’im, and Ketuvi’im—the Torah, Prophets, and Writings; twenty-four books of the Bible

Tashlikh ~ literally, throw; a ceremony performed during Rosh Hashanah in which Jews gather at a stream and empty their pockets (or throw bread or crumbs) into the water. It symbolizes the casting away of sins.

Tefillin ~ phylacteries; small boxes enclosing Jewish prayers attached with leather straps to forehead and forearm in a prescribed manner referred to as “laying tefillin”

Tekiah gedolah ~ A long, loud blast on the shofar signaling the end of Yom Kippur

Teshuvah ~ repentance

Tikun Olam ~ literally, repairing the world; the Jewish ideal that each individual acts in partnership with God in behalf of social justice to improve the world

Torah ~ Five Books of Moses; first five books of the Bible; the body of Jewish law and ritual tradition

Trefa (also treyf or treyfa) ~ non-kosher food; treyfadicke ~ not kosher

Tsatskale ~ cute little gal

Tsimmes (also tzimes, tzimmes) ~ a baked dish of carrots, prunes, apricots, and root vegetables, but also something mixed up, involved, or blown out of proportion, as in “Don’t make a big tsimmes out of it.”

Tzedekah (variant: tzedaka) ~ righteous giving; charity

Tzitzit ~ fringes on a tallit

Wissenschaft des Judentums ~ literally, the science of Judaism; the modern critical study of Jews and Judaism that began in nineteenth-century Germany

Yad vashem ~ literally, an everlasting name; words from Isaiah later used to name Israel’s memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust

Yarmulke ~ skull cap

Yahrzeit ~ anniversary of a death observed by an immediate family member

Yasher koach ~ “strength to you”; traditional exclamation of congratulations for someone who has performed a mitzvah

Yehudim ~ Jews

Yeshiva (plural: yeshivot or yeshivas) ~ schools for Jewish learning, rabbinical seminaries

Yichus ~ distinguished lineage; bloodline

Yid (plural: Yidn) ~ a Jew, often considered derogatory

Yiddish ~ mixture of German and Hebrew; traditional Ashkenazic language

Yiddishkeit ~ Yiddish culture

Yishuv ~ a dwelling place or a settlement; refers especially to the Jewish population of Palestine from the 1880s until Israeli statehood in 1948

YIVO ~ or the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, dedicated to preserving the cultural history of eastern European Jewry and the Yiddish language, founded in Vilna in 1925 as the Yidisher Visnshaftlekher Institut, literally Yiddish Scientific Institute, and relocated to New York in 1940

Yizkor ~ memorial prayer for deceased family members recited in the synagogue on Yom Kippur, Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkah

Yom Ha-Shoah ~ Holocaust Remembrance Day observed on the 27th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan

Yom Kippur ~ Day of Atonement; holiest day of the Jewish year

Yontuf ~ Yiddish for holidays; Yontifdike ~ festive, in a holiday spirit