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These Are The Words

The English of the American Jewish community is peppered with phrases from Hebrew, Yiddish and elsewhere that can be baffling if you are not familiar with them. This glossary might help you find a foothold; and if there is a word you think we should be added, let us know!
We're grateful to our friends at Congregation Bnai Jeshurun for the core of this list, and if it's of interest, a fuller glossary, These Are the Words, is available in book form is available here.
  • Arvit – (also known as Ma’ariv) – from the word “erev,” meaning evening. It is the evening prayer service.
  • Daven – (Yiddish) to pray
  • Erev – Evening, as in the eve of a holiday. It signifies the beginning of a (Jewish) holiday. The Jewish day begins in the evening because in Genesis it says, “evening and morning were the first day.”
  • Gemilut Hasadim – Deeds of loving-kindness, such as feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, and burying the dead
  • Hakhnasat Orhim – Hospitality shown to guests
  • Havdalah - A brief ceremony marking the end of Shabbat or a holiday.
  • Hazzan – Cantor
  • Hechsher – The special marking found on the packages of products that have been certified as kosher.
  • Heschel, Rabbi Abraham Joshua – Heschel (1907-1972) was a scholar of Talmud, mysticism, and ethics who immigrated to the United States just before the Holocaust. He is considered by many to be one of the greatest Jewish theologians and philosophers of the past century. Heschel strove to integrate traditional Judaism into modern American life and was very active in the civil rights movement and protesting the Vietnam War.
  • Kabbalat Shabbat – Receiving of the Sabbath. It is the opening section of the friday night service.
  • Kaddish - A central prayer, one version of which, the mourners kaddish, is said by a mourner in memory of a loved one.
  • Kadosh – Designated, differentiated, consecrated, or set aside for a purpose. The term is used in many prayers to denote holiness.
  • Kavannah – Conscious thought or intention. It refers to the ideal state in which one should perform actions such as prayer.
  • Kehillah Kedoshah – Sacred community. This term is often used to describe the congregation.
  • Kippah – (plural: Kippot, also known as yarmulke) A head covering.
  • Klaf - the parchment or vellum used by a sofer/et to write a ritual object such as a Torah scroll, a mezuzah, or a Purim megillah.
  • Ma’ariv – (also known as Arvit) – from the word “erev,” meaning evening. It is the evening prayer service.
  • Mikvah – a pool of living waters used to effect purity or a transition from one state to another in Jewish practice.
  • Minyan – The quorum of 10 adult Jews needed in order to pray a complete service, including the public Torah reading and the Mourner’s Kaddish.
  • Niggun – A tune or melody, it is a song without words.
  • Oneg – Joy or delight. A gathering after friday night services is called an oneg.
  • Parasha – Portion or section. This refers to a Torah portion.
  • Parashat Hashavu’a – The Torah portion of the week.
  • Parve - neither milk nor meat; appropriate to be eaten with either
  • Rosh Chodesh – The first of the month. Rosh Chodesh is the beginning of each month on the Jewish calendar, which coincides with the new moon. It is also traditionally a celebration of women and femininity. At BHA, women gather to study, discuss, and celebrate together at these times.
  • Seder - Ritualized Passover (or Pesach) meal celebrating the exodus from Egypt.
  • Shiva - The days of mourning following the death of a loved one. It is a mitzvah to join with a family in morning for prayers and remembrances.
  • Siddur – from the word “seder,” or order. The Siddur is the daily prayer book. The High Holy Day prayer book is called a mahzor.
  • Simha – Happiness, a joyous occasion
  • Sofer or soferet - scribe who writes sacred and ritual texts such as Torah scrolls, mezuzot, and divorce decrees.
  • Yahrzeit - the anniversary of the death of a loved one, observed by lighting a memorial lamp or candle and reciting the Kaddish with a minyan at public prayer services.
  • Yasher Koach - Way to go! Mad Props! This is a phrase often used to recognize someone’s accomplishment and congratulate someone.


Tue, January 31 2023 9 Shevat 5783