Glossary

Apocrypha, The body of Jewish religious literature, written between the 2nd cent. B.C.E. and the 2nd century C.E., which was not included in the Hebrew Bible. Examples include the books of Esther and Daniel, the Wisdom literature of Solomon and the first three books of Maccabees.

Aramaic, Semitic language closely related to Hebrew which was the lingua franca throughout the Near East for more than a thousand years until displaced by Arabic.

Ashkenazi, Term applied to Jews of German and Eastern European origin, also denoting the complex of cultural traditions, social   institutions, folk mores, legal concepts and formulations of these communities.

Bar Mitzvah, (Heb.) An adult male Jew obligated to perform the commandments; hence, the ceremony at which a 13-year old boy becomes an adult member of the community for ceremonial purposes.

Bat Mitzvah, (Heb.) An adult female Jew obligated to perform the commandments; hence, the ceremony on the occasion of a girl’s reaching her religious majority (according to Jewish law at the age of twelve years and one day);.

Cheder, (Heb. “room”) Religion school

Chevra Chadisha, lit.=holy association; burial society

Dead Sea Scrolls, Ancient scrolls and fragments written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek and discovered at various times from 1947 on, along the northwest shore of the Dead Sea, dating from as early as the 3rd century B.C.E.

Essenic provenance, Essenes were a Jewish religious sect which were thought to have flourished in Palestine during the last two centuries B.C.E. and up to the Roman conquest in 70 C.E, although this view is now debated.

Geniza, (Heb. “hiding”) A hiding place or store room, usually connected with a synagogue, for the deposition of worn-out sacred books. The most famous is that discovered in the synagogue of Fostat, Cairo (built in 882). This discovery has thrown much new light on the history and conditions of Jews in Palestine and Egypt between 640 and 1100.

Habonim, Zionist Jewish youth organisation founded in England in 1929, becoming a worldwide movement, strongest in English speaking countries, around 1945.

Haftarot, Passages from the Prophets read after the Torah reading on Shabbat or festival mornings, usually bearing some relation to that week’s Torah portion.

Haham, (Heb.) Scholar; wise man.

Ihud Ha-Kibbutzim, (Heb. “Unity” “Union of the Kibbutzim”), Union of kibbutzim affiliated to the Mapai party which split from Kibbutz Hameuchad (United Kibbutz Movement) in May 1951.  

Ivrit-be Ivrit, Learning Hebrew through the medium of Hebrew.

Josephus, Joseph Flavius, Jewish historian (b. 37-38 C.E.) into an aristocratic priestly family. Best known as author of Jewish War Against the Romans, Antiquities of the Jews and a theological defense of Judaism called Against Apion.

Jüdische Wissenschaft, (Ger. “Science of Judaism”) The scientific study, in accordance with the recognised scholarly methods of historical and philological research, of Jewish religion, literature and history. Distinct from the traditional forms of learning to which, indeed, it appeared as heretical, developed in the 19th century in the context of the movement for emancipation and religious reform.

Kabbala, A form of Jewish mysticism rooted in doctrines and systems developed in southern France and Spain from the 12th century and which reached their literary climax in the Zohar, a commentary on the Torah composed in the 1290s.

Kibbutz, (Heb. “gathering, clustering”) A collective community in Israel traditionally based on agriculture. Kibbutzim began as utopian communities, a combination of socialism and Zionism.

Kiddush Ha-shem, (Heb. “sanctification  of the Name, ie, of God”). Concept stemming from the belief that any worthy action on the part of a Jew which enhances the prestige of Torah thereby also “sanctifies” the name of God, ie Jews must live and act so as to win for their God the respect of all humankind. The term also denotes ‘martyrdom’.

Kfar Ha-Nasi, (Heb. “The Village of the President”), kibbutz near the Sea of Galilee founded in 1948 named after Chaim Weitzman, the first President of Israel.

Lamed-vavnicks, Men of usually humble vocation whose special spiritual  gifts are not generally recognised or appreciated but by whose merit the world exists. In times of crisis and danger they reveal themselves and bring salvation to the people. This legend formed a basis for many Jewish folk tales.

Maccabi,  Jewish sports organisation named after the Maccabean Revolt (167-160 B.C.E.) and victory of the Jews over the Syrian ruler Antiochus Epiphanes who was attempting to unify his realm by enforcing Hellenism on all his subjects.. The word Maccabi  (Hebrew: מכבי‎)  used to refer to one of the Maccabees, whose story has become synonymous with courage, success and victory.

Maimonides, (Moses Ben Maimon or Rambam; 1135/8-1204). Philosopher and codifier, born in Spain, lived most of his life in Egypt where he was physician to the court. His three major works are his commentary to the Mishnah, his gigantic code of law Mishnah Torah, and  The Guide for the Perplexed  which dominated the subsequent development of Jewish thought and also influenced non-Jewish philosophers.

Marranos, Term used (originally pejoratively) to refer to Crypto-Jews of Spain and Portugal who under pressure between the 15th and 17th centuries outwardly adopted Christianity while in various degrees maintaining Jewish rites and customs in secret.

Maskir (defined within text), (Heb. maskir or maskil “intelligent” ”knowing”) one committed to an interest in Hebrew with an ability to handle it (and other Jewish texts) competently at an amateur level. 

Mikveh (Map IIIa), (Heb.) bathing facility that remains in contact with a natural source of water. Used in Jewish religious practice for the ritual ‘cleansing’ of persons or utensils that have contracted impurity. So important is a mikveh that the medieval Jewish community would have been required to build a mikveh even before building a synagogue.

Mishnah, The first major work of Rabbinic Judaism, giving the essence of the ‘Oral Torah’ as formulated by the sages of the time, recording conflicting opinions and very often naming the disputants.

Passover haggadah, (Heb. “narration”) The set form in which the story of the Exodus must be told on the first two nights of Passover (first night only in Israel and among Progressive Jews) as part of the ritual Seder (“order”) for those nights.

Pirkei Avot, (Heb. “Chapters of the Fathers”) known in English as “Ethics of the Fathers”, a Mishnah tractate whose chief emphasis is on the value of Torah study and the observance of the commandments.

Pogrom, (Rus.) an organized massacre of a particular ethnic group, in particular that of Jews in Russia or eastern Europe.

Rabbinic, Relating to rabbis or to Jewish law or teachings.

Rashi, Abbreviation of Rabbi Shelomoh Yitzhaki, 1040-1105. French Bible and Talmud scholar. Rashi’s commentary on the Bible was the first dated Hebrew book printed (1475) and had a great influence upon Jew and non-Jew alike.

Rosh Hashanah, (Heb. “head of the year”); the Jewish New Year, commemorating the creation of the world; a period of self-examination and Divine judgment which falls in the autumn, on the first two days of the Hebrew month of Tishrei.

Samaritanism, Samaritans were an ethnic group who insisted on the exclusive truth of the Torah and rejected all prophets after Moses. Claimed their worship was the true religion of the ancient Israelites prior to the Babylonian Exile, preserved by those who remained in the Land of Israel.

Sephardic, General term referring to the descendants of Jews who lived in the Iberian peninsula before their expulsion during the Spanish Inquisition. Frequently also used today for a Jew belonging to one of the Oriental communities of North Africa and the MIddle East.

Septuagint, A Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, including the Apocrypha, made for Greek-speaking Jews in Egypt in the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C.E. and adopted by the early Christian Churches.

Shabbat, (Heb.) “Sabbath”.

Shanah tovah, Traditional greeting on Rosh Hashanah meaning “Happy New Year”.

Shabbat shalom, Greeting said on the Jewish Sabbath, literally, “Peaceful Sabbath”.

Sheliach, Messenger; representative; ambassador; Israeli delegate to community, youth group, synagogue.

Shochet, One trained and ordained to perform ritual slaughter.

Shofar, (Heb. “ram’s horn”) sounded on ceremonial occasions, now almost entirely confined to use for the Rosh HaShanah ceremony.

Shule, Yiddish term used by Ashkenazi Jews in everyday speech for ‘synagogue’, (cognate with German Schule, school).

Talmud, (Heb. “instruction, learning”) A central text of mainstream Judaism, its two components being the Mishnah (c.220 C.E.) and Gemara (c. 600 C.E.). A record of rabbinic study and discussions over a period of some eight centuries pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history.

Talmudic, The subjection of life to rational study, based upon the lessons imparted in the Torah. Using the data deriving from revealed laws of ritual purity and liturgy, talmudic thinking engages in the give-and-take of argument about what one is obligated to do and not do.

Talmud shiur, (Heb. “discussion, lecture, conversation”) A talmudic study session, usually led by a Rabbi.

Torah, Designates the Pentateuch (often referred to as the Five Books of Moses) as distinct from the other two main sections of the Hebrew Bible - the Prophets (Neviim) and the Hagiographa (Ketuvim or writings).

Yomim noraim, (Heb. “Days of Awe”) The ten days of Penitence extending from Rosh HaShanah to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Yeshivot, (Heb. plural of yeshiva), an orthodox Jewish college or seminary.

Yiddish, Judeo-German dialect which became the sole vernacular of the Jews of Eastern Europe. It contains a large admixture of Hebrew words (particularly the religious vocabulary) as well as of some Slavic, but the basic stratum of the language derives from medieval German.