Bar Mitzvah - Bar Mitzvah literally means
“Commandment Son” – It is the time in a man’s life, age 13 and
older, that a Jewish male is responsible for upholding the mitzvoth
Bat Mitzvah - Like Bar Mitzvah, but for Jewish
females. A Jewish woman becomes responsible for the mitzvoth
on females at the age of 12.
Candlestick - A candle holder used in Judaism
primarily on Shabbat. Traditionally at least two candles are
lit to represent the dual commandments to remember and observe
the Shabbat. Two candles also symbolize Am Yisrael and G-d and
become intertwined as one candle for Havdalah at the outgoing
Candles should be lit no later than 18 minutes before sundown.
For the precise time when Shabbat begins in your area, consult
the list of candle lighting times provided by the Orthodox Union
or any Jewish calendar.
The candles are lit by the woman of the household. After lighting,
she waives her hands over the candles, welcoming in the Shabbat.
Then she covers her eyes, so as not to see the candles before
reciting the blessing, and recites the blessing. The hands are
then removed from the eyes, and she looks at the candles, completing
the mitzvah of lighting the candles.
Challah - To most, "challah" is
that delicious bread savored on Shabbat and other Jewish holidays.
However, to those who bake their own challah, it is also a term
denoting the obligation to remove an olive-size piece of dough
from each batch of dough that is about two pounds, ten ounces
in weight. If the dough is at least three pounds and 10.7 ounces
in weight, then a special blessing is recited at the time of
In Temple times, challah was one of the gifts given to the Kohen
by the people. However, today, it is put into the oven and left
there until it becomes inedible, after which it is disposed
of in an honorable fashion.
Chanukkah - Chanukah is a Jewish holiday,
also known as the Festival of lights. Chanukah is a Hebrew word
meaning "dedication". It is also spelled Chanuka,
Chanukkah, Hannukah or Hanukkah. The first evening of Chanukah
(called Erev Chanukah) starts after the sunset of the 24th day
of the Hebrew month of Kislev.
The story of Chanukah is preserved in the books of 1 Maccabees
and 2 Maccabees. These books are not officially part of the
Hebrew Bible, but were written at the time of the Second Temple
and are part of the Apocrypha (outside writings), which are
included in the historical and religious material of the Septuagint
(the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek); this material
was not later codified by Jews as part of the Bible, but was
so codified by Catholics and others.
Hanukkah - See Chanikkah
Havdalah - “Havdalah” literally means “separation.”
The Havdalah service marks the end of Shabbat as the separation
“between the holy and the mundane (or common), between light
and darkness, between Israel and the [other] nations, between
the seventh day [of Shabbat rest] and the six day of labor.”]
A special ceremony called Havdalah is performed at the outgoing
of Shabbat. The Havdalah ceremony requires a Havdalah candle,
a Kiddush cup and wine, and fragrant spices.
Havdalah Set - The set of the items needed
to perform the Havdalah ceremony.
Kiddush - The special blessing said over wine
or grape juice, particularly on Shabbat, Havdalah, and Jewish
holidays. The word comes from the root koof|dalet|shin which
means “holy.” The Kiddush fulfills the mitzvah to "remember
the Sabbath day to keep it holy." The Kiddush is recited
on Friday evening before the meal, as one is not supposed to
eat until after this blessing has been said.
Kiddush Cup - A majestic or artistically decorated
goblet designated for use only during Kiddush. Jewish families
often use a particular Kiddush Cup on Shabbat, a second for
Havdalah, and another for use on other holidays.
Kippah - See yarmulke.
Menorah - A menorah is a candelabrum with
seven candles that is displayed in Jewish synagogues. The original
design for the menorah is in the Torah, and it was used in rituals
in the tabernacle (portable sanctuary) and later the Holy Temple
in Jerusalem. Since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem,
it has had no formal role in Jewish prayer services or rituals.
The presence of a menorah in some synagogues is purely symbolic.
The one exception to this concerns the Jewish festival of Chanukkah,
in which a nine-branched version of the menorah is used; this
nine branched menorah is properly called a Chanukkiah.
The Chanukkah menorah includes nine candles. Jewish folklore
brings down that the reason is one for each day the oil miraculously
burned when there was only enough for one day. The Talmud teaches
that during the Greek rule in the Land of Israel, the Jews were
not allowed to celebrate Sukkot, a holiday of eight days. Therefore,
Chanukkah was deemed an eight day holiday from the outset in
order to make up for them missed holiday of Sukkot. Today the
candles are still lit in order to remember. The ninth candle,
the shammes (in Yiddish) or shamash (in Hebrew), is a servant
candle that is used to light the others.
The fate of the original Menorah is obscure. A depiction is
still available on the triumph-arch of Titus Flavius, and it
remained in Rome until its sack by the Vandals in 455 A.D.,
but the Byzantine army under General Belisarius took it back
in the 6th century and brought it to Constantinople. Here, the
trail ends. It is not further mentioned in any Byzantine chronicles,
and one can only speculate whether it remained there until the
city was sacked or brought back to Jerusalem.
Mezuzah - The Parthian king, Artiban, once
sent a priceless jewel to Rabbi Judah the Prince (135 c.e. -
220 c.e.), who was the compiler of the Mishna and one of the
wealthiest Jews. The king made it obvious that he expected something
of equal value in return. The Rabbi's return gift to the king
was a Mezuzah. The king's reply was: "I sent you something
priceless and you sent me something that can be bought for a
paltry sum!?" The Rabbi answered: "You sent me something
that I must hire a guard to watch and I sent you something that
will watch over you!" Talmud Yerushalmi, Peah 1:1
A Mezuzah is a parchment which we affix to our doorposts, on
which a scribe has hand-written two paragraphs from the Torah:
The portion of 'Sh'ma Yisroel' ("Hear O Israel...")
in the Book of Devarim (Deuteronomy 6:4-9), and the portion
of 'V'hoyo-im-shamoa' ("And it shall happen if you obey...")
in Devarim (Deuteronomy 11:13-21.) In these paragraphs, G-d
states that great rewards await those who observe the Mitzvot,
including prosperity, success and long life. Each of the two
paragraphs includes a commandment to affix a Mezuzah on the
These portions are written on the parchment with special ink,
by a highly trained and certified scribe. The text is written
in a single column on 22 scored lines. Every letter must be
properly written, for even one letter written incorrectly invalidates
On the back of the parchment is written the word 'Sha-dai',
along with certain other letters. After the scribe has completed
his writing, the parchment is rolled (not folded or creased)
from left to right, so that the first word to appear when the
Mezuzah is opened is 'Sh-ma'. The Mezuzah is then placed in
a protective cover or case and is ready to be put up on the
Mezuzah Case - This is the outer covering
of the Mezuzah parchment. Often referred to as simply “Mezuzah,”
the case is typically made of clay, wood, or metal and may be
simple or quite complex and artistic in appearance.
Mitzvah - Literally translated, a mitzvah
is a commandment. This word is often incorrectly used loosely
to mean “good deed.” The Torah contains at least 613 individual
commandments for Am Yisrael. The purpose of a mitzvah is to
help the individual and the nation come closer to G-d and to
Passover - Passover, also known as Pesach,
is an eight day Jewish holiday (seven days in Israel) that commemorates
the exodus and freedom of the Israelites from Egypt.
The term passover comes from the fact that God "passed
over" the Jews when he killed the firstborn of Egypt. This
is described in Exodus, the second book of the Torah.
The two main commandments associated with the holiday are: eating
matzoh, or unleavened bread; and the prohibition of eating any
foods containing leavening during the holiday. In ancient times
there was a third: the offering on the 14th of the Hebrew month
of Nisan and the eating that evening of the Passover sacrifice.
Before the holiday begins, observant Jews will remove and discard
all food with leavening from their households, doing a thorough
job, so that not even a crumb remains. Throughout the holiday,
they will eat no leavened food, replacing breads, pastas, and
cakes with matzoh and other specially prepared foods.
Passover is a family holiday and a happy one. The first night,
the 14th of Nisan is the most imporant, followed in importance
by the second night, the 15th of Nisan. It is traditional for
a Jewish family to gather on both these nights for a special
dinner called a Seder, where the story of the Israelite exodus
from Egypt is retold by the reading the Haggadah. Jewish families
living in Israel only perform the first Seder.
Rosh Hashanah - Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish
spiritual New Year. The years are counted as years from creation
(for example, the Jewish year 5764 corresponds to 2003-2004
on the secular calendar.) The Mishnah, the core work of the
Jewish Oral Law, sets this day aside as the new year for calculating
calendar years, Sabbatical years and Jubilee years.
Rabbinic literature describes this day as a day of judgement.
God is sometimes referred to as the "Ancient of days."
Some decriptions depict God as sitting upon a throne, while
books containing the deeds of all humanity are opened before
This holiday is part of the Yamim Noraim, or "Days of Awe."
The Yamim Noraim are a ten day period which begins with Rosh
HaShanah, followed by the Days of Repentance, and end with the
holiday of Yom Kippur, described in the Talmud as “the happiest
day of the year.”
Rosh Hashanah starts at nightfall between the 29th day of the
Hebrew month of Elul and extends for two days, until nightfall
on the second of Tishri.
Shabbat - Shabbat is a day of rest. The Hebrew
word Shabbat is best translated as "period of rest,"
and is the basis of the English words "sabbath" and
Like all days of the Jewish calendar, Shabbat begins at sundown.
Technically, from sundown Friday evening until three stars are
visible in a single glance on Saturday night, the Jewish nation
is at rest spiritually after the week’s labours.
Halachically there are many restrictions as to what activities
are permitted on Shabbat. This stems from the laws to Remember
and to Guard the Shabbat and to keep it holy. Forbidden tasks
on the Shabbat are called Malacha and are defined as the activities
necessary to build the mishkan, or portable temple, when the
Israelites were in the desert. Altogether there are 39 categories
of malacha. Unlike conventional “work,” malacha might be quite
easy (like writing 2 letters on a piece of paper) and yet forbidden
on Shabbat. By not doing the malachot, Jews uphold the commandments
to Remember and to Guard the Shabbat and to keep it holy.
Shabbat is typically a very happy day, celebrated with special
prayers, special foods at long leisurely meals, Torah study,
time with family and friends, and a nap or two.
Shofar - A shofar is a ram's horn that is
used as a musical instrument for religious purposes. It is used
on Judaism's high holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
The shofar is mentioned frequently in the Bible, from Exodus
to Zechariah, and throughout the Talmud and later rabbinic literature.
It was the voice of a shofar, "exceeding loud," issuing
from the thick cloud on Mount Sinai that made all the Israelites
tremble in awe (Exodus 19:13,19).
The shofar is prescribed for the announcement of the New Moon
and solemn feasts (Ps. 81:4), as also for proclaiming the Yom
Kippur (Lev. 25:9). The first day of the seventh month (Tishri)
is termed "a memorial of blowing" (Lev. 23:24), or
"a day of blowing" (Num. 29:1) the shofar. The modern
use of the instrument survives especially in this connection.
In earlier days it was employed also in other religious ceremonials,
as processions (II Sam. v. 15; I Chron. 25:28), or in the orchestra
as an accompaniment to the song of praise (Ps. 98:6.) More frequently
it was used as the signal-horn of war, like the silver trumpets
mentioned in Num. 10:9 (see Josh. 6:4; Judges 3:27, 7:16, 20;
I Sam. 13,3).
The Torah describes the first day of the seventh month (1st
of Tishrei, which is Rosh HaShanah) as a zikron teruah (memorial
of blowing; Lev. 23:24) and as a yom teru'ah (day of blowing;
Num. 29:1). This was interpreted by the Jewish sages as referring
to the sounding the shofar.
The shofar in the Temple in Jerusalem was generally associated
with the trumpet; and both instruments were used together on
various occasions. On New-Year's Day the principal ceremony
was conducted with the shofar, which instrument was placed in
the center with a trumpet on either side; it was the horn of
a wild goat and straight in shape, being ornamented with gold
at the mouthpiece. On fast-days the principal ceremony was conducted
with the trumpets in the center and with a shofar on either
side. On those occasions the shofarot were rams' horns curved
in shape and ornamented with silver at the mouthpieces. On Yom
Kippur of the jubilee year the ceremony was performed with the
shofar as on New-Year's Day.
The shofar may be the horn of any kosher animal, except that
of a cow or calf, which would be a reminder of the golden calf
incident. A rent or hole in the shofar affecting the sound renders
it unfit for ceremonial use. A shofar may not be painted in
colors, but it may be carved with artistic designs (Shulkhan
Arukh, Orah Hayyim, 586, 17).
Tallit Gadol - A four-cornered garment worn
primarily during prayer services. On each corner is tzitzit.
A Tallit Gadol, or tallis, is usually given to a young man when
he becomes Bar Mitzvah. There are different customs. Mostly,
in Saphardic (Jews which come from the arab countries and spain)
Jewish communities, all men and boys wear tallit. In Ashkenazi
(Jews from northern Europe) communities, it is the norm to only
wear the tallit when one is married.
Tallit Katan - A Tallit Katan is a smaller
four-cornered garment for daily wear so that one may uphold
the mitzah to wear tzitzit. Long ago, all clothing had four
or more corners, but since today’s clothing does not, one who
wishes to keep the mitzvah of wearing tzitzit needs such a garment
as a Tallit Katan!
Tekhelet - Speak to the Children of Israel
and bid them that they make fringes (tzitzit) on the corners
of their garments throughout their generations, and that they
put upon the fringe (tzitzit) of each corner a thread of blue
(tekhelet). And it shall be for you as a fringe (tzitzit), that
you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of G-d,
and do them..." (Numbers 15:38-39)
Tekhelet is an extract from the hypobranchial gland of the Murex
trunculus mollusk. The precursors to the tekhelet dye exist
as a clear liquid. When these precursors are exposed to air
and sunlight in the presence of the enzyme purpurase (which
also exists within the gland) they turn into dye. Purpurase
quickly decomposes, so the gland must be crushed soon after
being taken from the live snail. This is in accordance with
the Talmudic passage that the tekhelet is taken from the Chilazon
while it is still alive.
The liquid from the trunculus produces a mixture of dibromoindigo
(purple) and indigo. These molecules must be put into solution
for them to bind tightly to wool. In this state, if dibromoindigo
is exposed to ultraviolet light it will transform to indigo,
turning the trunculus mixture from purplish-blue to pure blue.
(excerpted from www.tekhelet.com)
Torah - The word “Torah” comes from the Hebrew
root Hey|Reish|Hey, which means “to teach.” The Torah contains
the basis and history of Judaism and from it are derived all
of the laws that Jews follow today.
The Torah is comprised of two components: The Written Torah
and the Oral Torah. According to Jewish learning, they were
both delivered to Moses at Mount Sinai. The Written Torah is
comprised of the Five Books of Moses. The Oral Torah, which
appears today in Judaism as the Mishna and Talmud, explains
the Written Torah.
Tzedakah - (from http://www.jewfaq.com) "Tzedakah"
is the Hebrew word for the acts that we call "charity"
in English: giving aid, assistance and money to the poor and
needy or to other worthy causes. However, the nature of tzedakah
is very different from the idea of charity. The word "charity"
suggests benevolence and generosity, a magnanimous act by the
wealthy and powerful for the benefit of the poor and needy.
The word "tzedakah" is derived from the Hebrew root
Tzade-Dalet-Qof, meaning righteousness, justice or fairness.
In Judaism, giving to the poor is not viewed as a generous,
magnanimous act; it is simply an act of justice and righteousness,
the performance of a duty, giving the poor their due.
In many ways, tzedakah has taken the place of animal sacrifice
in Jewish life: giving to charity is an almost instinctive Jewish
response to express thanks to G-d, to ask forgiveness from G-d,
or to request a favor from G-d. According to Jewish tradition,
the spiritual benefit of giving to the poor is so great that
a beggar actually does the giver a favor by giving a person
the opportunity to perform tzedakah.
Giving to the poor is an obligation in Judaism, a duty that
cannot be forsaken even by those who are themselves in need.
Some sages have said that tzedakah is the highest of all commandments,
equal to all of them combined, and that a person who does not
perform tzedakah is equivalent to an idol worshipper. Tzedakah
is one of the three acts that gain us forgiveness from our sins.
The High Holiday liturgy states that G-d has inscribed a judgment
against all who have sinned, but teshuvah (repentance), tefilah
(prayer) and tzedakah can reverse the decree.
According to Jewish law, we are required to give one-tenth of
our income to the poor. This is generally interpreted as one-tenth
of our net income after payment of taxes. Those who are dependent
on public assistance or living on the edge of subsistence may
give less; no person should give so much that he would become
a public burden.
The obligation to perform tzedakah can be fulfilled by giving
money to the poor, to health care institutions, to synagogues
or to educational institutions. It can also be fulfilled by
supporting your children beyond the age when you are legally
required to, or supporting your parents in their old age. The
obligation includes giving to both Jews and gentiles; contrary
to popular belief, Jews do not just "take care of our own."
Judaism acknowledges that many people who ask for charity have
no genuine need. In fact, the Talmud suggests that this is a
good thing: if all people who asked for charity were in genuine
need, we would be subject to punishment (from G-d) for refusing
anyone who asked. The existence of frauds diminishes our liability
for failing to give to all who ask, because we have some legitimate
basis for doubting the beggar's sincerity. It is permissible
to investigate the legitimacy of a charity before donating to
it. We have an obligation to avoid becoming in need of tzedakah.
A person should take any work that is available, even if he
thinks it is beneath his dignity, to avoid becoming a public
charge. However, if a person is truly in need and has no way
to obtain money on his own he should not feel embarrassed to
accept tzedakah. No person should feel too proud to take money
from others. In fact, it is considered a transgression to refuse
tzedakah. One source says that to make yourself suffer by refusing
to accept tzedakah is equivalent to shedding your own blood.
The Rambam identified EIGHT Levels of Charity, or doing justice.
1. A person gives but is not happy when s/he digs into the
pocket in order to give.
2. A person gives cheerfully, but gives less than s/he should.
3. A person gives, but only when asked by a poor person.
4. A person gives without having to be asked, but gives directly
to the poor. The poor person knows he gave the help, and the
giver knows who was benefited
5. A person gives a donation in a certain place, but walks
away so that the giver does not know who received the benefit.
The poor person knows the giver however.
6. A person makes a donation to a poor person secretly. The
giver knows who was benefited, but the poor person does not
know who the giver was.
7. A person contributes anonymously to the tzedakah fund which
is then distributed to the poor.
8. The highest level of charity is to give money and help to
prevent another person from becoming poor. For example, teaching
a person a trade, finding them a job, lending money, etc.
Tzedaka Boxes - A small box, usually with
a coin slot, in which people may place tzedakah. Some boxes
are elaborately decorated and others are quite plain, even a
shoe box designated to the task. Often times, the box will have
written on it the name of the benefactor. Traditionally, a Jewish
home will have more than one tzedakah box – those from organizations
(for a specific benefactor) and unnamed tzedakah boxes, the
contents of which are turned over to individuals, a synagogue
or other institution for redistribution in order to give without
knowing to whom.
Tzitzit - Tzitzit comes from the Hebrew root
Hey|Tzadik|Tzadik which means “to peek” or “to glance.” The
English literal translation is “fringe” or “tassle.”
"Speak to the Children of Israel and bid them that they
make fringes (tzitzit) on the corners of their garments throughout
their generations, and that they put upon the fringe (tzitzit)
of each corner a thread of blue (tekhelet). And it shall be
for you as a fringe (tzitzit), that you may look upon it and
remember all the commandments of G-d, and do them..." (Numbers
All garments of a certain minimal size which have at least four
corners, must have strings known as tzitzit attached. The Torah
requirement is to have a blue thread called tekhelet among the
white threads. For many centuries the art of making tekhelet
was lost and consequently observant Jews today might be seen
in all-white tzitit.
Since the normal clothing in our time does not have four square
corners, traditional Jews wear a garment that is specifically
made to have four corners so that the mitzvah can be fulfilled.
This is known as the tallit katan or tzitzit and is usually
worn under the shirt. Some people wear them with the tzitzit
showing, others conceal them. The verses giving this commandment
are found in the third paragraph of the Shema (Num.15:37-41),
which is recited during the morning and evening prayers.
During prayers, the custom is to wear a large rectangular garment
with tzitzit, a tallit gadol.
Yarmulke - Pronounced “yah’ mah kah”, the head covering typically
seen on Jewish males. Yarmulkes come in all sizes. In Judaism
married women and all males cover their head out of modesty.
For this reason, many males wear a large knitted yarmulke or
even a hat. Before yarmulkes, Jewish males wore turbans which
aren’t worn, but “wrapped.” In Hebrew, the word “to wear” a
yarmulke is still “to wrap” your yarmulke!