Glossary of Terms

Judaica Mall Glossary of terms

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 on males.

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 of Shabbat.
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 the removal.
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 doorpost.

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 the Mezuzah.

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 doorpost.

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 holiness.

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 Him.
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 "sabbatical."

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. They are:

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 15:38-39)
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!

















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