I know I use a lot of Hebrew, and/or Jewish terms of art in this blog, so I’m adding this glossary page to help the new reader and/or person unfamiliar with this terminology get along.
Adon Olam — A hymn sung as part of the regular Shabbat morning service (see Shacharit).
Al-Hamicha — Grace after eating meals including anything except bread made of five particular grains.
Aliyah, plural aliyot — Being called to the Torah (to read, or to stand by the reader) in synagogue; also, when used in the phrase “to make aliyah,” emigration to Israel.
Ashkenazi — Referring to Northern European Jews. (See Sfardi.)
Avatiakh — Hebrew word for watermelon.
Ba’al taschit — A Jewish ethical prohibition on needless waste.
Ba’al teshuva, plural ba’alei teshuva — A newly religiously observant Jew.
Baasa, basa — A bummer.
Batel b’shishim — One of the rules of kashrut (see kashrut) in which a non-kosher food can become kosher if mixed in a 1:60 ratio or more of non-kosher to kosher food. (This rule is more complex than this definition can contain; please see other sources.)
Basari — Meat kosher (Hebrew word). The Yiddish word is “fleischig.” (See also halavi, pareve.)
Beit Ha’Mikdash — The ancient temple in Jerusalem (see Har Ha’Bayit).
Bentscher, also bencher, bensher — A small book containing prayers and brachot and Shabbat songs (zemirot).
Birkat Hamazon — The Grace After Meals recited after eating a meal including bread.
Blech — A Yiddish word for a piece of metal that covers a stovetop and its controls (so you cannot adjust them during Shabbat), meaning that the burner(s) can be left on all Shabbat without heating something directly over a flame (prohibited), and the food prepared before Shabbat stays warm. (See plata.)
Bli neder — Literally “without vowing,” a way of distinguishing a responsibility taken on voluntarily from an absolute obligation. Breaking a vow is a grave transgression in Judaism, so Jews do not make idle promises.
Borei Nefashot — Grace said after a meal or snack which does not include bread.
Borer — A Hebrew word meaning “sorting,” a type of labour forbidden on Shabbat (see melacha).
Chabad — An organization dedicated to Jewish outreach and more or less based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbes. I am not affiliated with, nor do I necessarily endorse, Chabad.
Bracha, plural brachot — Literally “blessing,” usually used here to signify a short prayer said before eating, after ritual handwashing, or in other religiously-significant situations.
Challah — Originally, the tithe of dough set aside by Jews for the kohanim (priests, see kohain), but now, colloquially, a braided loaf of egg bread.
Chillul Shabbat — Breaking the Sabbath. Please see other sources for information on things that are prohibited on Shabbat.
Chulent — A beef-and-bean stew traditionally cooked for Shabbat by Ashkenazi (northern European) Jews.
Chumash, plural chumashim — The Torah in book form. Often contains commentary on the Torah in the back, known as Haftara.
Derech — Literally “way,” but a term Orthodox Jews use to refer to the Orthodox lifestyle.
Dvar Torah — A (short) lecture on a Torah-related topic.
Erev — The evening before the start of a Jewish day (Jewish days begin at sundown).
Fadicha — An unintentional action that still causes you to cringe years later.
Fashla, plural fashlot — Screwups, messes, bungles.
Gabbai — The synagogue assistant, like a sexton in a church.
Geirut, gerus — Conversion to Judaism (see ger).
Ger (m), giyoret (f), gerim (m.pl.), gerot (f.pl.) — Converts to Judaism. (See Geirut.)
Halakha, halacha — Jewish law.
Halavi — Dairy kosher (Hebrew). The Yiddish word is “milchig.” (See basari, pareve.)
Hamsa, plural hamsot — A stylised symbol, representing the outstretched hand of blessing. Jews consider it to represent the hand of Sarah the matriarch; Muslims consider it to represent the hand of Fatima, the wife of Mohammed; Christians consider it to represent the hand of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Despite its different connotations in the Abrahamic religions, it’s one of the few things everyone in Israel can agree on.
Har Ha’Bayit — The Hebrew term for the Temple Mount.
HaShem — Literally “The Name,” this is a euphemism for the word “G-d,” used by observant Jews, who do not pronounce the actual Name of G-d.
Havdalah — Literally, “separation.” The Jewish religious ceremony that ends Shabbat.
Hechsher — A symbol which denotes that something is kosher.
Kasher — To make something (meat, kitchenware) kosher, by various processes.
Kashrut — Kosher laws.
Kiddush — Literally “sanctification,” this is a blessing recited over wine on Shabbat, or, colloquially, food and drink served in the synagogue after Shabbat morning services (see Shacharit).
Kippa(h), plural kippot — Also called a yarmulke (Yiddish), these are the skullcaps worn by (some) Jewish men.
Kohain, plural Kohanim — Members of the lineage of Aaron, a hereditary priestly caste within Judaism. They had distinct roles in the ancient temple service, and certain roles and responsibilities and prohibitions now. They are called first to the Torah (see aliyah).
Kotel (The) — The Western Wall, remaining part of the Jerusalem Temple.
Levi, plural Levi’im — Levites, members of the lineage of Levi. They are traditionally called second to the Torah (see aliyah), after kohanim (members of the hereditary priestly caste).
Mashiach — Hebrew term for the Jewish Messiah.
Melacha, plural melachot, or melochos — Types of work forbidden on Shabbat. Please see other sources for a more detailed description. (See muktzeh.)
Meshugge — The Yiddish word for “crazy,” or at least “a little touched in the head.”
Minyan — a quorum of ten men (in Orthodoxy, only men) required in order to recite certain parts of the service.
Mitzvah — A religious commandment (as in “Bar/Bat Mitzvah,” son/daughter of the Covenant) which is also a blessing when performed.
Motzei (Shabbat) — The end of Shabbat.
Muktzeh — Items which Jews may not move on Shabbat (due to associations with forbidden labour, see melacha).
Netilat yadaim — Ritual handwashing, used to purify the hands before prayer or eating bread.
Oleh (m), Olah (f), Olim (m.pl.), Olot (f.pl.) — An immigrant to Israel. (See Aliyah.)
Pareve — Neither meat nor milk, neutrally kosher. (See basari, halavi.)
Parsha — The weekly Torah portion read in the synagogue.
Pasuk/psuk, plural poskim — Rabbinical rulings on Jewish law.
Pesach — The Hebrew term for Passover.
Peyot, also Peyess — Sidelocks worn by some (ultra)Orthodox men.
Pirkei Avot — A book of Talmudic aphorisms, compiled from various ancient rabbis. Also called (in English), “Ethics of the Fathers.”
Plata — Hebrew word for a Shabbat food warmer.
Pri hagafen — The bracha (see bracha) said over grapes and wine, but not raisins.
Refua — Recovery from illness.
Rosh Chodesh — The Jewish observance of the new month.
Sanhedrin — The ancient central Jewish court of religious and civil law.
Sfardi — Referring to Iberian and North African Jews. (See Ashkenazi.)
Shabbat — The Jewish Sabbath, a day on which many forms of labour, including cooking, using electricity, and writing, are prohibited. (See melacha, muktzeh, Shabbes goy.)
Shabbes goy — Historically, non-Jewish help that Jews would retain to perform prohibited activities for them on Shabbat. This practice is now severely deprecated, both practically and in Jewish law. (See melacha, muktzeh.)
Shacharit — The morning service.
Shomer(et) Shabbat — Sabbath-observant.
Shul — The Yiddish word for synagogue. Its Hebrew equivalent is “Bet knesset,” but I use the Yiddish because it’s shorter and I learnt it so many years ago, it’s just ingrained now.
Shulchan Aruch — Probably the canonical compendium of Jewish law. (See halacha.)
Siddur, plural siddurim — A Hebrew prayerbook containing services for morning, afternoon, and night, as well as for festivals and fasts.
Simchat Torah — The celebration commemorating the Giving of the Torah.
Tanakh — Tanakh (also written TaNaKh) is the entire canonical Hebrew Bible, consisting of the Torah (Five Books of Moses), the Nevi’im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings).
Tikkun olam — Literally “repairing the world,” a Jewish value of correct action, ethical behaviour, and attempting to tilt the balance of the world toward goodness.
Tisha B’Av — The 19th day of the Jewish month of Av, a fast day commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, as well as other disasters from Jewish history.
Tovel, tovelled, tvilah — To make an item suitable for kosher cooking through ritual immersion.
Tzedaka — The religious obligation to give charity.
Tzniut — The Jewish model of personal modesty.
Ulpan — A form of Israeli intensive immersive Hebrew instruction which teaches Hebrew in Hebrew.
Zemirot — Religiously-themed songs intended to be sung at the Shabbat table, generally after lunch.