by Judith T. Fox

Translator’s note: I’ve attempted to keep these definitions very brief. Fuller explanations of many of these themes are available elsewhere on this site and I encourage you to read them. If you still have questions, have other words you want defined, or just want more information, please fcontact the Director of Congregational Learning,  at 860-233-2774,

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Adon Olam -  A closing hymn for the Shabbat and holiday morning service.
Ahavat Yisrael -  Literally, “Love of Israel.” It is a phrase used to describe those actions which show our love for the Jewish people and the Land of Israel
Aichah -  The Book of Lamentations
Aliya -  (pl. Aliyot) – The honor of being called to the Torah.
Ashrei -  A prayer written in an alphabetic acrostic.
Bar/Bat Mitzvah -  The age at which a Jew is considered an adult in terms of religious responsibility. Bar refers to boys and Bat to girls. Bar/Bat Mitzvah is also often used to describe the service at which a young person celebrates becoming Bar/Bat Mitzvah.
B’nei Mitzvah -  The plural of Bar Mitzvah. The plural includes both male and female.
B’rachah -  Blessing. Prayers praising God for creating specific things and commanding us to do certain rituals.
B’Yadeynu -  Literally, “In our hands.” This is the name of the social justice committee of The Emanuel Synagogue.
Bimah -  The raised platform in the front of the sanctuary where those leading the service stand.
Brit Milah -  The circumcision ceremony of a Jewish boy which celebrates his becoming part of the covenant between God and the Jewish people. The child is named at this time. This usually takes place when the child is 8 days old.
Challah -  (pl. challot) – A braided or shaped loaf of egg enriched bread traditionally served on Shabbat, holidays, and feasts which celebrate Jewish milestones.
Chevra Kadisha -  literally Holy Society - Sees to it that the bodies of Jews are prepared for burial according to Halakha (Jewish law) and protected from desecration until burial. This is considered a great mitzvah because the deceased cannot thank us.
Chevra Kadisha -  literally Holy Society - Sees to it that the bodies of Jews are prepared for burial according to Halakha (Jewish law) and protected from desecration until burial. This is considered a great mitzvah because the deceased cannot thank us.
D’var Torah -  An explanation of the Torah portion.
Eretz Yisrael -  The Land of Israel.
Erev -  The evening before. All Jewish holidays, including Shabbat, begin at sundown the evening before the holiday.
Etrog -  A citron - a fruit similar to lemon used with the Lulav during the holiday of Succot.
Etz Hayim -  Literally “tree of life.” The name of the Humash (book containing all the books of the Torah) that we use at The Emanuel Synagogue.
Haftarah -  A portion from prophetic literature traditionally read after the Torah portion on Shabbat and holidays.
Hakafot -  A festive ceremony during the holiday of Simchat Torah in which we joyfully carry the Torah scrolls around the sanctuary
Halakha -  Jewish Law
Haman -  The villain of the Purim story who sought to execute all the Jews of Persia.
Hamantaschen -  Triangular cookies with sweet fillings said to resemble Haman’s hat or ears or pockets.
Hametz -  Leaven. Specifically leavened bread products that are forbidden on Pesach. (pronounced cHametz)
Hanukah -  An eight day holiday that celebrates the miraculous liberation of the Jewish people from the Syrian Greeks. For instructions on how to light the candles, see our How to?/What if? page. (pronounced cHanukah)
Havdalah -  A prayer recited at the end of Shabbat that separates Shabbat from the rest of the week.
Hazzan -  Cantor – The professional who leads the parts of the service that are sung.
Hesed -  Loving kindness.
- Synonyms: Chesed
Holocaust -  Hitler’s war against the Jewish people and others.
Kaddish -  A prayer describing God’s greatness and power that separates the various parts of the service. There is a special mourners Kaddish.
Kadima -  The Jewish youth group for 5th - 8th graders in Conservative Synagogues.
KaHal -  Our junior congregation/family service.
Kiddush -  A prayer recited over a cup of wine that sets aside Shabbat as special. Also, a light meal at the synagogue after the Shabbat morning service.
Kislev -  The Hebrew month in which Hanukah occurs.
Kol Nidre -  A prayer during the service held on the evening of Yom Kippur. Kol Nidre nullifies rash vows made during the year.
Laila Tov -  Good night
Lulav -  A palm branch used on the holiday of Succot. On the holiday of Succot we say a special prayer over a bouquet of plants including a palm branch, willow branches (aravot) and myrtle branches (Hadassot). The Etrog (citron) is carried with these branches. These items are also paraded around the synagogue during holiday services in a special procession.
Ma'ariv -  The evening service.
Mazal Tov -  Good luck – usually said when we mean “congratulations!”
Mincha -  The afternoon service.
Minyan -  (pl. Minyanim) – The 10 Jews that form the quorum required for a full prayer service.
Mitzvah -  (pl. Mitzvot) – Those things which God commands us, as Jews, to do.
Motzi -  The B’rachah thanking God for bread.
Musaf -  An additional service added on Shabbat and holidays.
N’tilat Yadayim -  Ritual hand washing before Motzi.
Nehama -  Comforting mourners
Nisan -  The Hebrew month during which Passover occurs.
Omer -  Literally a measure of grain, usually refers to the counting of the days between Pesach and Shavuot.
Oneg Shabbat -  Coffee and cake following the service on Friday evening.
P'sukey D'Zimrah -  Introductory psalms chanted before Shacharit, the morning service.
Parasha -  The weekly Torah portion.
Pesach -  An eight day festival during the spring which celebrates the Jewish people’s liberation from bondage in Egypt.
Psalm -  poetry in praise of God from the biblical books of psalms
Purim -  A one day holiday that joyfully celebrates the victory of the Persian Jewish community over the evil villain Haman.
Rabbi -  The spiritual leader of the synagogue.
Rosh Hashanah -  The Jewish New Year seen as a time of introspection and repentance.
Rosh Hodesh -  The first day of each Hebrew month. Also the name of an Emanuel women’s group as it was traditionally a women’s holiday.
Ruach -  Spirit
Seder -  A feast held the first two nights of Pesach and on Tu B'Shevat. Literally, order.
Shabbat -  (pl. Shabbatot) – The seventh day (Saturday). According to the Torah, God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day. Therefore, we are commanded to rest on the seventh day.
- Synonyms: Shabbatot
Shabbat Nahamu -  The Shabbat of consolation – the Shabbat after Tisha B’Av.
Shabbat Shira -  The Shabbat on which we read the triumphal song that the Israelites sang when they crossed the Red sea.
Shacharit -  The morning service.
Shavuot -  A holiday which occurs 7 weeks after Pesach which celebrates the giving of the Torah.
Sh’lihei Tzibbur -  Those who lead the service on behalf of the community.
Sh’mini Atzeret -  The holiday that extends the joyful celebration of Succot for an extra day
Shiva -  A seven day mourning period observed by the immediate family of the deceased.
Shofar -  A rams horn blown in prescribed patterns on Rosh Hahanah.
Shtender -  Yiddish. The lectern used by the prayer leader.
Shul -  The Yiddish word for synagogue.
Simha -  Happy occasion.
Simhat Bat -  Ceremony for naming a baby girl.
Simhat Torah -  Holiday which celebrates the conclusion of the yearly cycle of Torah readings.
Sivan -  The month in which Shavuot occurs.
Succah -  A booth used on the holiday of Succot
Succot -  The Harvest festival during which we sit in the Succah and use the Lulav and Etrog.
Talmud Torah -  Study of Jewish text. One of the 613 mitzvot.
Tashlich -  A ceremony conducted on the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah. We go to a body of water and symbolically cast our sins into to the water by emptying breadcrumbs from our pockets.
T’fillah -  Prayer
Tevet -  The Hebrew month during which Hanukah ends.
Tikun Olam -  Repairing the world.
Tisha B’Av -  A summer fast day which commemorates the destruction of the Ancient Temples in Jerusalem in 586 BCE and 70 CE.
Tishrei -  The first Hebrew month. Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Succot and Simchat Torah are all in Tishrei.
Torah -  Literally the first 5 books of the Bible also known as Humash, the Pentateuch or The Five Books of Moses. The word Torah is also used to refer to all of Jewish learning.
Tu B’Shevat -  A minor holiday which celebrates the New Year of the trees.
- Synonyms: Tu Bishvat
Tzedakah -  Literally righteousness. Usually translated as charity, tzedakah is a mitzvah which seeks to restore a righteous balance to the world.
Yahrzeit -  The anniversary of a loved one’s death. It is customary to attend services and recite Kaddish on this day.
Yiddish -  A language spoken by Jews of German and Eastern European descent.
Yizkor -  A memorial service added to Festival services four times each year.
Yom Haatzmaut -  Israel’s Independence Day
Yom Hashoah -  Day which commemorates the Holocaust.
Yom Kippur -  A solemn fast day which is observed as a day of atonement.
Yom Yerushalayim -  A modern holiday which celebrates the reunification of the city of Jerusalem.