Hebrew Glossary

Blaine Robison, M.A.

Published 10 March 2011; Revised 27 November 2011

 

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Pronunciation Guide. Vowels sound like those underlined in the following words: father, aisle, bed, neigh, whey, marine, obey, and rule. As for consonants “ch” is pronounced as in Bach, and so is “kh;” “g” is always hard ("give"); other consonants are much the same as in English. The apostrophe after a consonant at the beginning of a word denotes a short “eh” sound (example B’rit = Beh-reet); an apostrophe before a vowel represents the guttural stop aleph (example Go’el is pronounced Go-ehl, not Goal). Abbreviations: Aram. = Aramaic; Heb. = Hebrew

Abba. (Aram.-Heb.) Father; daddy.

Achōt. Sister.

Adon. Lord, owner or master. Used of husbands (Genesis 18:22; Amos 4:1) and potential husbands (Ruth 2:13; 1 Samuel 25:24-31) in the Hebrew Bible.

Adonai. Lord, master or owner. One of the important names of God in the Hebrew language, often used as a substitute for the unutterable name of God.

Aggadah. (pl. aggadot) Homiletical materials that deal with man's relations to God, to other men, and to the world, with the purpose of exhorting toward spiritual performance and quality of life.

Amen. "let it be true."

Ashkenazi. (adj. Ashkenazic; pl. Ashkenazim). Jews descended from Jewish communities in the Rhineland (Germany) and later migrated, largely eastward, forming communities in Germany, Hungary, Poland, Russia, Eastern Europe and elsewhere between the 10th and 19th centuries. From medieval times the lingua franca among Ashkenazi Jews was Yiddish. In a religious sense, an Ashkenazi Jew is any Jew whose family tradition and ritual follows Ashkenazi rite.

Ba’al. Owner or lord; pronounced “bah-ahl.” Used of a Canaanite deity and husbands in the Hebrew Bible.

Balanit. "Mikveh lady." The attendant who assists a woman in her monthly immersion.

Barukh Hashem. "Blessed be the Name (God) or “praise to God” or in the vernacular “thank God, everything is fine.”

Bar. (Aram.-Heb.) Son or son of.

Bar Mitzvah. “Son of the commandment.” Denotes when a Jewish boy becomes fully accountable for the Torah and is treated as an adult; usually at age 13.

Bashert. (Yiddish) "Destiny, fated, or meant to be." It is usually used in the context of one's heavenly foreordained spouse or soulmate, and thus has romantic overtones.

Bat. Daughter; daughter of.

Bat Mitzvah. “Daughter of the commandment.” Denotes when a Jewish girl becomes fully accountable for the Torah and is treated as an adult; usually at age 12.

Ben. (Heb.) Son, son of.

Beit. (or Bêt) House. The second letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

Besekh. The New Testament. Besekh is an acronym formed from the Hebrew words Besorah (lit. "good news") for the apostolic narratives; Sepherim (lit. "letters) for the apostolic epistles; and Khazoth (lit. "visions") for Revelation.

Bet Din. "House of judgment." A religious or civil court of law within the Jewish community to which Jews may voluntarily submit disputes for resolution.

Be’ulah. A woman who has a ba’al (husband). Isaiah 54:1; 62:4.

Bimah. "Platform." A bimah (Ashkenazi term) or tebah (among Sephardim) is the elevated area or platform in a Jewish synagogue where the person reading aloud from the Torah stands during the Torah reading service.

Birkat Hamazon. Grace after meals.

B'rit Milah. "Covenant of Circumcision." Jewish ritual circumcision performed when the newborn baby is eight days old. Ashkenazi pronunciation is bris milōh.

B’rakhah. “Blessing.” Refers to a form of praise offered to God.

B’resheet. “In the beginning.” Title of the book of Genesis in the Bible.

B’rit Chadasha. (or B'rit Hadashah) “New Covenant.” Also used by Messianic Jews to refer to the New Testament in the Christian Bible.

B’rit Chathunnah. Covenant of wedding or marriage.

Chafifah. Lit. cleansing. To prepare for mikveh immersion, a woman cleans herself thoroughly and removes any foreign object (chatzitzah) that might intervene between her body and the water of the mikveh.

Chalitzah or Halizah. Lit. “what is stripped off;” derived from chalats (“draw off” or “withdraw”). Under the Torah requirement of Yibbum, chalitzah is the ceremony by which a man can avoid the Torah duty to marry the widow of his brother (see Deuteronomy 25:5-10). In the ceremony the widow removes a leather shoe from the man and spits on the ground before him as a symbolic act of shame because of his unwillingness to perform the Yibbum. Since the Middle Ages the widow has also been permitted to reject the marriage obligation. The ceremony must take place before a court of three men who understand Hebrew.

Challah. A braided bread served with Sabbath and other holiday meals. Often two loaves are used to commemorate the manna that fell from the heavens when the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years after the Exodus from Egypt. The manna did not fall on the Sabbath or holidays; instead, a double portion fell before the Sabbath and holidays. Traditional challah is made from eggs, flour, and sugar.

Chatzitzot. “Barriers.” Anything that would keep the waters of the mikveh from fully touching the body during immersion.

Daven. To pray a Jewish liturgical prayer while swaying or rocking the body.

Drash. (or midrash) “Search.” An interpretation and practical application of Scripture. A midrash not only concerns itself with what a verse means in its context, but its meaning in the whole of scriptural revelation.

Echad. “One” or “unity.”

Elohim. “God.” Plural of El.

Erusin. Betrothal.

Ima. “Mother, mommy.” [pronounced eema]

Im yirtzeh HaShem. “If God wills.”

Ga’al. “Kinsman.” Next of kin and therefore redeemer. See Leviticus 25:25-26; Ruth 2:20; 4:3, 14. In ancient Israel any duty which a man could not perform by himself had to be taken up by his next of kin, as well as any rights possessed by a man which lapsed through his inability to perform the duties attached to such rights, were to be assumed by the next of kin. The ga’al preserved parcels of land within the clan and, when necessary, raised offspring for his kinsman if he died without any. In addition, the ga’al functioned as a blood-avenger if a member of his family was murdered (Numbers 35:19).

Ger. “stranger.” In the Hebrew Bible typically refers to Gentiles, particularly that lived in the Land of Israel and in many cases converted to the faith of the Israelites.

Get. A Jewish divorce decree, separate from a civil divorce, which must be granted to the wife by the husband. Jewish women who have not been given a get, cannot be remarried in the Jewish faith, even though, according to civil law, they are divorced.

Goy. (pl. goyim). Nation or Gentile.

Haggadah. The traditional text which is recited at the Passover Seder and which defines the Seder's form and customs.

Halakhah. Literally “the path or the way of walking.” The collective body of Jewish religious law, including biblical law (the 613 mitzvot) and later talmudic and rabbinic law, as well as customs and traditions. In the modern era, Jewish citizens may be bound to halakhah only by their voluntary consent, many regarding halakhah as spiritual guidance only. The approach to halakhah is the central factor that defines Jewish religious movements today. Secular Israeli jurisprudence treats halakhah as a valid and valued source of precedent.

HaShem. “the Name.” A substitute word used in place of the unutterable name of God (Leviticus 24:11).

Ish. "man" or husband.

Ishshah. "woman" or wife.

Kaddish. “Holy.” A special prayer of praise to God that acknowledges God’s sovereign wisdom, and expresses trust in Him in times of mourning. For non-Messianic Jews saying the kaddish is a way of performing a good deed that is believed to benefit the dead.

Kal v’chomer (or Qal v'chomer) lit. “how much more.” Used of a fortiori arguments. If one proposition is true, "how much more" is a second proposition true.

Karpas. One of the traditional rituals in the Passover Seder. It refers to the vegetable, usually parsley or celery, that is dipped in liquid (usually salt water or vinegar) and eaten. The idea behind the salt water is to symbolize the salty tears that the Jews shed in their slavery in Egypt. The vegetables symbolize the coming of the spring.

Kashrut. “Fit, proper or correct.” Refers to the body of Jewish law dealing with what foods Jews can and cannot eat and how those foods must be prepared and eaten. Kashrut comes from the same root as the more commonly known word kosher, which describes food that meets these standards. Kosher is not a style of cooking. Certain animals or any part thereof, such as pig and any water creatures without fins and scales, cannot be eaten at all, and of the animals that may be eaten birds and mammals must be killed in accordance with Jewish law. (See Leviticus 11)

Ketubah (pl. ketubot). Jewish marriage contract. Ketubot also refers to the Tractate Ketubot in the Talmud, which concerns various legal aspects of marriage.

Kiddush. “Sanctification.” The prayer over the wine recited on Shabbat and festivals.

Kiddushin. Lit. "sanctification." A ceremony in which a woman is consecrated to a man for betrothal. In Jewish law kiddushin constitutes a legal marriage and for that reason in modern practice kiddushin is a part of the wedding ceremony.

Ki Tetze. Also spelled Ki Tisa. “When you go out.” The scheduled Scripture reading for the 38th Sabbath of the year.

Kinyan. “Acquisition.” A kinyan is a ritual act pursuant to a contract in which a purchaser gives his handkerchief or some other object such as a pen, to the seller. A kinyan is typically performed as part of a Jewish betrothal and prior to the wedding ceremony. Usually, the father of the bride will bring to the groom a gift, traditionally the bride's handkerchief. By accepting it, the groom indicates that he is willing to assume the obligations stipulated in the Ketubah.

Kippah. (Yarmulke in Yiddish) A thin, slightly-rounded skullcap traditionally worn at all times by Orthodox Jewish men and sometimes by both men and women in Conservative and Reform communities during services.

Kittel. “Robe.” A white robe worn on special occasions by religious Jews. A groom usually wears a kittel for the first time on his wedding day as a symbol of purity complementary to the bride’s white dress and to signify unity with the bride in beginning of a new life together.. It may also be worn on certain high holy days, like Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Pesach. The dead are also buried in a kittel, providing simple dress that assures equality for all in death.

Kosher. See kashrut.

Ladino. A Romance language of Sephardic Jews, based on Old Spanish and written in the Hebrew script.

Ma’ariv. The Jewish daily evening prayer service. Comes from ma’aribh, “evening prayer.”

Mamzer. Illegitimate birth from prohibited degrees in the Torah.

Maror. The bitter herbs that are eaten at the Passover Seder. The word derives from the Hebrew word for "bitter." Horseradish, romaine lettuce, or endive may be used as maror. The maror symbolizes the bitterness of slavery in Egypt.

Mashiach. “Anointed One.” A title used of the high priest, king and the Messiah.

Matan. Bridal gift. A personal gift from the groom to the bride.

Matza. Unleavened bread, which is substituted for regular bread for the Passover Seder and during the Feast of Unleavened Bread that follows Passover. Matza is a cracker-like flatbread made only of flour and water.

Mikveh. (meek-vah) also spelled mikvah. “A collection of water.” A pool or other water source used for ritual immersion.

Mitzvah. (pl. mitzvot) "Commandment." Deeds of justice, charity and kindness.

Moda. Kinsman. See Ruth 2:1; 3:2.

Mohar. Bridal payment or bride price. A gift paid by the groom to the bride’s family.

Nisuin. "Elevation." Nuptials. The final part of the Jewish wedding ceremony. The word comes from the Hebrew verb nasa, which means, "to carry." This is a graphic description of the groom carrying his bride to their new home.

Pesach. Passover. The holy day and festival commemorating exodus of Israelites from Egypt. Celebrated on 15 Nisan (April).

Pilegesh. “Concubine.” A pilegesh is a legitimate wife in the Bible, but is distinguished from an ishshah in rabbinic Judaism by not having a ketubah and no dowry.

Rosh HaShanah. “Head of the year.” The Jewish New Year, which falls on the first of the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar. This important holiday marks the beginning of ten days of awe to promote personal reflection, repentance and reconciliation.

Ruach HaKodesh. “Holy Wind” or Holy Spirit.

Savta. Grandmother.

Sephardi. (adj. Sephardic; pl. Sephardim). Jews that originated from Spain and Portugal, including the descendants of those subject to expulsion from Spain in 1492. The name comes from Sepharad, a biblical location (Obadiah 1:20), but means “Spain” in modern Hebrew. The term has also been applied in a religious sense to Jews who follow the Spanish rite.

Sfirat Haomer. “Counting of the sheaf.” Also called Yom Bikkurim or early first fruits. Occurs the day after Pesach and begins the counting of 50 days to Shavuot. See Leviticus 23:9-14.

Shabbat. “Rest.” The seventh day of the week, Saturday on the Roman/Gregorian calendar, and the day of rest observed by Jews.

Shadkhan. Jewish matchmaker or marriage broker. Traditionally a shadkhan introduces interested parties to one another and facilitates marriage negotiations, often for a fee. Plural shadkhanim.

Shakharit. (or Shacharit) The Jewish daily morning prayer. The word Shacharit comes from the Hebrew word shachar, or morning, commemorating the tamid shel shachar sacrifice offered in the Holy Temple every morning.

Shalom. “Peace.” The root verb means “complete, perfect or full.” A comprehensive term encompassing relational peace and well-being, welfare or safety of an individual or the community.

Shalom Bayit. Peace in the home or peaceful marriage.

Shavuot. “Weeks.” The Feast of Latter First Fruits or Feast of Weeks; occurs 50 days after Pesach on 6 Sivan (June). Known as Pentecost on the Christian calendar.

Shema. “Hear.” A central prayer of Judaism taken from Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21 and 15:37-41.

Sheva Brachot. Seven blessings recited in Jewish weddings and praises Adonai for his creation of the universe, for the creation of man in his image, for the happiness He provides to the bridegroom and bride, and for the joy and celebration experienced in brotherhood, friendship and marriage

Sheloshim. Lit. means thirty (days), and represents the stage of mourning after sitting Shiva. It is a period of reduced intensity but, nonetheless, one in which one should refrain from festivities or attending the theater, movies, dances and the like. One may attend a religious service such as a Bar/Bat Mitzvah or a wedding, but not a party other than a kiddush immediately after a Bar/Bat Mitzvah on the Sabbath. In Jewish tradition, mourning for a parent requires an observance of this pattern of restraint for the entire year of mourning. Certainly it should be rigorously maintained for the period of Sheloshim and, thereafter, an individual decision should be made as to when to return to normal practice.

Shiddach. (Yiddish) an arranged marriage, even an arranged blind-date.

Shiv’ah (or shiva). “Seven.” A week of mourning that follows a funeral for the seven first-degree relatives: father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, and spouse. As most regular activity is interrupted, the process of following the shiv'ah ritual is referred to as “sitting shiva.” Mourners visit the family to express their condolences.

Shomer. Lit. "guard" or "watchman." In the context of a Jewish wedding, it refers to the groom's best man. The Shomer’s main task is to make sure the Groom (Chatan) gets to his wedding as worry-free as possible.

Shomeret. The Jewish best woman. Her job is similar to the Shomer's: to help the Bride (Kallah) get to her wedding free of worry and stress.

Shomereth Yaba. “Waiting for the yabam.” A childless widow awaiting the brother of her deceased husband to marry her or free her by means of chalitza.

Shul. (Yiddish, “shool”) Synagogue; lit. “school.”

Sukkah. Booth or hut used in the Feast of Tabernacles, often constructed by Jewish families outside their homes.

Sukkot. Feast of Booths (Tabernacles), celebrating the forty years when the people of Israel lived in sukkot (booths, tents, shacks; singular sukkah) in the desert between Egypt and the land of Israel. Occurs in the biblical month of Tishri (September-October) and lasts eight days. Instructions are found in Leviticus 23:33-44.

Tanakh. The Old Testament. Tanakh is an acronym formed from the three divisions of the Hebrew Bible: Torah (Pentateuch), Neviim (Prophets) and K'tuvim (Writings).

Tenaim. A written agreement between Jewish families that sets the financial and logistical arrangements for a planned wedding, including a penalty if either party reneged.

Torah. “Instruction or teaching.” In Scripture Torah referred to (1) the 613 commandments given to Moses, (2) the five books of Moses (Pentateuch), (3) the Prophets, (4) the Writings, (5) the entire Tanakh and (6) customs or traditions directed by Israelite leaders. Modern Jews include the entire Talmud in the definition of Torah.

Tzniut. (also Tzeniut or Tznius) “Modesty," a term used within Judaism  to describe both a character trait and a group of Jewish religious laws pertaining to dress and relations between the sexes.

Yabam. Vb. “perform the duty of a husband’s brother” from the noun, Yabam “husband’s brother,” i.e. brother-in-law. See Yibbum.

Y’bemah. Alternate form y’bemeth. Brother’s wife or sister-in-law; the widowed sister-in-law in Deuteronomy 25:7, subject to levirate marriage.

Yetzer ra. The evil inclination (Genesis 6:5).

Yetzer tov. The good inclination.

YHVH. The personal and most frequent name of God found in the Hebrew Scriptures. Also spelled YHWH by scholarly convention. The letters stand for Yod-Hey-Vav-Hey. While Christians commonly spell the name as Yahweh, this proposed vocalization is not found in any extant Hebrew Text. The use of Jehovah in some older Bible versions is an invention and not a real Hebrew word. Jews make no attempt to pronounce this special name, but speak either Adonai or HaShem in its place.

Yibbum. (pronounced "yee-boom") Hebrew for Levirate Marriage, a special marriage requirement of the Torah (Deut 25:7-10) in which the brother of a man who died without children has an obligation to marry the widow.

Yom HaBikkurim. Literally “Day of the Firstfruits.” The Festival of Early First Fruits offering falls in the spring of the year on the first day after the first Sabbath of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

Yom Kippur. Day of Atonement. Occurs on 10 Tishri (October). See Leviticus 23:26-32.