Glossary

Since Josep is already familiar with many of the concepts and terms, I don’t always define them in my posts. Here are some of the common terms I use and what they mean. I’ll add to the list as new terms come up. (Anything you think I should add? Let me know.)

Aliyah: Immigration to Israel. Literally means “moving up”. (May also refer to being called up to the Torah when it is read during services.)

Ashkenazi: Jews of central or eastern European descent. Around 80% of Jews today are Ashkenazi–including me.

Brit or bris: short for “brit milah”, literally the “covenant of circumcision”. Usually refers to the circumcision ceremony that is performed on Jewish baby boys when they are eight days old. Here is an entry on the topic.

Crypto-Judaism: See FAQ.

Conversos: The Spanish term for converts to Christianity. They were also called “cristianos nuevos“, “New Christians”.

Halakha: Jewish law.

Hashem: literally “The Name” in Hebrew, this is how religious Jews often refer to God.

Goy: Non-Jew. The term is unfortunately sometimes used derogatorily, but I use it affectionately. 😉

Kosher: Prepared according to the Jewish dietary laws (called kashrut). These laws include restrictions on which animals are permissible to eat, how they must be slaughtered, and strict separation of dairy and meat.  (“Kashering” is the act of making non-kosher utensils kosher.) (Click here for the first entry in a three-part series on kashrut.)

Kiddush: Literally “sanctification”. A ceremony performed over wine that is a “declaration” of the holiness of the day (on the Sabbath and holidays).

Kippah: A special cap worn by Jewish men. Click here for an entry that elaborates.

Marranos: The same as “conversos” above, except that this was a derogatory term that literally means “swine”. Today it has lost its derogatory connotation, but I still prefer not to use it.

Mezuzah (plural: mezuzot): A little scroll, usually stored in a decorative protective case, that Jews affix to the doorposts of their homes. Click here for an entry about mezozot.

Minyan: Quorum of ten men required for prayer.

Mitzvah: Commandment. (Plural: mitzvot.)

Mitzvot HaTluyot Ba’Aretz: Commandments associated with the Land of Israel.

Sephardi/Sephardic: Jews of Iberian origin. The definition is often expanded to include North African, Middle Eastern and Asian Jewish communities, since the character of those communities was strongly influenced by Spanish Jews who arrived in those places after the expulsion of 1492; or because their customs tend to be more like those of Sephardi Jews than those of Ashkenazi Jews. (See: Ashkenazi)

Shabbat: The Jewish Sabbath, which begins on Friday at sundown and ends Saturday evening after the stars emerge. (Also pronounced Shabbos. I use the Sephardi/Israeli pronunciation in Hebrew. Shabbos is the Ashkenazi pronunciation.) Click here for an entry about Shabbat.

Shema: The Shema prayer is a prayer that is central to Judaism. Click here to read its translation into English and an explanation of its importance.

The Talmud: A compilation of what used to be the Oral Law, including the Mishna and the Gemara.  It is second only to the Bible in terms of its importance in Judaism. (Click here for an entry about the Jewish holy books.)

The Torah: This term may be referring specifically to the first Five Books of Moses in the Bible (the Pentateuch), or to the entire set of laws, written and oral, that we believe we received at Mount Sinai, and the vast literature of commentary and interpretation surrounding those laws. (Click here for an entry about the Jewish holy books.)

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