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Official Judaism Glossary


Introduction to Religion

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Abraham *
The founding father of the people Israel and the first of the Three Patriarchs. According to Genesis, he was the first person with whom God chose to have a special relationship.
Another name for the Eighteen Benedictions.
Anti-Semitism *
Anti-semitism is the word used to designate the hatred of Jews because they are Jews. This form of bigotry has been present in Europe and elsewhere for centuries. It has led to riots against Jews, burning of Jewish buildings and districts, and other atrocities. The Nazi-directed Holocaust is the most extreme case of anti-semitism; during it, the Nazis killed at least six million European Jews.
A semitic language, like Hebrew, which was the primary language spoken by Jews in Israel and the Middle East from about the fifth century bce up to the fifteh century ce.
Ashkenazic Judaism *
This is the term used to designate the Jews who lived, and to some extent still live, primarily in northern Europe, away from the Mediterranean nations. The most populous areas were France, Germany, Poland, and Russia. The Jews from the southern areas of Europe, especially Spain and later the Arab lands, are usually called Sephardic Jews. In the nineteenth century and twentieth century, these Jews were responsible for Zionism, the migration of Jews to Israel and the United States, and the creation of the state of Israel. They were also the ones who were killed in large numbers during the Holocaust. Culturally, they share a number of aspects­such as food choices and the wording of prayers­that distinguish them from Sephardic Jews.


Bar Mitzvah, Bat Mitzvah *
A Bar Mitzvah is a rite of passage for a boy into "manhood"; it is when a male takes on the full responsibilities of a worshipper. Religiously, this is celebrated by the boy doing his first public reading of the Torah (i.e., the Pentateuch). In the US, this is often the occassion for the family to throw a large and expensive party in celebration. In recent decades, Reform and Conservative Judaism have created Bat Mitzvahs to celebrate when girls come of age; these are quite similar to Bar Mitzvahs.
Booths, Feast of *
This is the English translation of the Hebrew word Sukkot. The Feast of Booths is a harvest festival which takes place in the fall. This holiday gets its name from the main activity of the eight-day festival which is that Jews should build a temporary "booth" (like a hut) and sit and eat in it.


See the Land.
Caro, Joseph
Joseph Caro was a talmudic scholar who lived from 1488 to 1575. He was born in Spain, but let during the expulsion of 1492. He ultimately settled in Safed in northern Israel, where he quickly became known as an expert on the Talmud. A writer of many halakhic works, he is best known as the compiler of the Shulhan Arukh, a codification of halakhah still used by Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox Jews today.
Same as Huppah.
Circumcision *
In Judaism, circumcision is the removal of the foreskin of a penis. It is done to all male babies eight days after their birth by a ritual surgeon called a mohel. The Jews believe that this is the sign of God's covenant with Israel, as commanded by the Torah.
Classical Judaism
Same as Rabbinic Judaism.
This is the Hebrew word for priest. Originally it designated the priests who conducted the sacrificial worship at the Temple. Many Jews today have the last name of Cohen (or a related name such as Coehn, Kahane, etc.) and it is believed to indicate their descent from a priestly family.
Conservative Judaism *
Although it began in Europe, Conservative Judaism really took off and flourished in the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century. In belief, it is more like Reform Judaism, trying to incorporate and deal with the intellectual knowledge and challenges of the modern world. In practice--behavior and worship--it is much more like Orthodox Judaism, encouraging its followers to keep kosher, pray several times a day, attend worship services in the synagogue regularly and read Torah.
Covenant *
After God liberated the Israelites (Jews) from their captivity in Egypt (supposedly around 1300 BCE), he brought them to a sacred mountain (traditionally called Mt. Sinai) and made an agreement with them. The central aspect of this agreement--called the Covenant--is that God will be the god of the people Israel if they will be His people. This Covenant established the close tie between God and the the Israelites (Jews).


David *
David was the first king of the United monarchy and transformed the twelve tribes of Israel into a unified nation (around 1000 BCE). He was a mighty warrior who united the tribes under a single leader (himself) and drove off Israel's enemies (such as the Philistines and the Moabites). He established the capital in Jerusalem and bequeathed a peaceful country to his son Solomon.
Day of Atonement *
The Day of Atonement takes place in the fall, between Rosh Hashannah (New Years) and the Feast of Booths. In Hebrew, it is called "Yom Kippur." It is a time when all Jews atone for their sins and plead with God for forgiveness. In Temple Times, this was accompanied by the High Priest entering into the innermost sanctum of the Temple (which he could do only on this day) after lengthy purification and speaking to God directly. Since the Temple's destruction, the Day of Atonement has been a solemn day of prayer and fasting for all Jews.
Diaspora *
Since the Temple's destruction in 70 CE, the Jews have been exiled from the area around Jerusalem and the surrounding territory of Judah/Judea. From that time, most Jews have lived outside the Land of Israel. This is called "living in the diaspora." So "diaspora" is the term for all lands outside the Land of Israel.
Dietary Rules
Same as Kosher.
Dual Torah *
The Dual Torah is a creation of the rabbis during the Rabbinic Period. This belief is that God gave two Torahs at Mt. Sinai. The first one--the Written Torah--was in written form and is essentially the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. The second one--the Oral Torah--was passed down through the centuries from teacher to disciple. Eventually it was written down and incorporated into the Talmud. See also Torah.


Eighteen Benedictions

This is an ancient prayer, which in fact is sometimes called "The Prayer." Along with the Shema, it is regularly recited in the fixed prayers three times a day. It was originally formulated with eighteen benedictions, but in its present form has nineteen. These are: (1) praise the God of the Patriarchs, (2) Praise God's power, (3) Praise his holiness, (4) Praise asking for knowledge, (5) Praise asking for penitence, (6) Praise asking for forgiveness, (7) Praise asking for redemption, (8) Praise asking for healing, (9) Blessing the crops, (10) Praise asking for the gathering of the exiles from the diaspora (11) Praise asking for righteous judgement, (12) Praise asking for punishment of heretics, (13) Praise asking for reward for the pious, (14) Praise asking for Jerusalem to be rebuilt, (15) Praise asking for restoring the Davidic monarchy, (16) Praise asking for God's answering of prayers, (17) Praise asking for restoration of the Temple and its offerings, (18) Praise in thanksgiving, (19) Praise asking for peace.
Emancipation *
When the Enlightenment enabled Jews in Europe to become citizens of the nations in which they lived, they gained the same rights as other citizens. Thus, Jews were no longer restricted to where they lived. They therefore moved out of the ghettos in which they had been confined and chose their residences on other grounds--such as cost, proximity to jobs or family, and so on. Jews intermingled with non-Jews first at work and then later in more social situations. They voted in elections, served in armies, and in general became integral parts of each nation's citizenry.
Enlightenment *
To put it briefly, the Enlightenment was an intellectual movement in Europe that held that the power of reason and rational thought was the highest source of knowledge and understanding, and that divine revelation which could not be confirmed through reason was superstition and not knowledge. Its heyday was the eighteenth century, and it helped bring in Judaism's Modern Period. Upto this point in European history, states were linked to and governed by religion; this meant that only members of the governing religion could be citizens. No one could imagine anything different. But the Enlightenment made it possible for reason to form the basis for governance, and thus all people--since everyone had reason--could be citizens of a nation, no matter what their religion. For Jews, the Enlightenment lead to the Emancipation.
Exile and Return *
The Exile refers to the deportation of thousands of Jews into Babylonia after the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple in 586 BCE. However, the Babylonians themselves were conquered by the Persians in 539 BCE. This empire permitted the Jews (and other displaced ethnic groups) to return to Jerusalem. Once there, the Jews rebuilt Jerusalem, its walls, and its Temple. The combination of these two events shaped Jewish thought significantly. They became a paradigm for self-understanding as well as for the interpretation of events. Judaism saw this as God's work in history, which gave them hope and courage to carry on.


Formative Judaism *
Same as Rabbinic Judaism.


Ghetto *
During the Medieval Period, european cities often confined Jews to living in a specified district of town, a place that often had gates that were closed at night. The term ghetto comes from the name of an island in Venice, Italy, which was the restricted area for Jewish residence; it was called "Ghato."
God *
In the Hebrew Bible, there are two terms for God, namely, Yahweh and Elohim. Yahweh is God's name, while Elohim is usually translated as "Lord," a title. During the Temple Period, it was forbidden to speak God's name. In later times, Jews decided not even to write it, usually writing instead "The Name" or "Adonai," which is Aramaic for "My Lord."


The halakhah is the corpus of ritual, moral, ethical, and religous rules that govern the life of an observant Jew. The terms itself means "The Way" as in "the way to walk." The halakhic regulations describe how, when and what fixed prayers should be said, how to keep and prepare kosher food, how to act towards God and one's fellow human beings, rules about marriage and divorce, and so on. The halakah is based primarily on the Torah (the five "books of Moses"), on the centuries of interpretation that culmitated in the Talmud, and on later adaptations. Many works have been written to codify the halakhah, including ones by Maimonides and Joseph Caro. See also mitzvah.
Hanukkah *
Hanukkah means "dedication," but the festival istself is known as the Festival of Lights. It was established by the Maccabees about 166 BCE after they drove the Greek Seleucids from Jerusalem. Today the holiday is celebrated in December. Although it is a fairly minor festival--not even established in the Hebrew Bible--it has grown in importance in the USA by becoming a Jewish celebration to counter the hype associated with the Christian Christmas.
Hasidism *
Hasidic Judaism carries forward the mystical aspects of Traditional Judaism into the Modern Period. They are essentially Orthodox and usually quite observant. Their mystical beliefs--deriving from the Kabbalah--give them much stronger belief in supernatural intervention in this world and in the divine guidance of God. The best known hasidic movement in the US is the Lubavitch or Chabad movement, whose leader--Rebbe Menachem Schneerson--died a couple of years ago.
Hebrew *
(1) Hebrew is the language spoken during the first three-quarters or so of the Temple Period by the Israelites. Towards the end of the period, Aramaic and Greek supplanted the use of Hebrew. It is the language of the Hebrew Bible as well. (2) "The Hebrews" is a term used as the equivalent of "Israelites." Both are terms used for Jews during the Temple Period.
Hebrew Bible *
The English word for the TaNaK, and the Jewish term for what Protestant Christians call the Old Testament. It is a collection of books that were mostly written between the seventh century and the second century BCE, and which purport to desribe God, the Israelites, and their history of interaction from before 2000 BCE up to about the third century BCE. It is the most holy book of Judaism, and was written almost exclusively in Hebrew. (See also Torah.)
Holidays *
The term "holiday" is used in Judaism in its original sense, namely, "Holy Day." It designates the different sacred days, or festivals, that Jews celebrate in their worship of God. The main holidays include: Rosh Hashshannah, the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Booths, Passover, Pentecost, Purim and Hanukkah.
Holocaust *
The Holocaust, referred to in Hebrew as the Shoah, is the term given to the destruction of six million Jews by the Nazis during World War II (in addition to gypsies, prostitutes, and other "undesirables"). The horror of this massive killing lies not only in the death of so many Jews, but also in that these deaths were caused by a planned Nazi policy to kill them simply because they were Jews. The Nazis built massive death camps, gas chambers, crematoriums to kill them and even designed an extensive transportation network to bring Jews to the camps.
The canopy under which the bride and groom stand during a wedding ceremony. It may be elaborate as the canopy of a four-poster bed or simply a prayer shall held over the couple.


Isaac *
One of the three patriarchs. He was the son of Abraham and the father of Jacob.
Israel *
The name Israel have several different meanings. (1) It is the name God gave to the patriarch Jacob. (2) The most important and most common usage is to reference the people who are descended from Jacob/Israel. They are called "the people Israel." The people Israel are the same as the Jews. (3) A geographical term meaning the land and/or nation where the people Israel live: (a) the united kingdom under David and Solomon, (b) the northern kingdom after the split following Solomon's death, (c) the kingdom ruled by the Maccabees, and (d) the modern nation of Israel (founded 1948).
Israeli *
An inhabitant of the modern state of Israel. It cannot be used to designate the ancient Jews nor should it be confused with Israelite.
Israelites *
This is the main term Jews were called during the Temple Period. Another term used to designate them then was Hebrews. In the Hebrew Bible, it usually translates the Hebrew term, "the people Israel."


Jacob *
Jacob is the third patriarch. God changed his name to Israel and made him the father of the people Israel (i.e., the Jews). His twelve sons were each the founding father of one of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Jerusalem *
Jerusalem was originally the capital city of the United Kingdom of Israel under David and Solomon. After Solomon's death, it was the capital city of the Kingdom of Judah. It was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BCE, but rebuilt under the Persians by around 520 BCE (see Exile and Return). It then remained the capital of a Jewish entity until the Romans destroyed it in 70 CE. During most of its existance, God's Temple formed the main building of the city. This made Jerusalem a religious center as well as a political one. Indeed, even after its final destruction in 70, Jerusalem remained Judaism's religious center in the hearts of the Jews. In what is today called the "Old City," the remains of the western wall of the platform upon which the Temple stood can be seen. It is the most holy site in Judaism and is called the Wailing Wall.
Jews *
(1) The name for the people Israel throughout the Rabbinic, Medieval, and Modern Periods. It evolved from the Greek term for someone who lives in Judea (see Judah), namely, Judean. "Jew" has both an ethnic and a religious usage; it designates someone who is descended from Jacob, as well as someone who practices Judaism. (2) The definition of "who is a Jew?" has traditionally been straightforward: a Jew is someone who was born to a Jewish mother or who converted to Judaism. Recently, Reform Judaism shocked the Jewish world by declaring that for its purposes someone was considered a Jew even if only the father was Jewish.
Judah *
The name Judah has several referants. (1) The first Judah was the fourth son of Jacob and the leader of the twelve sons. (2) Judah therefore also refers to one of the twelve tribes. It was the largest and was given a large amount of territory in the southern part of the Land of Canaan. (3) After the united kingdom of Israel split in two after Solomon's death, Judah was the name of the southern kingdom, which included Jerusalem and was ruled by David's descendants. (4) In the Roman period, the territory of "Judah" became the basis for the name of the Roman province of Judea.


An Aramaic prayer that praises and blesses God. The word "kaddish" means "sanctification" and so the prayer can be seen as sanctifying (making holy) God's name. It is said at the close of a synagogue worship service and as a mourners prayer in memory of the deceased. In this form, it is said by a mourner at every Yahrzeit.
A marriage contract, written in Aramaic, in which the husband sets out and agrees to his responsibilities to his wife. This is an ancient type of document which outlines the husband's halakhic duties to his wife and the financial amount he will pay to her if he should decide to divorce her. The ketubbah is read out loud and signed at the wedding by the groom and two witnesses. It is then given to the bride to keep. The wording of the ketubbah is traditional and is often inscribed in fancy calligraphy. Many couples frame it and put it on the wall of their bedroom.
kohen, kohaine
See Cohen.
Kosher *
To "keep kosher" means to keep the Jewish dietary rules (which are called kashrut). The main rule of these regulations is to keep meat (beef, lamb, chicken, and so on) and dairy products separate. Orthodox, Conservative and other Jews who keep kosher will never eat meat and dairy products at the same meal (cheeseburgers are right out!). At home, these observant Jews will have two sets of dishes--one for meat and the other for milk--in their kitchen which they always keep separate and never use at the same meal. Food that is not kosher is called, traif.


Land *
Part of the covenant that God made with the people Israel is that he would give them a "land flowing with milk and honey." Hence, "the Land" refers to the land that God gave the Jews. At the time of the Exodus, this land was called "the Land of Canaan" after the Canaanites who lived there. After the people Israel settled there, it began to be called "the Land of Israel." The Romans made it into a provine with the name Palestine. In the twentieth century, these last two names have distinct political overtones. The "Land of Israel" is used by the Jewish Israelis to designate their country and the ancient boundaries in and near it. The term "Palestine" is used to designate the same territory by nameing it after the present (in some cases) and previous (in other cases) inhabitants, the Palestinians.
In Temple Times, the tribe of the Levites were the helpers in the Temple. They were not permitted to do the main sacrificial activities, but they assisted the Priests in matters of preparation, security, and, some think, music. Many Jews today have the last name of "Levi," or "Levy" (or some variation) and they are thought to be descendants of Levite families.


Maccabees *
After the Israelites returned from the Babylonian Exile to rebuild Jerusalem, Judah was a province first of Persia and then later of Greek Seleucid Empire. The Maccabean family led a revolt against the Seleucids in 167 BCE. Over the following decades, they created the largest nation of Israel ever to exist. It lasted until the Roman conquest in 63 BCE. The Maccabees also created the only Jewish holiday not established in the Hebrew Bible, namely, Hanukkah.
Maimonides, Moses
Moses Maimonides, also called Moses ben Maimon and as Rambam, lived from 1138-1204. He was an active doer and thinker who served as the court physician to the ruler of Egypt. He was the first to write a codification of talmudic halakhah and was also was extensively learned in Greek philosophy. He composed a philosophical work called The Guide for the Perplexed in which he tried to harmonize Aristotle's thought with the Torah, and showing how, when the two were incompatible, that the Torah was correct. He also developed the concept of the 613 mitzvot.
Matriarchs, The Four
The Four Matriarchs are the wives of the Three Patriarchs. Sarah was Abraham's wife, Rebecca was Isaac's wife, and Rachel and Leah were the wives of Jacob. They are seen as examplars of womanly virtues in Judaism.
Medieval Period *
The Medieval Period, for the purposes of this course, begins in the sixth century CE, essentially following the publication of the Babylonian Talmud. Following upon the heals of the Rabbinic Period, it lasted for over a millenium into the eighteenth century. In some european countries, it went on even into the nineteenth century, depending on how long it took the enlightenment and the emancipation to usher in the Modern Period. During this extended time, the Jews never had a country of their own and hence they were always ruled by people of other religions, namely, Christianity and Islam. In Islamic countries, Jews were tolerated and had rights, but were considered second-class citizens. In Christian countries, by comparison, Jews had no defined rights. They were often confined to living in special locations (see, for example, Ghetto), forbidden to own land, and subjected to attacks on individuals and on whole communities. During this time, Traditional Judaism, which was based on the Talmud and the Tanak, helped the Jews survive their lack of power over their own lives. In some countries, Jews took part in and learned from poetic, philosophical, and mystical movements.
Messiah *
The messiah is a saving figure who is expected to come at the end of time and to rule over Israel. He will carry out God's will and will restore Israel's fortunes and make the nation of Israel great again. Different forms of the messiah have been imagined. One is a secular messiah who will be a ruler of David's line; another is a priestly messiah. It is believed that when the Messiah returns, he will rebuild the Temple and restore the sacrificial rites.There have been many people claiming to be the messiah over the centuries. Most recently, Rebbe Menachem Schneerson, the leader of the hasidic Lubavitcher movement has been thought a messiah. Although he died a couple years ago, some of his followers expect him to rise from the dead to bring in the messianic age.
A small box, usually decorated, affixed to the doorpost of a Jewish home. It marks the distinction between the profane outside world and the holy world inside. The box contains a piece of paper with the words of the Shema in Hebrew written on it. Observant Jews will touch the mezuzah and say a blessing as they go in and out of the house.
A Hebrew term meaning "count." It refers to the minimum of ten men (any adult Jews) needed to conduct public prayer. It is essentially the definition of "public"; any number less and it remains private. When a minyan is present, God is also thought to be present and so certain prayers may be said.
Mitzvah (pl. Mitzvot)
"Mitzvah" literally means "commandment," as in The Ten Commandments. It is used to refer to actions that a Jew is required or expected to perform. These may be rules of the halakhah or as acts of charity and kindness. Maimonides compiled a list of 613 mitzvot that Jews are expected to do.
Modern Period *
For Judaism--coming out of the Medieval Period--the Modern Period essentially began with the emancipation. Thus in countries like Germany and France--where the emancipation began early--the Modern Period began in the eighteenth century. In countries were the emancipation began later, the Modern Period, for descriptive purposes, did not begin until the nineteenth century. With emancipation, Traditional Judaism could neither satisfy many Jews nor provide direction for the new lives they were being asked to lead. Whereas Christian Europe rejected the Jews, the new, post-enlightenment Europe wanted to make them citizens. In reaction to these changes, Judaism divided into several movements: Reform, Orthodox and Conservative Judaism, as well as Zionism--to mention just a few examples. At the start of this period, most Ashkenazic Jews lived in northern Europe and most Sephardic Jews lived in the arabic countries. Now, at the close of the twentieth century, the largest number of Ashkenazic Jews live in the US, with Israel and Russia having the next largest populations (this shift was largely due to the Holocaust), and most Sephardic Jews have emigrated to Israel. At the start of the Modern Period, most Jews were religious; now nearly half of the world's Jews are secular and, of the religious Jews, most make allowances for the secular character of the modern, western world.
A trained ritual surgeon who performs circumcisions.
Moses *
According to the story in the book of Exodus, Moses was chosen by God, in a face-to-face encounter, to lead the Israelite slaves out of Egypt to the Promised Land, the Land of Canaan. Through him, God brought about plagues on the Egyptians--including the death of all their firstborn children--until they let the Israelites leave. Pharaoh then thought he would bring the Israelites back, but God parted the water of the Reed Sea for the Israelites to escape and then drowned the Egyptian Army. Moses then took the people Israel to Mt. Sinai where they made a Covenant with God. Moses then led the people in the wilderness for 40 years, dying just before they crossed the Jordan River and entered Canaan.



Oral Torah *
See Dual Torah.
Orthodox Judaism *
In a nutshell, Orthodox Judaism is Traditional Judaism that has reacted against the changes introduced by Reform in the Modern Period. Initially, it was hard to distinguish between Orthodoxy and Traditionalism because Orthodoxy retained most of the beliefs and practices of Traditional Judaism. The main difference was that Traditional Judaism was fairly flexible during the centuries of its existence, being able to adapt itself to circumstances in different countries and times. To combat Reform's changes, by contrast, Orthodoxy decided in principle that change was bad. This made Orthodoxy rigid and inflexible. More recently, however, Orthodox Judaism has shown itself to be able to adapt to new circumstances. They wear modern clothing, attend secular universities, take jobs in the secular world, and so on.


See the Land.
For observant Jews who keep kosher, parve means food stuffs that are neither meat nor milk and hence can be eaten in a meal with either. This includes vegetables, bread, pasta, dand many sugar-based sweets (as long as they are not made from milk).
Passover *
A spring religious festival (see holiday) usually occuring in April. Passover, called Pesach in Hebrew, commemorates the Exodus from Egypt; in particular it refers to when the Angel of Death "passed over" the Israelites and slew only the Egyptians. During this eight-day festival, Jews eat no yeast. On the first night or two they celebrate a special meal, called a seder, during which they read prayers and stories from a book called "the Haggadah," and perform actions specified in it.
Patriarchs, The Three *
The three men with whom God had a special relationship: Abraham, his son Isaac, and his son Jacob. Jacob, who was renamed Israel by God, gave birth to twelve sons. The descendants of these sons became the Twelve Tribes of the people Israel. Their wives are known as the Four Matriarchs.
Prayer *
(1) Judaism has both free-form and fixed prayer. Free-form prayers can be offered to God at anytime and in anyplace. Fixed prayers are prayers that are said at specific times and which have fixed wording. These times include morning, afternoon, and evening, after meals, and of course prayers for the Sabbath and for holy days (holidays). (2) "The Prayer" is a name for the Eighteen Benedictions.
Priest *
The priests were the main officials in the Temple in Jerusalem. They offered sacrifices, burned incense and carried out most of the other acts of worship there. The priests were supposedly descended from Aaron (Moses' brother) and therefore were all from the tribe of the Levites. The High Priest was the most important priest and he carried out certain duties that no other priests were allowed to do, such going into the Holy of Holies before the Ark of the Covenant to worship God on the Day of Atonement. The importance of the priests declined after the Temple's desctruction. See also Cohen.
Prophets *
The books of the Prophets constitute an important section of the Tanak. They include the historical books: Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings. They also include the written prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the works of the Twelve Prophets (Hosea, Amos, Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi).
Purim *
The festival celebrating the saving of the Babylonian Jews from genocide. The story comes from the book of Esther. It is told that Haman, a wicked man who advised the Babylonian king, wanted to kill all the Jews because of his hatred for a particular, righteous Jew, Mordecai. But the Jews were saved by a scheme devised by the king's wife, the Jewish woman Esther. As a holiday, Purim celebrates this liberation. It is a topsy-turvey holiday, where children dress up as characters in the story, the book of Esther is read--to cheers for Mordecai and Esther, and boos for "the wicked Haman"--and the consumption of alcohol is, for this one night, encouraged among otherwise cautious and conservative believers. This is the only festival in the Hebrew Bible that is not in the first five books, the Torah.



Rabbi *
In Hebrew, Rabbi literally means "my teacher" or "my master." In the Rabbinic Period, it refers to the main religious authorities--the rabbis--who replace the priests after the Temple's destruction. The rabbi is a teacher, a judge, and an expert in biblical and religious law (i.e., Torah). The rabbis wrote the Talmud and associated literature. This position continues into the medieval and modern periods. In the latter, in Reform and Conservative Judaism, the rabbi becomes the synagogue leader as well.
Rabbinic Judaism *
This is the form of Judaism created by the rabbis during the Rabbinic Period and recorded in the Talmud. It is the form of Judaism that lasts throughout the following Medieval Period and forms the basis for the different types of Judaism in the Modern Period. It provided Judaism with a form of worship and belief that did not require the offering of sacrifices at the no-longer-extant Temple. Whereas Judaism as recorded in the Hebrew Bible assumed that the Jews ruled their own independent state, Rabbinic Judaism worked for so long because it presented a Judaism that enabled Jews to cope with the situation in which they were ruled by people of other religions (Christianity and Islam).
Rabbinic Period *
This is the period following the destruction of the Temple (which ended the Temple Period). It begins in 70 CE and ends (roughly) with the publication of the Talmud in the sixth century. During this time the rabbis came to the fore as Judaism's main religious authorities. They composed the Talmud and other related literature. Most importantly, this is the time during which the rabbis work out how to continue Judaism without the Temple which has formed the center of Judaism for more than the previous millenium.
The main leader of a Hasidic community. The word is derived from the term rabbi. The rebbe for the Lubavitcher Hasids was Menachem Schneerson before his death a few years ago.
Reconstructionist Judaism
Reconstructionist Judaism is a small, american form of Judaism that was created in the 1940's by an influential Conservative rabbi, Mordechai Kaplan. It views Judaism as a civilization and a social phenomenon, rather than as a religious movement. In particular, it sees no divine or supernatural being that guides the Jews through history. Thus, Reconstructionism emphasizes Jewish culture rather than its religious and supernatural character.
Reform Judaism *
Reform Judaism was the first type of Judaism to differentiate itself from Traditional Judaism at the start of the Modern Period. In Germany and France, Jews were being encouraged to become citizens of the nation. Reform took up this idea that Jews could be "ethnically" German, for instance, while still being Jewish in religion. They also transformed the traditional modes of worship to look more like German forms of Christian worship. They added music and choirs to the synagogue services, appointed rabbis as congregational readers, and reinterpreted several traditional Jewish beliefs to fit the new circumstances. Reform Jewry transplanted well into the American scene, so that now 45-50 percent of American Jews think of themselves as Reform.
Rosh Hashannah *
In Hebrew, this term literally means "New Year." It is a joyous holiday celebrated in the fall, usually in September, which begins the new Jewish year. It followed by the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Booths.


Sabbath *
According to the first chapter of Genesis, God created the world in six days and on the seventh he rested. Therefore, Judaism holds that the seventh day is a holy day, and on it no profane work should be done. The sabbath starts at sundown Friday evening and lasts to sundown on Saturday. In the synagogue, this is usually a day for a worship service­sometimes two, one Friday evening and another Saturday morning. These services include prayers, music, sermons, and reading the Torah (i.e., the Pentateuch). In Orthodox households, the prohibition against work is taken quite seriously. People do not drive on the Sabbath but instead walk; they will not cook and so prepare their meals ahead of time; they can read, but they will not write.
Sacrificial Period *
For the purposes of this course, the Sacrificial Period is the time from God chose Abraham as the first patriarch of Israel to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 CE. From the time of King Solomon, God is worshiped at the Temple in Jerusalem. The central importance of worship at the Temple (and previously at its forerunner the Tabernacle) provides the basis for this period's name. During this time, the events recorded in the Hebrew Bible took place and were written down.
Sephardic Jews *
Since "sepharad" was the Hebrew word for Spain, Sephardic Judaism means the "Judaism of Spain." It specifically refers to the religious practices of Jews whoses ancestors lived in Spain in the fifteen century CE, and were kicked out of the country in 1492 (when Columbus sailed the ocean blue). Most of these Jews moved into Arab, Moslem countries. Therefore, today Sephardic Jews are usually thought of as Jews from the Arab countries. Sephardic Jews share a number of aspects­such as the wording of certain prayers and food preferences­that distinguish them from Jews who lived in northern Europe and are called Ashkenazic Jews.
The term Shema indicates both a confession of faith and a prayer. The confession of faith is essentially Deuteronomy 6:4, "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might." The confession actually implies the meaning of the entire prayer, which consists of Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-21, and Numbers 15:37-41. This prayer is said several times daily as part of the fixed prayers and it also is contained within a mezuzah.
Shulhan Aruk
The Shulhan Aruk (which means "Organized Table") is a medieval codification of halakhah written by Joseph Caro in the late 1500s. It condenses the enormous number of halakhic writings and decisions into a volume that can be easily used to guide daily practice and to answer questions that might come up in every-day Jewish life.
Solomon *
David's son who became the second king of the nation of Israel (961-922 BCE). He built the Temple in Jerusalem and rebuilt the city into a worthy capital with massive walls, new palaces, houses, and administrative buildings.
Synagogue *
Since the destruction of the Temple, the synagogue has been the main place of worship for Judaism. Until the modern period, it was primarily a gathering place for all Jews and was run by the laity. Rabbis did not usually take the kind of leadership roles that ministers and pastors did in Christianity. In the modern period, both Reform and Conservative synagogues now have rabbis as the main leaders. The synagogue is used for worship throughout the week, but the most important day is the Sabbath. The main types of worship performed here are the set prayers and reading of the Torah (i.e., the first five books of the Hebrew Bible). In modern times, music, singing and choirs have also been introduced in some synagogue worship. Note: Reform Judaism calls its synagogues Temples.


Talmud *
The Talmud--specifically the Babylonian Talmud--is the central religious text of the Rabbinic and later periods. It was composed by the rabbis living in Babylonia and supposedly records many sayings of rabbis. It was "published" in the sixth century CE. It provides the main basis for post-Temple Judaism, in particular during the Medieval Period.
TaNaK *
The Hebrew term for the Hebrew Bible. It is an acronym formed from the Hebrew words Torah (the Pentateuch, i.e., the first five books of the Hebrew Bible), Neviim (the Prophets, i.e., Joshua through Kings and the "Writing Prophets" such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and so on), and Ketuvim (the Writings, i.e., everything else, including the Psalms, Proverbs, Esther, and so on).
Temple *
For over a millenium, the Temple in Jerusalem was the center of Jewish worship of God. It was built by Solomon after he came to Israel's throne in 961 BCE. It was the center of Israelite (later Judahite) worship from then until its destruction in 587 BCE by the Babylonians. Rebuilt perhaps as early as 520 BCE, the Temple then stood until the Romans destroyed it, along with Jerusalem, in 70 CE. The western wall of the support platform built by Herod for the Temple can still be seen. It is the most sacred spot in Judaism today and is called the Wailing Wall.
Prior to 70 ce, the Temple was the center of Israelite worship, with the priests offering sacrifices daily and thousands of Jews attending on the holy days (holidays). The Temple itself was a building surrounded by several courtyards. In the Court of the Priests stood the altar, which was the primary location for the sacrifices. The Temple building was divided into the outer Sanctuary--where priests came to light lamps, offer incense and perform other acts of worship--and the innermost room, the Holy of Holies. In this area, the Ark of Covenant (which supposedly contained the Ten Commandments) was kept as the throne upon which God Himself was believed to sit. Here, only the High Priest could enter, and then only on the Day of Atonement. Note: Reform Judaism calls their synagogues "Temples." 
Ten Commandments *
The most famous part of the covenant between God and the people Israel agreed to at Mt. Sinai (see Exodus 20). The commandments ban idols and idolatry, forbids murder, theft, adultery, and coveting. It enjoins Jews to worship God only, to honor one's parents, and to observe the Sabbath.
Torah *
Torah is a word with many meanings. (1) It refers to the first five books of the Hebrew Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These were the first books to become sacred in Judaism. These books are read in the synagogue service every Sabbath. It takes one year to read all of them. (2) It sometimes refers to the whole Hebrew Bible itself. (3) It means the Dual Torah, the Written Torah of the Hebrew Bible and the Oral Torah of the rabbis. (4) It can mean the rules, principles, beliefs contained in one of the "Torah" texts or collections of texts.
Traditional Judaism
In this course, Traditional Judaism refers to the form of Judaism practiced during the Medieval Period. It based primarily on the Talmud; its central religious authority is the rabbis; worship takes place in the synagogue. Along the way, it is influenced a bit by philosophy and mysticism, as well as by the different cultures in which Jews live during this period. But by-and-large Traditional Judaism looks pretty much like Rabbinic Judaism.
Food that is not kosher and hence may not be eaten by observant Jews. This includes pork, shellfish (lobster, shrimp, etc.), lizards and snakes, the meat of animals who died on their own, and food that mixes meat and milk (like pepperoni pizza).
Twelve Tribes *
The twelve tribes were descended from and named after the twelve sons of Jacob. Together they make up the people Israel. The twelve sons of Jacob are: Reuben, Issachar, Asher, Gad, Judah, Benjamin, Simeon, Levi, Zebulan, Joseph, Naphtali, and Dan. Here is where the story in Genesis introduces a couple of changes. The first change is that there are really thirteen tribes; Joseph does not head a tribe, but instead his two sons--Manasseh and Ephraim--become heads of tribes. (Sometimes these are called "half-tribes" to make the count come out to twelve.) Second, when the Land of Israel is being divided among the tribes, God gives the Temple and his worship to the tribe of Levi and so they do not get any land. Therefore, only twelve tribes are given territory in the Land of Israel.


Ultra-Orthodox Judaism *
This is a term used to identify Jewish groups who reject as much of the modern world as possible. Although the largest number of such Jews live in Israel (most in Jerusalem, where they can walk to the Wailing Wall on the Sabbath), they deny the validity of the modern Israeli state, believing that the Messiah must first come before the return from the Diaspora should begin. They speak Yiddish, rather than Hebrew, wear traditional clothing (for men, black suits and white shirts, with wide-rimmed black hats) and are extremely strict about following Judaism and its rules. They hold proper observance of the Sabbath as extremely important. Unlike the Orthodox, the Ultra-Orthodox have made little accommodation for the modern world.



Western Wall*

The Wailing Wall is the western wall of the support platform that Herod built to hold the magnificent Temple he built in Jerusalem in the first century bce. Since the top of the hill on which the Temple was built was neither large nor flat, he had his architects create a large space for the Temple and its courtyard by building a platform several acred in size around the top of the hill. After the Roman destroyed the Temple in 70 ce, only the walls of this platform remained. The platform's western wall became a pilgrimage site for Jews during the Medieval Period where they would gather and mourn the destruction of the Temple. Today, it is considered the most holy site in Judaism. Observant Jews go there to pray, bar mitzvahs are held there, and prayer requests are written on paper and stuck between its stones.
Writings *
The Writings are the books of the Tanak classified in Hebrew as ketubim. They are: Psalms, Proverbs, Job, the Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiates, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles. By and large, these books were authorized as holy works later than the Torah, the five books of Moses.

Written Torah *

See Dual Torah.



This is the anniversary of the death of a close relative. At this time every year, it is customary for the deceased near relative, usually a son or daughter, to say the kaddish prayer in memory of the dead person.
Yiddish is a dialect of German written in Hebrew characters. It was spoken by Jews living in Germany, or whose ancestors had lived in Germany before migrating elsewhere, during the late medieval period and the modern period. It remains the language of the Ultra-Orthodox in the modern state of Israel and of many Hasidic groups.
Yom Kippur
See Day of Atonement.


Zionism *
In short, Zionism is the belief that Jews should return to and live in Israel, the Promised Land. As a historical movement, Zionism began in western Europe in the late nineteenth century. It quickly became in important in eastern Europe as well. Tens of thousands of Jews took up this belief and thousands immigrated to Israel/Palestine. By the 1920s, Jews were establishing farms (mostly communal farms called a "kibbutz"), building in the cities, and establishing a new Jewish presence in Palestine. In 1948, the Zionists who lived in Palestine declared the new, independent nation of Israel. Zionism was largely a secular movement, although there were some religious Zionists. Even the secular Zionists, however, used the Hebrew Bible to create a new Jewish culture in what they considered "their Land."

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For more information, please email PFlesher@uwyo.edu.
Copyright ©1996, 1997 Paul V. M. Flesher. This glossary was written by Paul V. M. Flesher and has not been copied from any published work. It is designed for use in the course, RELI 1000, Introduction to Religion, being taught at the University of Wyoming.