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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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,
- 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
- 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
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
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,
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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 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
- 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
- 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
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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