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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Definition of Jewish Terms

(Note: This article was originally posted on Wikipedia, but was deleted because it violated their criteria for posting, ie it was a list of definitions, not a true article. However, several bloggers linked to it as is still fairly useful, so I'm putting it up on my own blog. Ignore the Wikipedia references. Contact me if you wish to add any definitions).

J-Blogosphere is the name the Jewish blogging community uses to refer to itself. Blogs with a Jewish focus are called J-Blogs.

Often these blogs are written in English, but include a mix of Hebrew/Aramaic/Yiddish terms which may be disorienting to non-Orthodox or non-Jewish readers. Bloggers will frequently include explanations of these terms in the text of the individual posts, but this can become clunky and break up the flow of the article. Another way to deal with this is to include a separate post or web page that lists all the jargon which is commonly used in alphabetical order, so that unfamiliar readers can use this as a reference. While this is convenient for the Blog owner, it requires constant updating and many times these lists are incomplete.

The purpose of this article is to make a comprehensive list of the jargon, often referred to as Yeshivish or Yinglish, that is commonly used in the J-Blogosphere. It is hoped that bloggers will update this page often to make it as complete as possible.

A word about spelling and pronunciation: Many of the terms listed below are transliterated from the original Hebrew (or Yiddish) and so spelling is approximate. In addition, pronunciation of Hebrew terms varies according to the Ashkenazit or Sefaradit traditions. In all cases, the preference used is that of the blogger who submitted the term. If a word cannot be found by looking for the "s" transliteration, try searching for the "t" variant (e.g. Sukkos vs. Sukkot).


Abba- Aramaic for Father

Aderaba - Aramaic; on the contrary

Ad Mosai - Until when, this is an exclamation used generally when exasperated. Lubavitchers use this phrase when talking about Moshiach - Ad Mosai? How much longer do we have to wait for the coming of Moshiach?

Aidel – Yiddish, literally means refined

Aidel maidel – Yiddish, literally means refined girl

Aliyah – Literally means “to go up”. Used when referring to when someone emigrates to Israel, or when someone is called up to read or say a blessing on the torah. Also when someone passes away, we say their neshama/soul goes “up” to shamayim/gan eden/heaven.

Ani Maamin – Literally means “I believe.” A shortened version of “Ani Maamin, be’emunah shalaima”

Apikores- heretic

Ashkenaz- referring to Jews from northern Europe

Aveilus – the time period of mourning in which a mourner has obligations and restrictions on what they are permitted to do. The mourning period for someone who has lost a parent is one year. Restrictions include no listening to music, attending weddings or other happy occasions, and no new clothes.

Avoda – literally means “work” but it often means spiritual work, or what G-d wants us to accomplish down here.

Babka – An eastern European yeast cake, can come in any number of flavors including chocolate and cinnamon.

Bais Hamikdosh- The Holy Temple

Bais Medresh- House of Learning. Study Hall.

Bar Mitzvah- a boy of age 13, responsible to do Mitzvot.

Baruch Dayan Emes – literally means “Blessed is the True Judge”. This is the phrase recited upon hearing of someone’s death. It is both a phrase used to comfort the mourner and an acknowledgement that G-d runs the world

Bashert – that it was meant to be from time immemorial. Also used to talk about our life partner - predetermined from the beginning of time.

Bentch- Yiddish, literally means “to bless”, can be used a variety of ways – most commonly to denote the long blessings to be recited after eating bread. Can also refer to what G-d decides to bless us with, or how some Jews traditionally bless their children every Friday night. Also one person can always bentch another.

Bimah- the stage where the Torah is read

Bli neder – Without a vow.

Bochur, bochurim – literally means “boy” or “son” often refers to single men of high school, college, and marriageable age.

Bracha- blessing; pl. brachot

Broiges- a long-running grudge, something less than a feud but more than a dispute

BT – Baal Teshuva – literally means Master of Return, generally means people who did not grow up orthodox and became frum later in life, or can mean someone FFB who stopped being orthodox and then started again.

CHABAD- A center for Lubavitch Jews

Challah - The braided bread traditionally eaten on Shabbos/Sabbath.

Chanukah – The Jewish festival of lights.

Charedim- Orthodox Jews on the far right of the spectrum- tend to reject secular pursuits

Chas v'shalom – G-d Forbid

Chassidim- a sect of Jews, who follow the teachings of 18th century Rabbi, the Baal Shem Tov

Chassidishe – literally means pious, this is an adjective to describe one stream of orthodoxy

Chazal – A general term to mean "our sages". When used, it generally means, that somewhere in the huge cannon of rabbinic writings, it refers to this matter.

Chazzan- the cantor

Cheshbon Hanefesh- a spiritual accounting of the soul

Chevrusah- a partner in learning Torah; refers also to both partners

Chillul Hashem- Desecration of the Name of G-d

Chizzuk – something which strengthens someone

Cholov Yisroel- Milk produced at a farm in part owned by Jews

Chumash- The Pentateuch, or, the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy)

Chupa- the canopy over the marriage ceremony, also refers to the ceremony itself

Chutzpah, Chutzpahdik- disrespect, gall, overly confident.

Daf Yomi- learning a page of the Talmud every day

Dan L'Chaf Zechus- Hebrew, to Judge on the side of merit, to judge every person favorably until you know all the details

Daven- to pray

Davening- either the act of praying, or the prayer service

Derech – literally means “the way”, can also refer to the stream of orthodoxy one follows

Eema - also Ima - Aramaic for Mother

Emunah peshuta – simple or blind faith

Eretz HaKodesh – Literally, “the holy land”, refers to Israel, preferably in it’s biblical boundaries

Eretz Yisroel – literally, “the land of Israel”, refers to Israel

Erev Shabbos – The time before shabbos/Sabbath, pre-sabbath preparation time

FFB – Frum(orthodox) from birth

Frum - Orthodox

Frummies- somewhat derogatory term for very religious Jews; also those who like to act religious

G-d – When the name of God is written in Hebrew, it can never be destroyed – and there are several names for Him in Hebrew. As a way around this, we often will write the name with alternate letters in Hebrew so as to not create a problem. Similarly, most orthodox jews will write G-d in English with the hyphen.

Gabbai- the guy in the shul responsible for arranging who leads the prayers and gets called up to the Torah, etc.

Galus- exile, diaspora

Gam Tzu La Tova- "This also is for the good." A classic phrase used to show faith that everything that happens is from G-d and therefore inherently Good.

Gan Eden – Literally the Garden of Eden, this can refer to the “heaven”/afterlife

Gehinnom – PUrgatory or Hell depending on who you ask

Ger – a convert

Godol HaDor, Nosi HaDor – the leader of the generation

Grusha - Hebrew, means divorcee

Gutte gebentched yohr – Yiddish, means a Good, Blessed Year – this is a new year’s greeting

Gutte voche – Yiddish, means a good week, something said after the shabbos/Sabbath ends

Hachlata – a resolution, usually made in regards to some form of observance

Haftorah - the Chanting of passages from the books of prophets, after the Shabbos Torah reading. (nothing to do with half a Torah)

Halacha- Jewish Law

Hashem – Literally means, “the Name”, an alternate name for G-d in Hebrew

Hashkofa – the stream of orthodoxy one follows, alt. philosophy

Heter - Allowance. EG a heter to use birth control pills granted by a rabbi

Hot Chanie- a young (mid 20s to early 30s) Orthodox Jewish woman who "skirts" the laws of tzniut (modesty) by wearing tight clothing that barely covers elbows, collarbones, and knees. Hot Chanies often will not be seen in public unless wearing full make-up; a long, sleek sheitel (wig); and high heels. Also considered "The Plastics" of the frum (Orthodox) world. (Origin)

IMYH - Im Yirtz Hashem – If G-d Wills It, aka G-d willing

Kabbalah- literally, "that which is passed down." Refers to the field of Jewish Mysticism. Also a really cool Jewish Rock Band.

Kaddish- special prayer, often said by those in mourning. Requires a quorum (minyan) of 10 men to recite.

Kashrut- the concept that food must be kosher (ok for Jews to eat)

Kedusha- the holiest part of the prayer service, where everyone must be silent and not move. Also means holiness

Kiddush- sanctification of the meal over wine. Also refers to a nice spread after shul is over.

Kiddush Hashem- sanctification of the name of G-d. Opposite of chillul Hashem. Something that brings honor to the Jewish People.

Kinneret – the body of water in Israel

Kippah Sruga- crocheted skullcap

Kiruv- outreach

Klezmer – a type of jewish music emanating from eastern Europe. e.g. Andy Statman

Kol Isha- the voice of a woman (usually singing)

Kollel- place where married men sit and learn Torah all day

K'tiva v'katima tova – You should be written and inscribed for good, a new year’s greeting

Kumzitz- singalong with story telling

Layn- read the Torah (in front of everyone)

L'Chaim- "To Life" a traditional toast, also an engagement party (see vort)

L'illui Nishmas – It should be "a light" for the soul, this is a phrase meaning that when something is done in the merit of a deceased person's memory, their soul lights up or attains extra merit in shamayim.

Litvish – A stream of orthodoxy, originating in Lithuanian, frequently followers of the Vilna Goan, aka the GRA

Loshon Hora- badmouthing; gossip. No dancing involved

Lulav- a palm branch, used in the service for Sukkos

Maariv – the evening prayer service

Machmir – strict or stringent

Maikel – lax or permissive

Makpid – exacting when it comes to details, rules, regulations

Mamash – Yeshivish, means “REALLY” i.e. I mamash liked him

Mashpiim – a Mentor, or Rabbi, or someone to turn to for advice

Masmid – someone who learns full time

Mazel Tov- literally "good luck", or congratulations

Mechilah- forgiveness

Mekabel – literally means to receive, but means also to accept something as fact

Mentch- a Man. Someone to be proud of.

Meshulach- an emissary, one sent to collect funds

Mevatel – self-nullification, lit. "wasting"

Mezuman- the 3 people needed to say a special blessing before saying grace after meals

Middos – personality traits

Mikvah- ritual bath

Mincha- afternoon prayer service

Minhag- custom, pl. minhagim

Minyan- literally, a quorum. The number of men (10) required for a formal prayer group. Also the name of the group itself.

Mir – a famous litvish yeshiva, now based in Israel

Mitzvah- Commandment (from G-d). pl. Mitzvot, Mitzvos

Mizbayach – the table in the holy ark in the temple

MO – Modern Orthodox, a stream of orthodoxy in which followers are equally involved in the secular and religious worlds

Morah - teacher

Moshiach Tzidkenu – The righteous messiah

Motsi Shabbos/Shabbat – Literally means "After Sabbath", refers to Saturday night after the Sabbath ends.

Mussaf- the extra prayer service after Shacharis, on Sabbath and Festivals

Naches- Naches. Also pride.

Nebuchs – losers, pity cases

Neshama - soul

Nefesh, Nefesh Elokis, Nefesh HaBahamis - soul, and the parts of the soul.

Nefesh elokis is the G-dly part of the soul, nefesh HaBahamis is the "animal" part of the soul. See Kabbalah or chassidus for more information.

Niggun – A wordless Chassidic song

Nusach- liturgy

Nusach Sfard- the liturgy chosen by the Chassidim, in opposition to the traditional liturgy usually used by European Jews, Nusach Ashkenaz

Parnossa- livelihood, the ability to earn a living, decent wage

Parsha - Portion of the Torah reading

Peyes- curly side burns (it is the chassidic custom never to cut them)

Putz – not a polite word. Literally is the Yiddish word for a part of the male anatomy. Generally refers to a not nice person, a jerk, or as the word says in English, a d-ck

Rabbi- one who is ordained to teach or lead Jews

Rashi- Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, one of the greatest commentators on the Torah and Talmud. His commentary is included almost every chumash and talmud bavli printed today.

Reb Shlomo- Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

Rebbe- A chassidic Rabbi, who is the leader of his community; or a personal Rabbi or teacher

Rebbetzin – the wife of a rabbi

Ribono Shel Olam - Master of the Universe.

Schar- reward

Schnorer- a beggar; a moocher; derogatory term for Meshulach

Segulah - Can have various meanings depending on context. Can mean, sign, symbol, treasure, portent. Can lead to something which is desired, e.g. drinking "segulah wine" can lead to becoming married.

Sfard- referring to Jews of Spain and Northern Africa, also from Arab countries

Shabbos, Shabbat- the Jewish Sabbath, Saturday

Shacharis- the morning prayer service

Shadchan – matchmaker, in modern Hebrew it means “stapler”

Shlaimus – whole, complete

Shamayim – heavens, literally and figuratively

Shayach - appropriate

Sheitel – wig, as worn by orthodox women

Shema – One of the fundamental prayers of Judaism, recited at least twice a day, and is contained inside a mezuzah.

Shemonah Esrei – One of the fundamental prayers of Judaism, recited once at each of the three daily prayer times, this is the silent devotion prayer.

Sheva Brochas – The special seven blessings recited in the first week of a new marriage. Also the seven days of festive meals prepared in honor of bride and groom.

Shidduch, shidduchim – blind, pre-arranged dates for the orthodox world

Shlep- v. to drag. n. someone who looks like he was dragged

Shliach, Shlichus – a messenger, generally used as a chabad term for lubavitchers doing outreach

Shliach Tzibur- one who leads the prayer service

Shlump- messy, sloppy, a slob

Shmoneh Esrei- part of the Jewish Prayer Service; the "18" blessings

Shmooze, Shmoozing- talk, chat casually

Shpritz - spray

Shul- synagogue

Shvits- sweat, steambath

Shteeble- an informal prayer group in someone's house, may become more formal

Shtreimel- A big, round, furry hat, favored by Chassidim

Shtyging – learning full time

Siddur - prayer book

Siman - sign

Simchas- celebrations

Slichos - Selichot (Heb. סליחות) are Jewish penitential poems and prayers, especially those said in the period leading up to the High Holy Days, and on Fast Days

Sukka- a temporary shack, with branches or bamboo roof, used on Sukkos

Sukkos- The holiday of Tabernacles

Talmid Chochom - literally a wise student, generally refers to a man who is very learned in Torah and Jewish studies, this is a compliment

Talmud Bavli-The Babylonian Talmud. This is a synopsis of more than 300 years of analysis in the Mishnah in the Babylonian Academies. Generally regarded to have been completed by 700 CE.

Talmud Yerushalmi- The Jerusalem or Palestinian Talmud. A synopsis of almost 200 years of analysis in the Mishnah in the Academies of Israel (mainly Tiberius and Caeseria) and completed about 350 CE. Due to the locations of the Israeli Academies, they demonstrate a greater focus on agricultural law. To most Orthodox Jews, in disputes between the Talmuds, the Babylonian one is considered supreme.

Takanah - a proclamation. Literally a "fix" of an existing Jewish law to address a new circumstance or correct a problem.

Tanach or Tanakh- The Jewish Bible, the Old Testament

Tatty - Father

Tfila, Tefillos - Hebrew; prayer

Tfila Betzibur - Public prayer; Prayer with the congregation

Tfilin, Tefillin- phylacteries. Small black boxes with hebrew text inside, to be worn during prayers.

Torah- The 5 books of Moses; the Jewish Bible; the big scroll where it is written

Traif- non-kosher

Tracht Gut V’Tzein Gut- Yiddish phrase, means "Think Good and it Will Be Good"

Trop - symbols used as musical notes for the cantillation of the Torah

Tsuris – woe, problems, worries

Tuchas- bum, rear-end. Also tush

Tzedaka – Charity

Tzion – Zion, aka Israel

Tzitzis – the four cornered fringed garment worn by orthodox males

Tznius – modesty, in dress, speech, and action

Underheisen - underwear in Yiddish

Yarmulke- Skullcap

Yartzheit- anniversary of someone's death. There are a number of Jewish customs regarding the obligations of descendants on the yartzheit.

Yeshiva- A Jewish School. Also refers to a Jewish place of higher learning

Yetzer Harah - Evil inclination

Yetzer Hatov - Good inclination

Yiddishkeit- Judaism/Jewishness

Yinglish- A mix of English, Hebrew and Aramaic; often spoken by children who return from Yeshiva, to the horror of the parents

Yontif- actually Yom Tov, good day, or holiday


Yondalla said...

I read AidelMaidel's blog and she sent me to your Wikipedia article for help with the vocabulary. I thought I would first thank you. So...thanks.

Second I thought I would give you the words that I have had to ask her to define for me since they are not here:


Actually, there have been more, but that's all I remember at the moment.

Shifra said...

Awww that is disappointing.
I used to get lots of hits for being the creator of the term "Hot Chanie" oh well I guess my 15 minutes are over :-(

Jade Avinir said...


Was trying to find the meaning of chassidishe maidel, and you site was the only one that came closest to it! Thanks!

svend said...

A thousand thanks from a Muslim with a strong interest in Judaica and Halakha who often finds himself scratching his head over the terminology that gets tossed about.

Inevitably, the best, most thoughtful "ethnic" blogs address themselves to fellow community members who share a particular background and therefore dispense with the tedious task of providing definitions for the uninitiated.

There's only so much one can know coming from the outside, so a list list your's is a godsend to a goy like me.

Someone needs to do the same thing for Muslim blogs, which often are riddled with Arabic terms and phrases, not to mention in many cases Persian, Urdu, etc.


Natalie Sztern said...

Hi there, found this by searching for a definition for the word shpritz for my blog post. I found it here and linked you to it.

Hey, I need a reference to the word 'Chazar' - any chances you have one?

This is a great post and a keeper on my Bookmarks.

PsychoToddler said...

Hey Natalie, I think "Chazar" probably comes from "Chazir" which is Hebrew for pig.

Not sure what a "chazarisheh moida" is but my mom used to call my sister that.

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