adjunta (Spanish) — Governing council of a Sephardic congregation.
alav or aleha ha-shalom (Hebrew, “Peace be upon him [her]”) — Phrase traditionally spoken when mentioning the name of a deceased person.
Aleph Zadek Aleph (AZA) — Jewish fraternal boys’ club organized by B’nai B’rith in 1923. The name is derived from letters of the Hebrew alphabet. See B’nai B’rith.
aliyah (Hebrew, “ascend”) — The honor of being called to read from the Torah in synagogue.
ark (Latin, “box”) — An enclosure in a synagogue for the Torah scrolls.
Ashkenazi (Hebrew, “native of Germany”), pl. Ashkenazim — Jews from central and eastern Europe, distinguished from the Sephardim by their religious rituals, customs, foods, and pronunciation of Hebrew. Until the twentiethth century, the primary
language of the Ashkenazim was Yiddish. See Sephardi.

bankas (Yiddish) — Medicinal glass cups heated and applied to the skin to draw blood to the surface, formerly used to treat a variety of illnesses.
bar mitzvah (Aramaic and Hebrew, “son of the commandment”) — Coming-of-age ceremony marking a Jewish boy’s acceptance, at age thirteen, of responsibility for carrying out the commandments of the Torah.
bat mitzvah (Hebrew, “daughter of the commandment”) — Coming-of-age ceremony marking a Jewish girl’s acceptance, at age twelve, of responsibility for carrying out the commandments of the Torah.
Beth Israel (Hebrew, “House of Israel”) — Congregation founded in Beaufort, South Carolina, in 1905. Also the name of congregations in Greenville and Charleston. Charleston’s Beth Israel, known locally as the “Little Shul” or the “Kaluszyner Shul,” was founded in 1911; in 1954, it merged with Brith Sholom, the “Big Shul.” See Kaluzsyn.
Beth Shalom (Hebrew, “House of Peace”) — Congregation founded in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1906.
Biblia Hebraica (Latin) — Hebrew Bible.
bimah (Hebrew, “high place”) — Raised platform in a synagogue where the Torah is placed for reading and from which prayer services are led.
B’nai B’rith (Hebrew, “Sons of the Covenant”) — Oldest and largest Jewish service and fraternal organization in America, founded in New York in 1843.
bodek (Hebrew, “examiner”) — Official who inspects the shohet’s knives to determine if they are free from nicks and sufficiently sharp; also checks slaughtered animals to see if their internal organs are clear. See shohet.
brit milah (Hebrew, “covenant of circumcision”), pl. britot milah — Ceremony of circumcision performed on the eighth day of a Jewish boy’s life. “Brit” is the Serphardic pronounciation, “bris” the Ashkenazic, and “brith”the Americanized.
Brith Sholom (Hebrew, “Covenant of Peace”) — Originally spelled Berith Shalome, the first Ashkenazic congregation in South Carolina, founded in Charleston, ca. 1854.
bubbe (Yiddish) — Grandmother.

cantor — Synagogue official who leads the congregation in prayer; the chief singer of the liturgy. See hazzan.
Conservative Judaism — Movement rooted in the nineteenth-century dissatisfaction with the Reform approach to reconciling tradition and change. First known as “Historical Judaism,” it opposes extreme changes in traditional observances, while accepting secular scholarship on sacred texts and allowing certain modifications of Jewish law to accommodate the demands of modern life.
converso (Spanish, “convert”), or anusim (Hebrew, “those compelled”) — A Jew forced to convert to Christianity under pain of persecution or death. Also referred to as marrano (Portuguese, “swine”).
crypto-Jew — Convert who outwardly professes another religion but inwardly adheres to Judaism.


Emanu-El (Hebrew, “God with us”) — South Carolina’s first Conservative synagogue, founded in Charleston in 1947.
etrog (Hebrew) — A yellow citrus fruit similar in appearance to a lemon, identified as “the fruit of a goodly tree,” carried in procession during the celebration of Sukkot. According to legend, the etrog, also called “the apple of Paradise,” may have been the forbidden fruit eaten by Adam in the Garden of Eden.

feme covert (Old French, “woman covered”) — A married woman.
feme sole (Old French, “woman alone”) — An unmarried woman; spinster, divorcée, or widow.
fetter (Yiddish) — Uncle.

gefilte fish (Yiddish) — Chopped fish, usually a mixture of white fish, pike, and carp, mixed with minced onion, egg, and seasoning, and boiled; ordinarily served cold.
get (Hebrew) — Bill of divorce.
glatt (Yiddish, “smooth”) kosher — Refers to food prepared in strict adherence to the laws of kashrut; strictly kosher. See kashrutkosher.
goldene medinah (Hebrew) — Golden land; usually refers to America.
goy (Hebrew), pl. 
goyim — Non-Jew, gentile.
gragger (Yiddish) — Noisemaker used in the Purim service to drown out the name of Haman, wicked chancellor of the king of Persia. See megillahPurim.

habad, or chabad — Acronym for the Hebrew “hokhmah” (wisdom), “binah” (understanding), and “da’at” (knowledge); the name of the Hasidic movement founded by Rabbi Shneur Zalman (1745-1812); synonymous with Lubavitch, the town in Belorussia where the movement developed. See HasidismLubavitcher.
Haggadah (Hebrew) — Text read during the Passover seder recounting the story of the Exodus. See Passoverseder.
halahkah (Hebrew) — Collective body of the laws and ordinances not written down in the Jewish scriptures but based on an oral interpretation of them.
halizah (Hebrew) — Biblically prescribed ceremony (Deuteronomy 25:9-10) performed when a man refuses to marry his brother’s childless widow, enabling her to remarry.
hallah, or challah (Hebrew, “loaf of bread”) — Special braided egg-bread eaten on the Sabbath.
Hanukkah, or Chanukah (Hebrew) — Eight-day festival starting on the twenty-fifth day of the Jewish month of Kislev commemorating the rededication of the Temple at Jerusalem that followed the Maccabees’ victory over the Syrians in 165 B.C.; also called the “Festival of Lights.” See hanukkiahMaccabees.
hanukkiah (Hebrew) — Eight-branched menorah with a ninth candle, called a shammes or helper, used to light the others. The hanukkiah is lit to recall the miracle that took place at the time of the Maccabees, when a one-day supply of oil found in the desecrated Temple lasted eight days. See HanukkahMaccabeesshammes.
Hasidism (Hebrew, from hasid, “the pious”) — Revivalist movements that have appeared three times in the course of Jewish history, most recently in eastern Europe in the eighteenth century. Synonomous today with ultraorthodoxy, contemporary Hasidism was originally regarded as religiously liberal because of its emphasis on a pure spirit over study of the Talmud and on getting close to God through joy. See habadLubavitcher.

havdalah (Hebrew, “separation”) — Ceremony at the end of the Sabbath separating the Holy Day from the rest of the week, or at the end of a holiday marking the passage from sacred to profane.

hazzanor chazan (Hebrew), pl. hazzanim — Person who leads the congregation in prayer. See cantor.

heder, or cheder (Hebrew, “room”) — School for teaching the basics of the Hebrew language and Jewish religious observance.

High Holy Days, or High Holidays — The period encompassing Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, at the start of the new year in the Jewish calendar. See Rosh HashanahYom Kippur.

Holocaust (Greek, “the destruction of life by fire”) — Since the 1950s the term has been applied primarily to the Nazi regime’s attempted annihilation of the Jews of Europe. Six million Jews-two out of every three living at the time in Europe-were murdered as part of a systematic genocide. Millions of other people also were killed because of their ethnicity, culture, political ideas, sexual orientation, or physical or mental handicaps. See Shoah.

huppah, or chuppa (Hebrew) — Wedding canopy under which a man and woman are married.

hutzpah, or chutzpah (Hebrew) — Insolence, shamelessness.





kabbalah, or cabala (Hebrew, “received tradition,”) — Jewish mystical traditions that attempt to discover the hidden meanings of scripture. Kabbalistic, or cabalistic, pertaining to those traditions.
kaddish (Aramaic, “consecration”) — Prayer in praise of God recited as part of the daily service, and by mourners and those observing yahrzeit. See yahrzeit.
Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (Hebrew, “Holy Congregation House of God”) — Congregation organized in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1749.
Kaluszyn — Town near Warsaw, Poland. Between 1880 and 1950, a small stream of Jews from Kaluszyn immigrated to Charleston, South Carolina, where they founded the Kalushiner Society for landsman, and formed the core of Beth Israel congregation. See landsmanBeth Israel.
kashrut (from the Hebrew, “kasher,” “fit” or “proper”) — Jewish dietary laws derived from the book of Leviticus. Seekoshertreyf.
ketubbah (Hebrew, “document”), pl. ketubbot — Marriage contract stipulating a husband’s obligations to his wife.
kiddush (Hebrew, “sanctification”) — Blessing recited over wine on the eve of the Sabbath or a festival.
kittel (Yiddish from German) — White robe worn as a shroud, and by the Orthodox during High Holiday services.
kosher (Yiddish from Hebrew, “kasher”) — Ritually fit for use; especially food that conforms to Jewish dietary laws. See kashruttreyf.
kugel (Yiddish, “ball”) — Crusty baked pudding made of potatoes or noodles.

Ladino — Judeo-Spanish dialect spoken by Sephardic exiles in the Ottoman empire and Greece.
landsman (Yiddish from German, “countryman”) — A fellow Jew from the same town or district in eastern Europe.
landsmannschaft (German) — Organization of countrymen. See landsman.
latkes (Yiddish from Russian, “patch”) — Potato pancakes traditionally eaten during Hanukkah.
Lubavitcher — Follower of the Lubavitch branch (named for a Belorussian town meaning “town of brotherly love”) of the Hasidic movement. See habadHasidism.

Maccabees — Followers of Judah, son of Mattathias, who rebelled against Syrian rule in the second century B.C.E. See Hanukkah.
mahzor (Hebrew, “cycle”) — Special prayer book for the High Holy Days and festivals.
matzah, or matzoh (Hebrew) — Unleavened bread eaten during Passover to commemorate the flight of the Hebrews from Egypt. See Passoverseder.
mazel tov (Hebrew, “good luck”) — “Congratulations.”
megillah (Hebrew, “scroll”) — Commonly refers to the book of Esther that tells the story of the deliverance of the Jews from a massacre planned by the Persian king’s chancellor Haman. In slang, it has come to mean a very long story. See Purim.
menorah (Hebrew) — Candelabrum with seven branches, a traditional symbol of Judaism; a menorah with eight branches and a shammes, or helper candle, is used during the festival of Hanukkah. See hanukkiahshammes.
mezuzah (Hebrew, “doorpost”) — Parchment scroll inscribed with biblical passages, placed in a case, and attached to the doorpost of a house.
mikveh (Hebrew, “collection,” especially of water) — Bath in which Orthodox Jews immerse themselves for ritual purification, as before the Sabbath or following menstruation.

Mikveh Israel (Hebrew, “Gathering of Israel”) — Eighteenth-century Sephardic synagogue founded in Philadelphia. Mikve Israel, an alternate spelling, is the name of the first Jewish congregation in Savannah, Georgia, established in 1733.

minhag (Hebrew) — Custom or observance considered to be as binding as law; the form and content of the Jewish liturgy.

minyan (Hebrew, “number”) — Group of ten Jewish men, the minimum required for holding prayer service or reading from the Torah; the Reform and Conservative movements include women as well.

mishpocha (Yiddish), mishpahah (Hebrew) — Family, relatives.

mizrah, or mizrach (Hebrew, “east”) — Plaque placed on an eastern wall indicating the direction in which to pray.

mohel (Hebrew), pl. mohalim — Official who performs the rite of circumcision.




oneg Shabbat (Hebrew, “joy of Sabbath”) — Social gathering after Friday night services customary among Conservative and Reform congregations.
Orthodox Judaism — Beliefs and practices of Jews for whom the strict observance of Jewish law is inseparable from faith. The term came into use in the nineteenth century to describe Jews opposed to Reform.

Pale of Settlement — Twenty-five provinces of czarist Russia where Jews were permitted permanent residence.
parnas (Hebrew, “leader”) — Chief synagogue official, originally vested with both religious and administrative functions; subsequently an elected lay leader, the president of a congregation.
Passover (from Hebrew, Pesah or Pesach) — Festival commemorating the Exodus of the Hebrew people from Egypt nearly 3,300 years ago. See Haggadahmatzahseder.
Purim (Hebrew, “lots”) — Festive holiday commemorating the rescue of the Jews from the villain Haman, chancellor to the King of Persia, through the intercession of Esther, in the fifth century B.C.E. See graggermegillah.
pushke (Yiddish from Slavic origin) — Box used to collect money for charity.


rabbi (Hebrew, “my master”) — Spiritual head of a Jewish community; a Jewish teacher or leader.
rebrebbe (Yiddish, “rabbi”) — Applied generally to a teacher or Hasidic rabbi.
Reform Judaism — Movement that arose in the nineteenth century in both Europe and the United States to modernize Judaism through changes in rituals and practice.
Rosh Hashanah (Hebrew, “head of the year”) — The Jewish New Year, celebrated on the first and second days of the month of Tishri (September–October).

seder (Hebrew, “order”) — Passover ceremony commemorating the Exodus from Egypt, observed by reading the Haggadah on the eve of the first day and, in most Diaspora communities, on the second night of the holiday as well. The Passover seder includes symbolic foods, prayers, songs, and a festive meal. See HaggadahmatzahPassover.
sefer (Hebrew), pl. seferim — Scroll or book. Sefer Torah is Hebrew for “Scroll of the Law.”
semikhah, or semicha (Hebrew, “laying,” or “leaning” of the hands) — Ordination conferring the title “rabbi” and authorizing the ordained to interpret Jewish law and settle disputes.
Sephardi (Hebrew, “native of Spain”), pl. Sephardim — Jews of Spanish and Portuguese extraction. Following their expulsion in the fifteenth century, the Iberian Jews settled around the Mediterranean, the Balkans, western Europe, and the Americas. See Ashkenazi.
Shabbes (Yiddish), Shabbat (Hebrew) — Sabbath; the Jewish day of rest, from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday.
Shaddai (Hebrew) — The Almighty, one of the names of God.
shammes (Yiddish), shammash (Hebrew, “one who serves”) — Caretaker of a synagogue; also, candle used to light the other eight candles of a Hanukkah menorah. See hanukkiah.
Shearith Israel (Hebrew, “Remnant of Israel”) — New York’s first Jewish congregation, founded in 1654. A congregation of the same name, spelled Shearit Israel, was established in Charleston by the traditionalists who broke away from Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim in 1840.
sheitl (Yiddish) — Wig worn by married Orthodox women as a sign of modesty.

Shema Yisrael (Hebrew, “Hear, O Israel!”) — First words of the prayer proclaiming the oneness of God, the central creed of Judaism.

Shir Hama’Alot (Hebrew, “A Song of Ascents” ) — Daily prayer taken from Psalm 130:1-5.

shivviti, or sheviti (Hebrew) — From the verse “Shivviti Adonai l’negdi tamid” (I have set the Lord always before me), Psalm 16:8; a plaque often located on the synagogue bimah.

Shoah (Hebrew, “chaos, destruction, catastrophe”) — Term widely used in Israel and increasingly used in the United States to denote the murder of the Jews by the Nazis. See Holocaust.

shohet (Hebrew), pl. shohatim — Ritual slaughterer trained in the Jewish manner of killing food animals as quickly and painlessly as possible.

shtetl (Yiddish), pl. shtetlakh — Small Jewish town or Jewish enclave within a town in eastern Europe.

shul (Yiddish) — Synagogue.

siddur (Hebrew) — Prayer book; among Ashkenazim, the volume containing the daily prayers (in distinction to the mahzor containing those for the festivals).

snoga (Portuguese) — Synagogue.

sukkah (Hebrew) — Temporary structure with a roof of leafy boughs, straw, and so forth, built for Sukkot to commemorate the tabernacles of the Exodus. See Sukkot.

Sukkot (Hebrew, “booths”) — The Feast of Tabernacles celebrating the fall harvest and commemorating the desert wandering of the Hebrews during the Exodus. See sukkah.

synagogue — Jewish house of worship, from a Greek word meaning “place where people come together.”



tallit, or tallis (Hebrew, “cloak”), pl. tallisim — Four-cornered prayer shawl with fringes or tassels (zitzit) at each corner.
Talmud (Hebrew, “teaching”), adj. talmudic — Collection of writings constituting Jewish civil and religious law; it consists of two parts, the Mishnah (text) and Gemara (commentary).
tefillin (Hebrew) — Small leather boxes containing biblical passages, one worn on the left forearm (or, if left-handed, on the right arm) and one on the forehead during weekday morning prayers.
Temple Sinai — Congregation in Sumter, South Carolina, organized in 1881 as the Sumter Society of Israelites.
Torah (Hebrew, “learning,” “law”) — The five books of Moses, also called the Pentateuch, containing the foundation of Jewish law and practice.
Tree of Life — Congregation organized in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1896.
treyftrayf, or terefah (Hebrew) — Not kosher; especially food not prepared according to Jewish dietary laws. Seekashrutkosher.
treyf medinah (Hebrew) — Nonkosher country.
tsimmes (Yiddish) — A kind of carrot stew.
tzedakah (Hebrew) — Righteousness, charity.



wimpel, or wimple (German) — Cloth binder wound around Torah scrolls. Beginning in Germany in the seventeenth century, it became customary to make Torah binders upon the birth of a child, sometimes from the swaddling cloth in which an infant boy was wrapped during his circumcision.


yad (Hebrew, “hand”) — Special pointer used while reading from the Torah. A yad is traditionally crowned by a hand with an outstretched finger.
yahrzeit (Yiddish, “year time”) — Anniversary of a death, observed with prayer and memorial candles.
yarmulke (Yiddish), or kippah (Hebrew) — Skullcap worn by Jewish males in synagogue and by the observant at all times.
Yehudishkeit (from Yehudah, Yiddish for Jew) — Jewishness.
yeshivah, or yeshiva (Hebrew) — School for Talmudic study; seminary for the training of Orthodox rabbis. Contemporary yeshivot (pl.) in America offer instruction in secular as well as sacred subjects.
Yiddish — Judeo-German; a High German language with vocabulary borrowed from Hebrew and the Slavic languages, written in Hebrew letters, and spoken mainly by Jews from eastern and central Europe.
Yiddishkeyt — Yiddish culture, Jewishness.
Yom Kippur (Hebrew) — Day of Atonement, solemn fast day observed on the tenth day of the Jewish month of Tishri.