Don’t understand Jewish?

Here’s a little ‘Jewish dictionary’ to help those who don’t understand some of the terms I use:

Aliyah: lit. rising up. This can refer to being called up to the Torah or moving to Israel. Example: Did you hear that Yoni and Hadassa are making aliyah after they get married?

Assur: forbidden. Example: According to the Torah, eating non-kosher food is assur.

Baal[at] teshuva (BT): someone who grew up less observant and became an observant Jew. Example: Against her parents’ wishes, Mary (now Miriam) decided to become an observant Jew.

Baruch Hashem: lit. ‘Blessed is God’. Example: Baruch Hashem I was able to start my own clothing company.

Bas / ben melech: King’s daughter / son. Example: Jews are supposed to act like a bas/ben melech with everything they do.

B’dieved (b’diavad): after the fact. It’s what happens after you say ‘oops’. Example: I just cooked meat in a dairy pot! But it was b’dieved and I haven’t used the pot for more than 24 hours, so phew I can eat the meat.

Cavana: concentration. Example: I try to have cavana whenever I pray!

Chiuv: obligation. Example: According to the Torah, eating eating kosher is a chiuv.

Da’as Torah: a concept that people who study Torah develop a wisdom that extends beyond Jewish law. Example: Da’as Torah is a very controversial topic amongst orthodox Jews. Some think rabbis should only be consulted with issues pertaining to Jewish law, while others consult rabbis for more personal matters.

Daven / davening: praying. Example: Jews have to daven every day.

Devarim: Deuteronomy. Example: Jews never say ‘Deuteronomy’ – they just use the Hebrew ‘Devarim‘.

D’oraisa / D’oraita: [a law] from the Torah. Example: Tznius [defined below] is a d’oraisa.

D’rabbanan: [a law] made by the rabbis. Example: Tznius is not d’rabbanan.

D’var Torah: talk on Torah. Example: Did you hear that d’var Torah?? It was brilliant!

Erva: I think it would be translated as something that should not be out in the open. Skin that should not be shown is erva, but a woman’s voice is considered erva as well. Example: It was so difficult to find a good shirt that did not show any erva.

FFB: frum / religious from birth. Example: I grew up with religious parents, so I’m an FFB.

Frum: religious. Example: Yes, I’m frum, but I don’t want to have a frummy look.

Halacha: Jewish law. Example: Halacha says that both men and women are required to be tznius.

“A halacha” is a specific law.  Example: Tznius is a halacha both men and women must observe.

Hallel: a prayer service typically said on Rosh Chodesh (the new month) and festivals. Example: I love singing Hallel! Can you please teach me all the tunes you know??

Hashem: God. Example: A Jew has to speak to Hashem every day.

KikiRiki: A shell. Jewish women tend to wear it under clothes to make sure all the skin that should be covered is. Example: I am almost literally swimming in KikiRikis I have so many.

Kiruv: teaching Jews who did not grow up with a strong Jewish education about traditional Judaism, with the hope that they will make an educated decision about how they would like to live their lives. Obviously, the goal is also that the students will feel more connected to Judaism and start to practice more of the mitzvot. Example: After taking a kiruv program in college I became a religious Jew.

Lashon hara: speech that is negative and true. Example: Stop speaking lashon hara about her – think of something positive she did!

L’chatchila: a priori. Example: Most laws in Judaism refer to doing something l’chatchila. If by accident you did something, then there’s generally an entirely different set of rules.

Mitzvah: commandment. It can also be used to mean a good dead. Example: It’s a mitzvah d’oraisa to be tznius.

Neshama: soul. Technically speaking, it’s the lowest part of the soul that’s in the body. Neshama : Foot as Body : Shoe. Example: When I wear Honestly Me I really feel like I’m expressing my neshama.

Off the derech: lit. off the path. This refers to someone who was once an observant Jew and no longer is. Example: Moishele used to be such a good Jew [sob sob] and then one day all of a sudden he started wearing jeans. I think he’s going off the derech! [this is obviously not an indication of whether someone is, in fact, going off the derech…]

Pasuk: sentence. Example: where’s the pasuk you referred to last class? I can’t find it!

Pikuach nefesh: describes the principle in Jewish law that saving a life overrides almost all other mitzvos. It can also be used in a more colloquial sense. Eg: I have to go buy that lipstick. It’s pikuach nefesh!

Posek: a rabbi who is esteemed by a large number of observant Jews. He has the ability to decide new halachos where previous authorities were inconclusive or in those situations where no halachic precedent exists. Example: That’s a great question – you should go ask a posek.

Rabbi (rabbeim in plural): a man authorized to make halachic decisions. Example: My rabbi helps me answer questions I don’t know the answer to.

Rebbetzin: generally a woman who is married to a man. Example: My rebbetzin is so wise – people call her from all around the globe to speak with her.

Rosh midrashsa: the head (rosh) of a women’s school (midrasha). Example: My seminary just got a new rosh midrashsa.

Schmooze / schmoozing: yiddish for talking in a more informal setting. Example: I’m so excited for you to come! We’ll have to schmooze all afternoon to catch up.

Shabbos: the Sabbath / day of rest. It goes from Friday sunset to Saturday sundown, according to most opinions. Example: Thank God for Shabbos. Otherwise I’d have to work every day of the week!

Shiur: talk. Example: I just listened to a shiur about treating people with respect.

Shkiah: sunset. Example: Shabbos starts at shkiah

Shomer Shabbat [Shabbos]: lit. keeps Shabbos. This is generally the litmus test to see if someone’s considered an orthodox Jew. Example: Nobody in my family is shomer Shabbat, except for me!

Shulchan Aruch: contains much of the oral law. It was compiled by Rabbi Yosef Cairo, who put together the opinions of 2 Sephardic rabbis and 1 Ashkenazi rabbi. Since it’s a little unfair, the Ashkenaz posek Rema adds some commentary where Ashkenazim differ. Example: I just bought a new Shulchan Aruch so I can look up all these halachos I’ve been learning, but the Rema‘s print is so small I can hardly read it!

Shiur (or shiurim): lecture(s). Example: I just came out of Rabbi Mendelowitz’s shiur and I must say, I’m even more confused than I was before I entered the class!

SYAS: Saw You At Sinai. This is a Jewish dating website. Example: I hope I meet someone on SYAS!

Torah: the ‘Old Testament’, although Jews think it’s the only Testament…. Example: The Torah teaches us how we should live.

Tznius [also tzniut]: if you had to define this in one word it would be ‘modesty,’ although that’s a horrible translation. It means acting with the knowledge that God is constantly watching. Example: I don’t understand what tznius has to do with the length of my skirt! [this will be answered in my blog…]

Yarmulke / kippa: the little skullcap worn by Jewish men. Example: My brother’s yarmulke has a picture of Stewie from Family Guy.

Yeshivish: the language used by orthodox Jews, especially when learning Torah. It’s a mixture between English, Yiddish, and Hebrew. It’s used many times for the sole reason that there’s no good English translation for much of the Hebrew language. Example: Rabbi Lerner speaks so much yeshivish I can’t understand the point he’s making. I’ve only been religious for a year – how does he expect me to know all these terms??

Yom Ha’atzmaut: Israeli Independence Day. Example: Jews typically dress in white and blue on Yom Ha’atzmaut.


18 thoughts on “Don’t understand Jewish?

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