You may come across a lot of words that are new-to-you on my blog. This Glossary is meant to help you, but it is not exhaustive and even the definitions themselves are not exhaustive. They may not even be correct, but hopefully someone will let me know if they aren't. This will continue to be expanded as I write more blog posts and think more words are necessary.
A"H: Alav/Aleha Hashalom. Means "Peace be upon him/her." Used behind someone's name to indicate that they are deceased.
Aliyah: (1) Being called to read from the Torah during a synagogue service. (2) "Making aliyah" means immigrating to Israel.
Amidah: The silent standing prayer that is the pinnacle of the synagogue services. Cross reference"Shemonah esrei."
AMU"SH: Ayin-Mem-Vav-Shi, Ahd May’ah V’esrim Shahna. Means "Until 120 years." Used behind someone's name as a blessing that the person should merit a long life.
B"H: (1) Baruch HaShem. Thank G-d. Used in conversation frequently. (2) B'Ezrat/Ezer HaShem. Means "With G-d's help." Some people write this at the top of letters/emails.
BS"D: B'si'ata d'shmaya. Means "With heaven's help." Some people write this at the top of letters/emails.
BT: Baal Teshuva. Refers to someone who becomes observant later in life.
Beit Din: Means "religious court." Batei din (plural - but I will also incorrectly say "beit dins") are literally a court, and if both parties agree to it, the beit din's resolution can even be validly binding in a civil court of law. They may handle kashrut certification, Jewish divorce proceedings (giving/getting a "get"), conversions of non-Jews, or business conflicts. On this blog, "the beit din" will refer to "my" beit din: the one overseeing/guiding my conversion process.
Bencher: Yiddish name for a short paperback booklet containing the Grace After Meals and traditional songs sung around the Shabbat, Yom Tov, or simcha table. You'll frequently get these are wedding favors.
Blech: Usually a sheet of metal. It is placed on one's stove (while it is turned on) as a place to heat/keep warm foods without violating Shabbat or Yom Tov laws.
Brachot/Brachos: "Blessings." The singular is "bracha," which is also a relatively common female name.
Chag sameach: Hebrew greeting that means "Have a good holiday!" This can apply to any Jewish holiday. Cross-reference "Gud yontif!"
Challah: Delicious, delicious bread that is usually served on Shabbat. Plural: challot/challos.
Chanukah: There are four million ways to spell this holiday, but it's a winter holiday that was not mandated by the Torah. It is a rabbinic holiday, which means it doesn't have Yom Tov restrictions.
Chas V'shalom: Means "G-d forbid." Used in conversation.
Chassidus/Chassidut: Chassidic philosophy.
Chazal: Means "Our sages of blessed memory," and is described by Wikipedia as: "In rabbinic writings, this is a general term that refers to all sages of the Mishna, Talmud, and other rabbinic literature commentators, and their authoritative opinion, from the times of the Second Temple of Jerusalem until the 6th century."
Chessed: Means "Lovingkindness."
Chilul HaShem: Means "Desecration of G-d's name." Refers to an act, statement, or behavior that brings disrepute on G-d, the Jews, or the Torah.
Chol HaMoed: Hebrew for the "intermediate days" of the long holidays of Pesach and Sukkot. These days don't have the same Yom Tov restrictions that the beginning 1 or 2 days and ending 1 or 2 days. There are less restrictions, but we should try to stay as much in the holiday mindset as possible.
Cholent: A stew (generally made in a crockpot) for Shabbat. Usually includes beans, potatoes, and meat. Basically, put everything in your fridge into it and see how it turns out.
Chumash: A Hebrew name for the 5 books of the Torah. Usually refers to the book (usually the version published by Artscroll) used to follow the Torah and Haftorah readings in the synagogue services.
Chumrah: Going above-and-beyond the halacha; being extra strict/vigilent, (depending on your perspective).
Chuppah: (1) A canopy traditionally used at Jewish weddings. (2) More broadly used to refer to marriage itself. For example, raising your child "to the chuppah."
Daven: Yiddish verb meaning "To pray."
Day School: Private Jewish schools that replace public schools. This is in contrast to "Hebrew School," which is an after-school program.
Derech: If you're looking up this word, you should probably go to "Off the derech" below.
Elul: The month preceding the High Holydays. It is a time of focus on teshuvah and repentance.
Eruv: An enclosure around a home or community that allows observant Jews to carry objects between the private and "public" domain on Shabbat that they could not do otherwise. It is singlehandedly responsible for allowing many mothers of young children to come to synagogue on Shabbat because otherwise, they could not "carry" the child to shul, whether in their arms or using a stroller. It's a big deal when the eruv is "down" on Shabbat.
Eruv tashvilin: A rabbinic law that allows one to cook and prepare food for Shabbat on a Yom Tov. It's super simple to set up.
FFB: Frum from Birth. Refers to someone who was raised in an observant family.
Family Purity laws: This is a subset of halacha that relates to the relationship between a married couple.
Frum: Adjective meaning that someone is observant. Yiddish word meaning "Pious."
Frum Out: Usually a negative phrase that refers to someone who was not observant, but then becomes almost overly-observant within a short period of time.
Gemara: The second part of the Talmud, which includes rabbinic commentaries and analysis on the first part, the Mishnah.
Geirus: Hebrew term that refers to the conversion process itself.
Ger: Means "convert" in Hebrew.
Gud yontif: Yiddish greeting that means "Have a good holiday!" This can apply to any Jewish holiday. Cross-reference "Chag Sameach!"
Gud Shabbos: Yiddish greeting that means "Have a good Shabbat!" Cross reference "Shabbat shalom!"
HY"D: HaShem Yikom Damo(am). Means "HaShem will avenge his(their) blood." Used to denote martyred Jews.
Haftorah: A short reading from the Prophets section of the Tanach that accompanies the Torah reading during Shabbat services. They were instituted at a time of oppression when Jews were forbidden from reading the Torah in public. The Haftorahs were chosen to reflect the themes of that week's parsha.
Halacha: Jewish law. Each Jewish movement has their own interpretation of halacha. I am purposely trying to restrict myself to orthodox halacha, but there are significant difference even within orthodox groups. This is why it's important to have someone who is "your" rabbi. Once you ask a question of a rabbi, you are bound by that answer, and sometimes people use that to purposely get a strict or lenient opinion.
Havdalah: The short service marking the end of Shabbat. It takes less than 5 minutes, and can be very moving. It celebrates the distinction between the sacred and the secular (usually translated as the "profane," but American English has created loaded meanings for that word).
Hebrew: The language of Jewish prayers and of the country of Israel.
Hechsher: A symbol on food packaging that identifies that item as being rabbinically approved as kosher. The most common is issued by the Orthodox Union, but unusual hechshers should be verified with your rabbi because every so often, a "kashrut" organization takes the money and runs without actually verifying the kashrut status of an item. This is horrible because it's taking advantage of and defrauding non-Jews.
High Holydays/High Holidays: The holidays of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. Sukkot/Sukkos happens directly after these holidays. They occur in the fall, usually in September or October.
IY"H: Im Yitzeh HaShem. Means "If it be G-d's will," but many people say "G-d willing" in English.
Jewish Geography: Rather than actually getting to know something about the Jew you're talking to, you instead figure out who you know in common.
Kaddish: Prayer that can only be said with a minyan. There are several varieties of it, but the most well-known is the Mourner's Kaddish, which is a prayer that mourners say.
Kashrut/Kashrus: Hebrew word for the laws governing "kosher" food.
Kavannah: "Intention." Used to refer to your ability to focus on your prayers.
Kiddush: (1) A small meal after a synagogue service, particularly to celebrate something. (2) The prayer said over wine on Shabbat.
Kippah: Frequently called a yamakule, which is the Yiddish word. I don't know why, but I don't like that word. I always use kippah. Plural: kippot/kippos.
Kitzur Shulchan Aruch: A work that tried to abridge and update the Shulchan Aruch written by Rabbi Yosef Caro. It's a comprehensive guide to halacha in all topics.
Kol HaKavod: Good job!
Kol Isha: Translates as "Voice of a woman," if I have it right. However, it's used to refer to a halachic ruling in some parts of the orthodox community that prohibit a woman from singing in front of a man. This topic is way too complicated and controversial to explain in a Glossary entry, but this should give you the general idea when you hear it in conversation.
Kosher: "Fit for use." The American English use of the word kosher is actually quite spot-on. For example, "The contract just didn't look kosher." However, it's usually used to refer to kosher food, but a prayer shawl (tallit/tallis), a book, and kippot are also kosher or not kosher.
Lashon hara: "Evil tongue." It refers to merely one of the ways you can harm others through your speech. The Chofetz Chaim is generally considered the authority on lashon hara. The rules are very complicated and very hard to follow because human nature really makes us like speaking about other people!
LOR: Local Orthodox Rabbi. You should listen to that guy instead of me.
MO: Modern Orthodox.
Maariv: The evening prayer service. Ideally, you'll have a minyan.
Machzor: Special prayer book used for holidays. Plural: Machzorim. Not usually necessary, but usually very helpful.
Mechitza: Something that divides men and women during orthodox prayer. Used for modesty purposes.
Mamish: Very, really. Can also replace "legit." For example, "I was mamish excited for that new movie!"
Meshugah: Adjective. Crazy and/or foolish.
Meshuganah: Noun. A crazy and/or foolish person.
Mezuzah: A parchment scroll attached to the doorposts of Jewish homes. Plural: mezuzot. The text of the mezuzah is two Torah passages from the Shema. These scrolls are usually covered with, often very decorative, cases. People often believe that the case is the mezuzah, but it's actually the scroll inside.
Middos: Positive character traits. Examples include patience, kindness, discipline, charity. My understanding is that this also includes refining your mitzvah observance.
Mikvah: A pool of water used for ritual purification. The laws regarding how it must be created and maintained are extremely specific and will be irrelevant to any discussion on this blog. Just know that it is required for conversion, and "going to the mikvah" will usually translate to "finishing your conversion." Note bene: Conversion is merely one use of the mikvah. There are also mikvah-related kashrut and family purity laws.
Mincha: The afternoon service. It may occur immediately before maariv. Ideally, you'll have a minyan.
Minhag: "Custom." Plural: minhagim. However, some minhagim have been practiced so widely and for so long that rabbis have declared them to be mandatory halacha. More generally, each large group of Judaism are considered to have a "minhag," including Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Mizrahi, Yemenite, Indian (from India), etc.
Minyan: A "quorum" of Jews. A minyan is required for certain prayers, particularly kaddishes. In orthodox Judaism, a minyan is limited to 10 legally Jewish males of at least bar mitzvah age. In liberal Judaism, a minyan is limited to 10 legally Jewish people of at least bar/bat mitzvah age. Note that some groups may define bat mitzvah age differently, as well as who is defined as "legally Jewish" within their movement.
Mishnah: The first part of the Talmud, when the great rabbis of the time sat down and collected all the interpretations of the Oral Law into one place. This was the first time that the Oral Law had been written. Rabbi Judah the Prince decided that it must be written down at that time in Jewish history, or else it would be lost forever.
Mitzvah: There are 613 of them, but about half of them cannot be performed without the Temple or outside the land of Israel. There are also different ones that are required of men and women, and some that apply to both.
Motzei Shabbos: The evening hours on Saturday after Shabbat ends.
Muktzeh: Types of items that may not be touched or moved on Shabbat or Yom Tov.
Mussaf: An extra service on Shabbat. It will happen immediately after Shacharis and the Torah reading.
OBM: Of Blessed Memory. Used behind the name of someone deceased.
"Off the derech": This refers to when someone who was previously observant ceases being observant. It literally translates to "off the path." Any Jew (convert, BT, or FFB) can go off the derech.
Oral Law: An explanation of how the commandments of the Written Law are to be carried out. This is a major disagreement point between the philosophies of the movements of Judaism.
Parsha: The section of the Torah that is read in synagogue each Shabbat. It is also partially read in synagogue on Monday and Thursday mornings during the shacharit service.
R': Rabbi. Used before a rabbi's name.
Rabbi: Means "teacher." This is usually the religious leader of a synagogue or other Jewish institution, but a rabbi is not necessary to have a fully-functioning synagogue or on-going minyan group.
Rebbetzin: The wife of a rabbi. Likely, she will also be knowledgeable in Jewish law.
Rosh Chodesh: The first day of the Jewish month. It may be either one or two days, due to tradition.
Shabbat/Shabbos: Hebrew/Yiddish word for the sabbath. I hate the word "sabbath" because whenever I say it, I feel like I'm in 1847.
Shabbat shalom: Hebrew greeting that means "Have a good/peaceful Shabbat!" Cross reference "Gud Shabbos!"
Shacharit/Shacharis: The morning service. Ideally, you'll have a minyan.
Shadchan: A matchmaker.
Shalom: (1) Peace. (2) It is the "aloha" of Hebrew. It can mean hello, goodbye, and a whole bunch of other things.
Sheitel: Wig. Worn by some orthodox Jewish women to fulfill the mitzvah for a married woman to cover her hair.
Shema: "The" Shema. The actual Hebrew phrase that means "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one." It is recited twice daily with the right hand covering the eyes. Usually, between 1-3 other Torah passages relating to the mitzvot are recited after this phrase.
Shemonah Esrei: The silent standing prayer that is the pinnacle of the synagogue services. Cross reference "Amidah."
Shidduch: Means "a good match." Usually used in conversations about locating one's marriage partner. However, it is a more general word. For instance, you and your rabbi could be a good shidduch if you get along well and understand each other well.
Shiur: Pronounced "sheer," this refers to a class or lecture on a Jewish topic.
Shlit"a: Shin-Lamed-Yod-Tet-Aleph, She’yichyeh L’yamim Tovim Aruchim. Means "May s/he have a long and pleasant life." Used behind someone's name as a blessing.
Shomer negiah: Hebrew phrase that means something along the lines of "observing touch." It refers to the laws regarding physical contact between men and women. The interpretation of these laws differ widely based on community standards and type of orthodoxy.
Shtetle: Yiddish for "town." Refers to the pre-WWII Jewish communities in Europe. Usually just a little village.
Shul: Yiddish word for synagogue. It is related to the word "school." This is the word I will most often use to refer to synagogue.
Shulchan Aruch: Comprehensive compilation/codification of halacha by Rabbi Yosef Caro. Note: Generally follows the Sephardic minhag, so the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (and other works) later combined the Shulchan Aruch with Ashkenazi minhag.
Siddur: Hebrew word for a prayer book. Plural: Siddurim. The Artscroll siddurim are the most well-known and used by synagogues, but the Koren Sachs Siddur is becoming increasingly popular both for personal and synagogue use. Note that the same company may produce siddurim for many different nusachs, particularly Ashkenazi v. Sephardi v. the different chassidic groups. However, there are many specialty siddurim in the world. Some people collect them, which I think is a super cool idea.
Simcha: A happy occasion. Usually used to refer to a lifecycle event (For example: wedding, bar/bat mitzvah, birth, bris, etc). Shabbat is also considered a simcha in itself. A common phrase is that you shouldn't mix simchas. This means that every simcha deserves its own celebration and shouldn't be diluted by the happiness of another simcha. For example, your family shouldn't host a bat mitzvah and a bris on the same day.
Sinat Chinam/Sinas Chinam: Means "baseless hatred." The sages teach that baseless hatred between Jews was the cause of the destruction of the Second Temple. This phrase is used in conversation both for good reasons and for inflammatory reasons.
Talmud: Collection of writings on the Oral Law that is the basis of rabbinic authority in Judaism. Comprised of the Mishnah and Gemara.
Tanach: Name used for the full Hebrew bible. Tanach is an acronym that stands for (1) Torah, (2) Nevi'im (Prophets), and (3) K'tuvim (Writings).
Teshuvah: Literally, "returning." It is often translated as "repentance."
Torah: (1) Most literally, the first five books of the Tanach, known in English as Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. I will almost always be using this word in this sense. (2) The scroll in the synagogue with the Torah written on parchment. This is what we read from on Shabbat. I will normally refer to this as "the Torah scroll." (3) Can be used to refer to the entirety of Jewish knowledge or the observant way of life. You will see people who refer to an observant lifestyle as a "Torah-true lifestyle." Personally, I think that term baits people.
Treif: Yiddish word meaning "torn." It literally refers to when there is a physical imperfection later found in an animal slaughtered by kosher methods. However, it usually refers to anything "not kosher," particularly food. For example, you know pork is treif. But so is a McDonald's hamburger that may not (obviously) be mixing meat and dairy.
Tzedakah: Translated as "charity," but has a very different background to the creation of the word, and therefore, the ideas behind it. Charity's Latin source word is related to the idea of "love." Tzedakah comes from the Hebrew word that means "justice" or "righteousness." This distinction emphasizes that charity is something that comes from the feeling of love for people, but tzedakah is an obligation (it's a mitzvah, after all) and not dependent on whether you "feel like it."
Tzitzit/Tzitzis: Fringes worn on four-cornered garments by men. It is also the name used for a special four-cornered garment some men wear under their modern clothes (which don't have four corners) so that they can fulfill this mitzvah. On a practical level, I have found that this is the hardest Hebrew word to pronounce.
Tznius: Means "modesty," but refers to all areas where you can be modest: speech, actions, dress, etc.
Written Law: The first five books of the Torah.
Yiddish: The language used colloquially in eastern Europe. It is still used as the primary language of some members of older generations and of some chassidic groups, particularly in the NY area. However, a lot of Yiddish words have found their way into American English (prime example: schmuck), and many American Jews use even more of these words and phrases in their conversation. Even if you're Sephardi or a convert, you'll eventually learn a lot of Yiddish. Some people are upset by the prevalence of Ashkenazi minhag and Yiddish.
Yom tov/Yontif: Hebrew/Yiddish words for "holiday."
Z"L: Zichrono Livrocho (male)/Zichronah Lebracha (female). Pronounced "zal." Means "Of blessed memory." Used behind someone's name to indicate that they are deceased.
ZT"L: Zecher Tzadik Livrocho. Pronounced "zatzal." Means "The memory of the righteous is a blessing." Used behind the name of prominent deceased Jews.