Glossary of Terms
BAR MITZVAH - n. Hebrew (BAR MIS-vah) Literally, "son of the commandment." When a Jewish boy becomes 13, he is bound "by the commandment"; in other words, he is now responsible for fulfilling Jewish law. The phrase also refers to the boy himself. Although not mandated by Jewish law, the Bar Mitzvah ceremony has become an established custom. At a Bar Mitzvah ceremony, which usually takes place at Shabbat morning service, the young man will generally read from the Torah and give a speech.. During the Torah reading, family members and friends are honored. The ceremony is usually followed by a joyous party in the afternoon or evening that includes a meal, music and candle lighting.
BEITZAH - n. Hebrew (bay-TSAH) The roasted egg placed on a seder plate during the Pesach seder. The egg is symbolic of several things, including the sacrifices in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, rebirth in the spring, and the Israelites' new lives in freedom after the Exodus from Egypt.
BOCA RATON - n. A location in Florida populated by a lot of Jews, many of whom are retired.
BOYCHICK - n. Yiddish (BOY-chick) A young boy. Used as an affectionate way to address a man or boy; the equivalent of the American expression "buddy" or "kiddo." Old fashioned usage.
BUBBELEH - n. Yiddish (BUH-beh-leh) Literally, "little grandmother." A term of endearment for women of any age, similar to "darling" or "honey."
CHAIM POTOK'S 'THE CHOSEN' - The 1981 film adaptation of Chaim Potok's novel centering on the friendship between Americanized Jew Miller and Hassidic Benson set in 1940s Brooklyn.
CIRCUMCISION - n. English A surgical procedure to remove the foreskin of the penis. In Jewish tradition, circumcision is performed at a religious ritual called a brit milah or bris.
DREIDEL - n. Yiddish (DRAY-duhl) A small, four sided spinning top used in a game during Hanukkah. Every dreidel has a Hebrew letter on each side – nun, gimmel, hay and shin – that together stand for the phrase nes gadol hayah sham, meaning " a great miracle happened here). The phrase reminds Jews of the Maccabees' battle for religious freedom and the Hanukkah miracle of the oil.
Dreidels can be made of almost any material. Children make them of clay or paper; artists make them of silver, wood, or porcelain. In the game of the dreidel, each player takes a turn putting money, candy, or some other small object in the center of the circle. Then each spins the dreidel to find out what se or she wins: nun means none, gimmel means all, hay means half, and shin means put one in. In the story of Hanukkah, legend has it that when King Antiochus forbade Jews to study the Torah, they would do their lessons with a dreidel close at hand. When soldiers approached, they could quickly begin to play the dreidel so as not to be caught studying Jewish texts. Today, dreidels and foil-wrapped chocolate coins (gelt) are traditional Hanukkah gifts.
FIDDLER ON THE ROOF - 1971 Academy Award winning film musical based on the Broadway play. Ukrainian milkman Tevye clings desperately to the old Jewish traditions while all around him the world changes, day by day. His three daughters marry men he considers more and more unacceptable, and the ruling Russian government's anti-Semitism threatens to drive him from his home.
GENTILE - n. English The word Jews use to refer to anyone who is not Jewish. Unlike goy, the Yiddish word for non-Jew, gentile has no negative connotations.
G-D - n. English (GEE-DASH-DEE) Another way to write the name of God. This form is often used by traditional Jews, in keeping with Jewish law, to avoid writing God's name on paper or something else of a temporary nature that might be thrown away or erased. Some people consider it unnecessary to use a hyphen in the word "God" because this is simply another name for the Tetragrammaton-the letters yud, hay, vav, hay – which is the name of God.
GOY - n Hebrew (GOY); pl. goyim (GOY-eem) Common biblical word meaning "nation" or "people." Today, it is most often used among Jews to refer to someone who is not a Jew. Unlike "gentile," is it often used disparagingly.
HANUKKAH - n. Hebrew (HAH-noo-kah) Literally, "dedication." Beginning on the 25th of Kislev, which corresponds to late November or sometime in December, Hanukkah is a joyous holiday that celebrates the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrians and the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in ancient times. Hanukkah is often called the Festival of Lights. The Syrian king, Antiochus, who ruled ancient Israel from 175 to 176 B.C.E., wanted to wipe out Judaism and convert the population to his Greek ways. Citizens were forced to speak Greek and worship Greek gods. It was forbidden to practice Judaism, celebrate Jewish holidays, or study Torah. A Jew named Mattathias, and his son Judah, known as Judah Macabee, led a revolt against the Syrian army. Called Maccabees, the revolutionaries fought for three years against the much stronger Syrian army and finally prevailed. Jerusalem was liberated and the Temple returned to Jewish control. But when the Jews entered the Temple, the found that it had been desecrated with the statues of Greek gods and discovered that there was only enough pure oil to rekindle the eternal flame, the ner tamid, for one day. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days, long enough to purify new oil and rededicate the temple.
Today, Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days. Each night another candle is lit and placed in a special eight-branched candelabra called a menorah. A shamash candle is lit first and used to kindle the others. Families often place their menorahs in a window or other visible spot to bear witness to the miracle. Special blessings are said to thank God for the wondrous events and religious freedom that Hanukkah recalls. Families exchange gifts; play dreidel; and give Hanukkah gelt to children. It is also traditional to eat foods cooked in oil, like latkes or sufganiyot (Israeli jelly donuts), to remember the miracle of the oil.
HAVA NAGILA - n. Hebrew (HAH-vah nuh-GEEL-ah) Traditional Jewish melody, often played at the simchot (Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrations and weddings). Guests often dance the hora, a circle dance, to the tune.
HEEB - n. (slang) Formerly a slur used to describe a Jewish person, this term has come into vogue among younger Jews who use it to describe themselves and each other, much like other ethnic slurs have been "taken back" by African Americans. It is also the title of a quarterly magazine about contemporary Jewish culture.
HEBREW - n. English 1. The scholarly and holy language of the Jews, used in prayer. A Semitic language, Hebrew was spoken by the ancient Israelites until the 2nd century B.C.E. when Aramaic took its place as the everyday language. It was not spoken again in the vernacular until modern times, when the State of Israel adopted Hebrew as its national language. 2. The term for Israelites and Judeans before the Babylonian exile in 586 B.C.E. From the Hebrew root ivri, perhaps meaning "one from the other side (of the Jordan River)."
HORA - n. Hebrew (HOE-rah) A traditional Romanian circle dance. This folk dance is the national dance of the State of Israel. The hora is a favorite dance at Jewish weddings and at Bar and Bat Mitzvah receptions. It is often danced to the song "Havah Nagila"
KWANZAA - n. Swahili An African-American cultural festival, celebrated from December 26 to January 1.
LATKE - n. Yiddish (LOT-kah) A fried pancake. The most common type is the potato latke, traditionally eaten on Hanukkah. These latkes are fried in oil to remind Jews of the Hanukkah miracle of the rededication of the Temple, when a tiny bit of oil lasted for eight days. There are many other varieties of latkes, such as carrot, zucchini, and sweet potato. On Pesach, latkes are made from matzah meal.
L'CHAIM - int. Hebrew (luh-KHYE-eem) Literally, "to life." An age-old Jewish toast – "to your health"- said over wine or liquor with glasses raised.
MANISCHEWITZ - proper noun A sweet flavored 100% Kosher wine made and bottled under the strict Rabbinical supervision of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America and traditionally served on most Jewish holidays.
MATZAH - n. (MAH-tsah) pl. matzot (mah-TSOTE) The unleavened, flat cracker made from flour and water that is eaten during Pesach. Matzah is symbolic of the haste with which the Israelites fled from slavery in ancient Egypt. Because they did not have time to allow bread to rise, they packed flat bread to take with them. There are many religious regulations regarding it manufacture. It must be mixed, kneaded and baked within a time span of 18 minutes so that fermentation (and yeast rising) does not occur. Matzah has tiny holes in each sheet to retard the swelling during baking. Today, most matzah is made in factories and is available in supermarkets in a variety of flavors, including whole wheat, onion, and egg. Handmade matzah is often called shemurah matzah.
MAZEL TOV - int. Hebrew (MAH-zul TOVE) "Good luck!" An expression of congratulations and best wishes used by Jews on happy occasions and achievements.
MENSCH - n. Yiddish (MENCH) Literally, "person." A caring , decent person – man or woman – who can be trusted.
MESHUGGE - adj. Yiddish (meh-SHOO-gah) Crazy, nuts, cuckoo. N. meshuggener (male), meshuggeneh (female): An affectionate term for a crazy, nutty person.
MONOTHEIST - n. English – One who believes there is only one Supreme Being (or g-d).
NOSH - v. Yiddish (NOSH) 1. To have a little snack between meals, or to eat a little something before a meal is ready. 2. N. A snack, a small portion.
OY - int. Yiddish (OY) Perhaps the most popular Yiddish expression, oy conveys dozens of emotions, from surprise, joy, and relief to pain, fear and grief. Sometimes used as oy vay (short for oy vay iz mir), meaning "Oh, woe is me,) and oy gevalt, a cry of desperate protest.
PISSER - n. Yiddish (PISH-er) A bed-wetter, but more commonly used to describe a young, inexperienced person, similar to a "young squirt."
PUTZ - n. Yiddish (PUHTS) Vulgar slang for "penis." Used as a derogatory term.
RABBI - n. Hebrew (RAB-eye) Literally, "my teacher." The title given to the spiritual leader of a Jewish congregation. A rabbi leads services, gives sermons, educates children and conceals the congregants in a synagogue.
SEDER - n. Hebrew (SAY-der) Literally, "order." The traditional, ceremonial dinner on Pesach. The seder includes prayers, songs, and the ancient retelling of the Passover story of the Exodus.
SHABAT - n. Hebrew (shah-BAHT) The Jewish Sabbath; the day of rest. Shabbat begins at sunset of Friday night and ends Saturday evening when three stars are visible in the night sky. Shabbat is considered the most important day on the Jewish calendar.
SHABAT SHALOM - n. Hebrew (shah-BAHT shah-LOME) Literally, "Sabbath of Piece." The greeting exchanged on Shabbat. It is customary for Jews to say "Shabbat Shalom" and kiss or shake hands with each other sitting around them in synagogue at the end of services.
SHEKEL - n. Hebrew (SHEH-kuhl) 1. The Silver coin, equal to about half an ounce, that used by the Jews in biblical times. Today it is the name for the monetary unit in the State of Israel. 2. Slang for cash or money.
SHIKSA - n. Yiddish (SHICK-sa) A gentile girl or woman. The word is a distortion of the Hebrew root sheketz, which refers to the flesh of a taboo animal in the Torah. Since intermarriage to non-Jews was taboo, this word applied to them. This is a derogatory term.
SHLEP - n. Yiddish (SHLEP) - 1. To carry, lug. 2. To drag someone someplace they don't want to go. 3. To move slowly, to drag one's heels.
SHPIEL - n. Yiddish (SHPEEL) A long, involved story or tale. Sometimes refers to a sales pitch or persuasive argument.
SHTUP - v. Yiddish (SHTOOP) Vulgar word for sexual intercourse.
SHVITZ - v. Yiddish (SHVITS) To sweat heavily.
TORAH - n. Hebrew (toe-RAH) The first five books of the Bible, also called the Five Books of Moses or the Pentateuch. The Torah is the most revered and sacred book of Judaism.
TUCHIS - n. Yiddish (TUH-khiss) Literally, "underneath." A vulgar term for the rear end or buttocks.
YARMULKE - n. Yiddish (YAH-mih-kah) The small, round head covering worn by Jews as a symbol of respect and religious observance.
YENTA - n. Yiddish (YEN-tah) A gossipy woman; a blabbermouth. Someone who can't keep a secret.
YENTL - Oscar nominated 1983 film based on a short story by Isaac Bashevis Singer starring Barbra Streisand. The story follows the adventures of Yentl, a courageous young woman growing up in Eastern Europe at the turn of the 20th century. Inspired by her father's teaching to become a Talmudic scholar--despite the religious restrictions against her doing so--she manages to make her dreams come true by disguising herself as a boy and entering an orthodox Jewish school. But her masquerade causes big problems when she falls in love with her fellow scholar Avigdor and his fiancée falls in love with her.