Abayudaya - (Abayudaya is Luganda for “People of Judah”, analogous to Children of Israel) a Baganda community in eastern Uganda near the town of Mbale who practice Judaism.

aliyah (Hebrew; aliyot - pl.) - Literally, “going up, ascending”. (1) The honor of being called up to recite a blessing before the reading of the Torah portion; (2) immigration to Israel.

Anusim (Hebrew; also, Anousim and Bnei Anousim) - Literally, “coerced ones”. Jews whose ancestors were forced to convert to Catholicism in Spain and Portugal over 500 years ago.

Ashkenazi - Jews who derive from northern Europe and who generally follow the customs originating in medieval German Judaism. By extension, it also refers to Jews of eastern European background (including Russia) with their distinctive liturgical practices or religious and social customs.


bar or bat mitzvah (Hebrew) - Literally, “The child responsible for fulfilling the commandments.” The term used to describe the thirteen-year-old child (or sometimes twelve-year-old girl) who celebrates this occasion by reading from the Torah and Haftorah during the Saturday morning service. (bar = boy, bat = girl)

Be‘chol Lashon (Hebrew) - Literally “in every tongue.”

beit din (Hebrew) - Three-person rabbinic court, guided by the principles of halakha. May be convened for the purpose of overseeing a conversion ceremony, to prepare a Jewish writ of divorce, or to serve as a mediating body in a dispute between two Jews.

bima (Hebrew) - (1) The dais in a sanctuary from which the Torah is read and where the leader of the service stands when leading services; (2) the front platform of a synagogue where the ark containing the Torah stands. Also called “tebah” in Sephardic communities.

brit milah (Hebrew; also, bris - Yiddish) - Ritual circumcision of male children at eight days old symbolizing the covenant between God and Abraham.


challah - A portion of bread set aside from the main bread for ritual purposes. May be any type of bread, and in Ashkenazi tradition, usually an egg bread, often braided, eaten during Shabbat and on Jewish holidays.

Chanukah (also, Hanukkah) - the eight-day Festival of Lights, commemorating both the miracle of the Maccabees, whose oil lasted for 8 days, and their victory over Greco-Syrian religious oppression and the subsequent rededication of the temple in Jerusalem. Usually falls in December.

chanukiah (Hebrew; also, hanukkiah) - nine-branched menorah used at Chanukah.

Chueta (Catalan) - A derogatory term meaning “swine” used to describe Jews forced to convert to Catholicism on the Spanish island of Mallorca over 500 years ago.

chupah (also, huppah) - Jewish marriage canopy.

Converso - Jews forced to convert to Catholicism on the Iberian Peninsula over 500 years ago. Many Conversos secretly continued to practice Judaism or retained some Jewish customs.

crypto-Jew - Literally, “hidden Jew”. Jews forced to convert to another religion who secretly practiced Judaism. Most often applied to Iberian Conversos but also applicable to other groups of Jews throughout history.


daven (Yiddish) - To pray.


ger (Hebrew; gerim - pl.) - A convert.

ger toshav (Hebrew) - Literally, “fellow traveler”. Partial proselyte or someone who has not formally converted to Judaism.

gerut (Hebrew; also, giur, especially in Israel) - Conversion.

goy (Yiddish; goyim - pl.) - literally, “other”. Used to describe non-Jewish people. Derived from the Hebrew word for “nation.”


Haketia (also written as Hakitia or Haquitía) - a largely extinct Jewish-Moroccan language, also known as Judeo Spañol or Ladino Occidental (western Ladino), that was spoken on the Northeast coast of Morocco in Tetuan, Tangiers and the Spanish towns of Ceuta and Melilla, in the latter of which it has achieved partial official recognition. During the Spanish protectorate of northern Morocco in the early twentieth century, the Jews of this region largely abandoned Haketia in favour of standard Spanish.

halakha (Hebrew) - Literally, “the path”. Scriptural laws; a generic term for the whole legal system of Judaism.

halakhic - According to scriptural law.

Hashem (Hebrew) - Literally, “the Name”. A name for God, used by those who do not want to take God's Hebrew name “in vain”.

Havdalah - The ceremony which ends the Sabbath. Benedictions are recited over wine, a candle, and spices. Different customs prevail in various communities; a lighted candle is usually extinguished in the wine. The ceremony reputedly stems from the days of the Great Synagogue.

havurah (Hebrew; havurot - pl.) - Literally, “community”. A group or fellowship organized around prayer, study, celebration of Jewish holidays, spiritual and/or social purposes.

Hillel - Jewish organization that serves college and university students on campuses.


Judeo-Arabic (languages) - a collection of Arabic dialects spoken by Jews living or formerly living in Arabic-speaking countries; the term also refers to more or less classical Arabic written in the Hebrew script, particularly in the Middle Ages. Just as with the rest of the Arab world, Arabic-speaking Jews had different dialects depending on where they lived. This phenomenon may be compared to cases such as Ladino (Greek/Turkish Judeo-Spanish), Haketia (Moroccan Judeo-Spanish) and Yiddish (Judeo-German).


Kabbalah - A thread of Jewish mysticism that includes speculation on divinity, creation, and the fate of the soul and consists of meditative, devotional, and mystical practices. Considered an esoteric offshoot of Judaism.

Kaddish - Prayer for the dead.

kashrut - The Jewish dietary laws.

kiddush - The blessing over wine for meals, Shabbat, festivals, and holy days.

kippah (Hebrew; kippot - pl.) - Skullcap traditionally worn by Jewish males, also used by some Jewish females, representing the hand of God.

kiruv (Hebrew; also, keruv) - Literally, “to draw near”. Encouragement for mixed-married families to maintain their Jewish ties. Also, any movement to attract Jews to increased religious observance.

Kohen (Kohanim - pl.) - A descendant of Aaron, Moses' brother, and a member of the priestly class.

kosher - Literally “fit”, “proper.” Prepared in accordance with Jewish dietary laws (kashrut), most often referring to food.

kreplach (Yiddish) - Triangular dumplings of Eastern European origin usually filled with meat, onions, and potatoes, served on Jewish holidays.


Ladino - a language with a vocabulary derived mainly from Old Castilian, mixed with Hebrew, Turkish and some French and Greek.

L'shanah tovah (Hebrew) - Literally, “For a good year”. A traditional greeting on Rosh Hashonah, the Jewish New Year.


mamzer (Hebrew) - Bastard.

Marrano (Spanish) - A derogatory term meaning “swine” applied to Spanish Jews forced to convert to Catholicism over 500 years ago.

menorah - The seven-branched candlestick that stood in the Tabernacle and in the Jerusalem Temple. According to Exodus, its pattern was a divine gift to Moses.

meshummad (Hebrew) - An apostate, one who voluntarily abandons his or her religious faith.

Midrash - Rabbinic commentaries to the Torah.

mikveh (Hebrew; also, mikvah; mikva'ot - pl.) - ritual bath used for purification purposes by married women after menstruation, by brides before nuptials, and by converts at the culmination of the conversion ceremony.

minyan (Hebrew) - Quorum of ten Jewish adults necessary for a public prayer service. The minyan represents the Jewish people as a community.

mitzvah (Hebrew; mitzvot -pl.) - A commandment, positive or negative; one of the 613 Torah-given precepts or one of the rabbinic commandments added later; also loosely refers to a “good deed”.

Mizrahi - Jews of Middle Eastern origin; Jewish communities indigenous to the Middle East.


New Christian - A term applied specifically to three groups of Jewish converts to Christianity and their descendants in the Iberian Peninsula. The first group converted following the massacres in Spain in 1391. The second, also in Spain, were baptized following the decree of Fernando and Isabel in 1492 expelling all Jews who refused to accept Christianity. The third group, in Portugal, were converted by force and royal fiat in 1497.


Oneg Shabbat (Hebrew) - Literally, “Sabbath joy”. A celebration following Friday evening services that may include refreshments, singing, and dancing.


Pesach (Passover) - The holiday celebrating the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt.


Rosh Hashanah - The Jewish New Year.


Seder (Hebrew) - Literally, “order”. Ritual meal at Passover.

Sephardi (Hebrew; Sephardim - pl.) - literally, “Spanish”. From the Hebrew word “Sepharad”, meaning “Spain”. Refers to Jews descended from those who lived on the Iberian Peninsula before the expulsion of 1492. As a cultural designation, the term refers to Iberian Jews who settled in North Africa, the Balkans, and the Middle East. (See also Ashkenazi and Mizrahi.)

Shabbat (Hebrew; also, Shabbos - Yiddish) - The Sabbath, the day of rest; the seventh day of the week. Begins at sundown Friday and ends at sundown on Saturday.

Shabbaton - Sabbath retreat.

Shavuot - Literally, “weeks”. Feast of the Weeks; the festival celebrating the Spring harvest season, which is held exactly seven weeks after Passover; also commemorates the anniversary of the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses and the Israelites at Mount Sinai.

shiva (Hebrew) - Days of mourning following a death.

Sh'ma - Jewish prayer that is the principal statement of faith and belief affirming that there is one God.

shtetl (Yiddish) - A Jewish small town in Eastern Europe.

shul (Yiddish) - Synagogue.

Siddur (Siddurim - pl.) - The Jewish prayer book.

simcha (Hebrew) - A joyous occasion.

sukkah - Huts or outdoor shelters built during Sukkot, the harvest festival.

Sukkot - Feast of the Tabernacles; one of the three ancient harvest and pilgrimage festivals (with Pesach and Shavuot); the thanksgiving and harvest holiday that occurs five days after Yom Kippur.

synagogue - House of worship.


tallit (Hebrew; also tallis - Yiddish) - ritual prayer shawl.

Talmud - The Talmud is a collection of oral laws (Mishna) and commentary (Gemara) compiled from 200-500 C.E. Torah-based Judaism uses only written law from the Torah as its foundation and not the later texts.

Tanach (also, Tanakh) - An acronym for Torah (the five books of Moses), Nevi'im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (writings) used to describe the Jewish Bible. Referred to by Christians as the “Old Testament.”

tashlich (Hebrew) - Literally, “to send, to cast out”. The special ceremony on Rosh Hashonah afternoon in which Jews symbolically cast their sins (in the form of bread crumbs) into a body of flowing water.

tefillin (Hebrew) - Known in English as “phylacteries”, leather boxes and straps containing the four biblical passages of the Sh'ma; wrapped around the arm and on the forehead in accordance with Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21.

tinoq shenishba (Hebrew) - A child taken captive and raised as a non-Jew.

tikkun olam (Hebrew) - Literally, “Repair of the world”. In Jewish teaching, one is expected to “repair the world” daily through both deed and thought.

Torah - Literally “instruction.” Jewish sacred texts: (1) The five books of Moses of the Hebrew Bible; (2) collectively, the sacred texts of Judaism.

Tu B'Shvat (Hebrew) - a Jewish holiday in the Hebrew month of Shvat, usually sometime in late January or early February, that marks the “New Year of the Trees.” Tu Bishvat is one of four “New Years” mentioned in the Mishnah. Customs include planting trees and eating dried fruits and nuts, especially figs, dates, raisins, carob, and almonds. In Israel, the flowering of the almond tree, which grows wild around the country, coincides with Tu Bishvat.


yahrtzeit (Yiddish) - Literally, “anniversary”. The anniversary of the Jewish calendar date of someone's death.

yarmulke - Skull cap. (See also kippah.)

yeshiva - Jewish school of religious instruction.

yiddish - a non-territorial Germanic language, spoken throughout the world and written with the Hebrew alphabet. It originated in the Ashkenazi culture that developed from about the 10th century in the Rhineland, and then spread to central and eastern Europe, and eventually to other continents. For a significant portion of its history it was the primary spoken language of the Ashkenazi Jews and once spanned a broad range of dialects from “Western Yiddish" to three major groups within “Eastern Yiddish". Eastern and Western Yiddish are most markedly distinguished by the extensive inclusion of words of Slavic origin in the Eastern dialects. While Western Yiddish has few remaining speakers, Eastern dialects remain in wide use.

Yisrael (Hebrew) - Literally, “Israel”. In a religious context, refers to the majority of Jews who are neither Kohanim nor members of the tribe of Levi. Also, Eretz Yisrael is the “Land of Israel.” Am Yisrael is “The People of Israel.”

Yom Kippur - Day of Atonement; the holiest day of the Jewish religious year, the last day of the Ten Days of Penitence. A fast day, during which Jews seeks forgiveness for sins.

Yom Tov - Holiday.


Abayudaya Executive Council

A group of Anusim in Mallorca

making spice bags for Havdalah

A congregation of Israelites in Chicago




Namanyonyi synagogue in Uganda