A glossary!

This is for Judaism-related terms that come up on the main site whose meanings people may well not know.

To search this glossary for (e.g.) משנה, type

is:answer inquestion:581 משנה

in the search box at the top-right corner of this page and hit Enter. Note, though, that that effort may be stymied if you search using one transliteration of a word and the word is listed here with a different transliteration.

If you want the definition of a term you came across on the site, please add it to the list of proposed glossary entries, and (hopefully) someone will define it.

To those who follow a link here: If you see an answer that's inaccurate or misleading, or could be better, please go ahead and modify it if you have the knowledge.

Here's a general format for a simple entry:

עברית - english (along with any common variants)

Definition goes here, or a links to the term's tag wiki if there is one, possibly a link to Wikipedia or other reference.

For information on typing in Hebrew, have a look at this question.

  • Also, no reason the answers can't cover dissenting opinions. Commented Dec 25, 2011 at 20:21
  • Or maybe have an answer per initial letter of the term. That way, individual entries can be linked to (approximately). We'll have 48 answers, but they can all be linked to from the question. Thoughts?
    – msh210 Mod
    Commented Dec 25, 2011 at 20:26
  • 2
    @neilfein, but they can't become encyclopedia articles. I was thinking a five-to-ten-word definition and perhaps a link to Wikipedia or somewhere.
    – msh210 Mod
    Commented Dec 25, 2011 at 20:27
  • That's about right. Notations if there are particular site-specific issues would be nice. On Bicycles we have a lot of pictures, but that's just because we like pictures. Cooking is similar, I think. Commented Dec 25, 2011 at 20:49
  • 1
    What do the votes signify? Commented Dec 25, 2011 at 22:41
  • @ShmuelBrill - Votes aren't all that important here, but like anything else in meta, they mean that you agree or disagree with the definition, or that the definition is useful or not. Commented Dec 25, 2011 at 23:14
  • @msh210 Is 48 the max answers allowed for a question? Also, is there a criteria of how "noteworthy" [not quite the right word...] a particular word must be to get its own entry?
    – yydl
    Commented Dec 26, 2011 at 0:36
  • 1
    @yydl, 48=22+26 is how many letters there are in the English and Hebrew alphabets, so how many answers we would have had had we gone with the one-answer-per-initial-letter-of-the-term method, which we seem not to be doing. See also today's transcript from the site chat room. As for noteworthiness or what-have-you, the way I figure, a word that appears on judaism.se and needs explanation should go here; what do you think?
    – msh210 Mod
    Commented Dec 26, 2011 at 0:42
  • @msh210 Oh. Well it depends. My question was based on the assumption that we had a limited number of answers, which meant only "special" words would end up here. If the glossary can be infinitely large, then there's nothing to lose by allowing (just about) any entry.
    – yydl
    Commented Dec 26, 2011 at 2:08
  • @yydl - There's probably no need to define words like "mitzvah" or "tzedakah" that are relatively well-known, unless there are aspects of these words that need to be defined. Although the answer with the variations on halacha is kind of interesting! Commented Dec 26, 2011 at 6:16
  • Im pretty sure I saw this being discussed somewhere, but has anybody asked SE if we can get some kind of roll-over expansion feature? It beats having to send people to another page, and would be useful for many sites.
    – HodofHod
    Commented Dec 28, 2011 at 19:47
  • @HodofHod, Does this site have a glossary?
    – msh210 Mod
    Commented Dec 28, 2011 at 19:54
  • Is this question the location of the glossary or is there a separate glossary on judaism.stackexchange?
    – Yehuda W
    Commented Sep 1, 2015 at 13:50
  • @YehudaW, this is it.
    – msh210 Mod
    Commented Sep 1, 2015 at 14:07

64 Answers 64


ברכת המזון — Birkat Hamazon, Bentching, Benchingnoun

A specific prayer said after a bread-based meal. The text varies slightly by community tradition. More at Wikipedia. See also .


ספק – safek – adjective – a doubt or uncertainty.

contrasts with

וודאי – vaday – adjective – certain

"There was a safek if the meat was from the Kosher store or not."

ספק ספיקא– sefeik sefeika – noun – a double doubt

A principle in Halacha whereby even in certain cases where one must be strict in a doubtful situation one may be lenient if there are two different reasons to doubt the existence of a prohibition.


‏(תַּלְמוּד) יְרוּשָׁלְמִי(Talmud) Yerushalmi — the Jerusalem Talmud


הלכה למעשה - halacha l'ma'aseh - practical halacha


חז"ל — Hazal, Chazal

[lit. acronym for חכמינו זכרם לברכה; our sages of blessed memory] — Used to refer collectively to the sages of the Talmud. Oftentimes referred to by default as 'the Sages'.

May be used as an adjective: Hazalic/Chazalic, to describe such works.

See also Wikipedia.


תשובה — teshuvah, t'shuva — noun — literally, a return

  1. a reply letter to a question, especially one of Jewish law or practice
    Rabbi Schwartz spends a lot of time on each teshuvah, making sure it's correct, before he mails it.
  2. (in the plural, as part of a title) such letters, published as a book
    He's reading T'shuvos Maharamash.
  3. (singular only) repentance, return to God

תשובות— teshuvo, t'shuvos — plural


תורה — Torah

  1. The Pentateuch: the first five books of the Bible (Genesis through Deuteronomy).
  • That word appears six times in the Torah.
  1. (nonstandard) A copy of the Pentateuch, especially a scroll written according to certain rules, of the sort read from in synagogues. (More accurate: Sefer Torah [Torah scroll])
  • He removed two Torahs from the ark.
  1. That part of Jewish law that was decreed by God (as opposed to that part of it that was decreed by later authorities), including things not explicitly in the Pentateuch.
  • It's allowed by the Torah but the rabbis issued a decree against it.
  1. All of Jewish law, lore, philosophy, etc.: the entire body of Judaism's teachings, whether written or unwritten, thought of as a text.
  • I spent five hours yesterday learning Torah.
  1. All of Jewish law, lore, philosophy, etc.: the entire body of Judaism's teachings, whether written or unwritten, thought of as a way of life or Weltanschauung, or as God's will.
  • Doing that would be against the Torah.
  1. (rare) Tanakh

יצר הטובyetzer hatov — good inclination

יצר הרעyetzer hara — evil inclination


חזן — chazzan — noun —

  1. The leader of any communal prayer service.
  2. A professional at that job: usually, one with a good chanting and singing voice.
  3. (no longer in common use) Any of various officials in a synagogue or the Holy Temple.

שליח צבור — sheliach tzibbur — noun —

  1. The leader of any communal prayer service.

ש״ץ — shatz — acronym


כביכול — kivyachol, kaveyacholliterally as with one who is able

— used when saying something about God that does not apply to Him


מיקל – meikel – verb – to be lenient, as in matters of law.

contrasts with

מחמיר – machmir – verb – to be stringent or strict, as in matters of law.

Rabbi Schwartz is meikil on the issue, while Rabbi Weiss is machmir.

Actually masculine singular present-tense verbs (or present participles), these are often used in English preceded by copulas, as in the example above.

קולא – kula – noun – a leniency

contrasts with

חומרא – chumra – noun - a stringency


מחלל שבת -- M'Chalel Shabbat, Mchallel Shabbat, Mchalel Shabbos - [One who] desecrates the Sabbath.

חילול שבת -- Chillul Shabbat, Chilul Shabbos - Desecration of the Sabbath.


מִצְוָה — Mitzvahsingular noun — commandment, command; specifically, a religious command of God's or any of a particular class of rabbinic edicts classified as "mitzvah of the rabbis"

mitzvos, mitzvot — plural


שבע מצוות בני נח‎ Sheva mitzvot B'nei Noach -- The Seven Laws of Noah (also known as the Noahide or Noachide laws) that apply to non-Jewish people.

  1. Do not worship idols or any deity other than God.
  2. Do not blaspheme God.
  3. Do not murder.
  4. Do not engage in sexual immorality
  5. Do not steal.
  6. Do not eat of a live animal.
  7. Establish courts/legal system to ensure law and obedience.
  • 1
    I wasn't certain whether that term would be construed as offensive or merely technical, so I consulted a dictionary, and it did not indicate that the term is offensive. (My intention was merely to describe the act concisely, but a different way of putting it is fine if you think it would be less offensive). Certainly, it is not necessary to use that term to describe the act, but, regardless of the term that is used, it is a more accurate description of the law compared to the previous edit. You can decide if you wish to edit it further, or leave the more general form of the law.
    – Fred
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 18:43
  • @Fred - The problem is that the word "sodomy" is now seen as highly offensive to the LGBTQ community, and although Jewish law isn't supportive of homosexuality, I don't want to be unnecessarily offensive to anyone, including the LGBTQ community. I think "sexual immorality" is borderline offensive, but it is better than the alternatives, and is broad enough to cover all the bases. I don't think "sodomy" is necessary to describe the law in question, but if others feel differently, I would like to have my name removed from the entry.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 18:46
  • 1
    I understand. If you think it best, you can edit it to replace "sodomy" with "homosexual relations." Either that, or the current formulation is okay, I think. But the definition obviously can't be so accommodating as to give an inaccurate picture of the law by enumerating several specifics while leaving one conspicuously absent.
    – Fred
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 18:48
  • @Fred - Since the law covers bestiality, pederasty, adultery, and homosexuality, I think the best umbrella term is "sexual immorality". It accurately and comprehensively reflects the intent of the law. I don't agree that homosexuality is immoral, of course, but my sensibilities are irrelevant here, the only thing that matters is the law as described in the Torah. For the sake of succinctness, "sexual immorality" seems to be the best option.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 18:52
  • Would you prefer "forbidden sexual relationships"?
    – Fred
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 18:54
  • @Fred - That might be begging the question. Do you see a problem with "sexual immorality"? I'm willing to be proven wrong.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 19:00
  • 1
    I'm obviously not asking if sexual immorality is a problem for you. I meant to ask if the term "sexual immorality" is problematic for you.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 19:03
  • 1
    I'm also concerned that it might be begging the question (in the colloquial sense of the expression, for you sticklers out there), but this is an issue with all seven to a certain degree. You can't properly understand the parameters of any of the laws without going into details (though #4 might be even more vague when stated generally). And while "forbidden sexual relationships" might beg the question more glaringly, it doesn't really provide less information than does "sexual immorality." But I'm okay with either choice, I suppose.
    – Fred
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 19:08
  • @Fred - ignore the chat invite, it was unintentional. The other option is to remove the description of the laws, and limit the answer to the actual definition. That would be less informative, but it would circumvent the issues of wording.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 19:14
  • I think the value of including the basic seven laws probably outweighs comparatively minor concerns over the best language to use to express the idea (though it could be a bit of a minefield, I guess).
    – Fred
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 19:19
  • 1
    @Fred We're both being too congenial to come to a decision. :)
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 19:20
  • I don't really think it's problematic to leave the description as is ("sexual immorality"), since, from the perspective of Judaism, it is immoral to violate the law (and moreover, the Torah and Tanach in general use language regarding forbidden liasons that suggests that prohibited sexual relationships specifically are immoral). So a legal judgment regarding the nature of a particular act essentially implies a moral judgment regarding the fundamental nature of that act in that Judaism considers it immoral to willingly violate God's laws.
    – Fred
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 19:33
  • @Fred - I agree. And since the point of the glossary is to provide short, simple definitions, it makes sense to keep things as brief as possible. If someone needs to know about the Noachide laws, this is not the place they'd come to. They can just google it and the first result will be the Wikipedia page for the topic; the other results will provide more information from Jewish sources..
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 19:36

חס ושלום — chas v'shalom roughly, Heaven forfend, God forbid

(See also more information on its etymology / literal meaning and what it's used for.)

ח״ו — ch"v abbreviation.


להבדיל — lehavdil, l'havdil — literally to separate

  • often used when comparing (for example) God to another being, the Torah to another book, Judaism to another creed, and Jews to Gentiles
  • I removed @AdamMosheh's earlier inclusion of "and Jews to Gentiles" from this entry, because I don't think this terminology is generally used that way in common parlance. If other people disagree, I guess feel free to edit it back in.
    – Fred
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 3:25
  • @Fred - I googled "l'havdil gentile" and I immediately found several instances of the word being used to differentiate between Jews and other people. E.g., neveh.org/price/pricesensitivities.html
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 6:42
  • 1
    @WadCheber I just ran a similar search and found a few examples, too (Rabbi Price's article topped the results). Interesting. I also found this book, which cites R' Chaim Hirschensohn as not only opposing the idea of saying l'havdil between Jew and non-Jew, but even (according to Alan Brill) opposing the common practice of saying l'havdil when juxtaposing Judaism and Christianity. So while I don't tend to hear it used that way, apparently some people do.
    – Fred
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 7:14
  • 1
    @WadCheber I suppose this definition could also be improved by indicating that these are examples of usage, and this is not an exhaustive list (a couple more usages are listed in comments here). Also to indicate that this term is often used out of convention, rather than being religiously required. How about e.g. changing "used when..." to "often used, for example, when...." What do you think?
    – Fred
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 7:44
  • @Fred - Excellent idea.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 20:53

חילול השם - Chillul Hashem

Desecration of Hashem's name.

For more detail see Wikipedia.


באַשערט — bashert

  • (originally, adjective) preordained, destined
  • (thus, noun) soulmate, preordained spouse

This is from the Yiddish adjective, and you sometimes see it declined for case, gender, and number as in Yiddish: basherte, basherter, bashertn.


נושאי כלים - nos'ei keilim

Literally "armiger" or "arms-bearer," this word is commonly used to refer to commentaries on an earlier work (especially in halacha). For example,

Mishna Berura is among the most commonly used נושאי כלים on the Orach Chayim section of Shulchan Aruch.



בפרהסיא Bfarhesia, B'farhesia - Publicly, In Public


מוקצה – muktze, muktzehliterally set aside

This is grammatically a verb (masculine singular present tense), and other forms are also in common use:

מוקצה – muktza, muktzah – feminine singular present tense
מוקצים – muktzim – masculine plural present tense
הוקצה – huktza, huktzah – masculine singular third-person past tense
הוקצו – huktzu – plural third-person past tense


מקור – makornoun – source.

On Mi Yodeya, this usually refers to a textual or similar source for a statement.


שיתוף‎ - shittuf - partnership.

  • שותפים shutfim - partners (often, fiscal)
  • עבודה בשיתוף avoda be-shittuf - worship through partnership (used to denote worshiping (or sometimes believing in) God in conjunction with another deity). Sometimes shortened to just shittuf.

גרמא -- Grama, G'rama, Geramah, etc.

An indirect cause.


הצלחה רבה--Hatslacha/Hatslaha Rabbah

lit. Great or abundant success.

Used as a blessing others success regarding a particular endeavor, or used broadly.


בטל ברב — Battel Berov — nullified in a majority.

בטל בשישים — Battel Beshishim — nullified in a 1:60 ratio.

בטל במאה — Battel Bemeya — nullified in a 1:100 ratio.

בטל במאתים — Battel Bemasayim or Battel Bematayim — nullified in a 1:200 ratio.

ביטול — Bittul — nullification in any of the above forms. Verb form מבטל, to nullify.


בשעת דחק -- bish'as dechak (sometimes בשעת הדחק -- bish'as hadechak)

In a time of great need. Lit. in a time of pressure.


קבלה – kabbalah, kabala – noun – literally acceptance, receiving, receipt –

  1. a particular branch of Jewish study, often called "mysticism" (see also a question on it) ("he was studying kabbalah");
    sometimes coordinated with halacha ("according to kabbalah one shouldn't...")
  2. a mesorah or tradition that one has received from his forebears or teachers ("I have a kabbalah that I'm a descendent of King David's")
  3. something one has accepted upon himself ("I made a kabbala not to speak anything but words of Torah and prayer for one hour each day, starting at 10:00 a.m."), or an instance of such acceptance
  4. the certification accorded a ritual slaughterer, or the written proof thereof

kabbalos, kabalot – plural


פסיק רישא - psik reisha

An unavoidable consequence of a permitted action, resulting in a melacha being performed.

See also and its tag description and this question for more info.

פסיק רישא דלא ניחא ליה - psik reisha d'lo neicha lei

An unavoidable melacha that one does not desire to benefit from.

פסיק רישא דניחא ליה - psik reisha d'neicha lei

An unavoidable melacha that one desires to benefit from.


‏(ב)אונס — (b')Oneis - Unwilling (often used in the context of rape), against one's wishes, forced.

contrasts with

‏(ב)רצון — (b')Ratzon - Willingly, which itself has two subcategories שוגג vs מזיד.

Oneis is a Halachic category where the one forced into the situation is relieved of responsibility for the result - sin, financial damages, etc.

B'Ratzon is generally the word used as the antonym for this concept, although standing alone it often has a wider meaning. e.g. תחלתו באונס וסופו ברצון - the beginning was unwilling but the end was willing.

  • "Oneis is a Halachic category where the one forced into the situation is relieved of responsibility for the result - sin, financial damages, etc." I suspect this is not always true, but I don't have any sources.
    – user9643
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 22:11
  • @Ploni The Mishnah you’re looking for is אדם מועד לעולם בין באונס בין ברצון. Oneis doesn’t cover financial responsibility unless you’re a Shomer other than the Shoel.
    – DonielF
    Commented Aug 2, 2018 at 15:49

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