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



A disclaimer, short for "Consult Your Local (Orthodox) Rabbi". For more information see the FAQ, specifically the section on how to treat advice from this site.

Note: "CYLOR" may not be appropriate in all cases (where assuming one is Orthodox could cause friction).


אסור — asur, ossur — forbidden; especially: forbidden by halacha

contrasted with

מותר — mutar — permitted; especially: permitted by halacha


לכתחילה — lechatechila, l'hat'hila — from the outset (a priori)

contrasted with

בדיעבד — bediavad, b'dieved — after some action was taken (a posteriori)

Example usage: You may not cook it l'chat'chila but b'diavad, if you cooked it, you may eat it.


גמרא - gemara — The body of talmudic analysis of and commentary to the Mishna, found in the Babylonian Talmud and Jerusalem Talmud. (More at Wikipedia.)


יוצא - yotzei — short for Yotzei Yedey Chovaso/Chovato — fulfilling his obligation.

מוציא - motzi — causing another to fulfill his obligation, e.g. by reading something for him that he listens to.

These are verbs and are conjugated accordingly.


ראשון Rishon singular - noun

ראשונים Rishonim plural - Literally "the first ones"; leading Rabbis and Poskim who lived approximately from the 11th to the 15th centuries

אחרון Acharon, Achron singular

אחרונים Acharonim, Achronim plural

Literally "the latter ones": leading rabbis who lived after the Rishonim


הגבהה — hagbah, hagbaha

[lit. "raising"] — (a) the ritual raising of an open Torah scroll before/after it's read from; (b) raising personal property to effect a transfer of ownership


תכלת‎ - techelet, t'cheiles

A particular blue dye used for tzitzit and other uses.

(, tag info)


ציצית - tzitzit, tzitzis, sisit

  1. A specific type of fringe affixed to a four-cornered garment. It is a mitzvah from the Torah to affix these fringes to a four-cornered garment.

  2. A garment containing those fringes.

See the tag wiki, also Wikipedia.


היתר — heter

  1. an halachic ruling that something is permitted ("issued a heter", "got a heter")
  2. grounds for permitting something ("couldn't find a heter for...")
  3. the state of being permitted ("היתר במות")

contrasted with

איסור,‎ אסור — isur, issur

  1. a prohibition: a law prohibiting something
  2. the state of being prohibited

Related question on Mi Yodeya.


הלכה — halacha, halakha

  1. Jewish law, including civil law, religious rites, criminal law, etc. ("but halacha says to do...") (singular only)
  2. a specific Jewish law ("there's a halacha that one may...")
  3. a paragraph in any of various law books ("see chapter 3 halacha 4 in the Y'rushalmi")

הלכות, halachot, halachos — plural noun

הלכות, hilchot, hilchos — plural construct noun — "the halachot of..."

halachic — adjective —

  1. accepted by halacha ("a halachic solution", "an halakhic dress code")
  2. in halacha ("an halachic distinction")
  3. of or about halacha ("a halakhic ruling", "a halachic term paper")

halachically — adverb

See also and its tag description, and the glossary entry for halacha l'ma'aseh.


ממה נפשך -- m'mah nafshach, mimah nafshach -- prepositional phrase - literally whatever you think

Used to introduce a disjunction elimination, namely, that no matter which option you choose from a set of options, conclusion X (or question X) follows.


Why should Vayikra 19:10 mention the ger? ממה נפשך: if the convert is poor, then he deserves to take leket anyway. And if he isn't poor, then he shouldn't take leket!

Example (humorous):

If you're Jewish, you believe in God, ממה נפשך. If you're a Chassid, you believe because you have Emunah. If you're a Litvak, you believe because the Rambam said so, and the Raavad doesn't argue.


בשר בחלב — basar b'chalavalsoבשר וחלב — basar v'chalav

  1. milk and meat together (where "together" can be to any of various degrees depending on context)
  2. the set of rules regarding such admixture

מראית עין — maarit ayin, maris ayin — [lit. "vision of the eye"] — the act of something that looks like a forbidden activity, although it is not.

Generally used in the context of avoiding an activity, not because it is forbidden per se, but because it looks like a forbidden activity and might create the false impression that the forbidden activity is actually permitted. For example, a Jew who keeps kosher might attend a business luncheon in a non-kosher restaurant without eating anything. While this Jew consumed no non-kosher food, it could create the false impression that this restaurant's food is actually kosher.


עבודה זרה – avodah zarah – noun – literally foreign worship

  1. singular only – idol worship, idolatry
  2. colloquially countable – a (false of course) god other than (the true) God
  3. proper noun – the name of a tractate of the Talmud that deals with idolatry and other topics


R', Rav, Rabbi, Rabi, Rebbe, Reb, Rov, R., Harav, Horav, ר׳,‎ רב,‎ רבי,‎ הרב,‎ הר׳ — all just mean "rabbi", a religious leader, especially one ordained as such by his teacher.

Plural: rabbonim, rabbanim, rabbeim, rebbeim, rabanim, רביים,‎ רבנים

(There are some slight differences among these terms. "Rebbe" is often reserved for a hasidic leader; "reb" sometimes used as a title for laymen. "Rebbeim" might teach in schools whereas "rabbonim" might lead synagogues.)


חייב or חיב — chayavadj.

  1. obligated (to do something)
    Someone who forgot to say the "Yaale V'yavo" part of the prayer is chayav to repeat the whole prayer.
  2. liable, owing (money or the like)
    If he stole $100, he's chayav $200.
  3. due (a punishment)
    Someone who worships another god is chayav death by stoning.

plural: חייבים — chayavim

synonym: מחויב or מחוייב — mechuyav, m'chuyav (used especially for sense 1, above)

— contrasted with —

פטור — paturadj.

  1. exempt (from an action)
    Someone who forgot to say the "Al Hanisim" part of the prayer is patur from repeating the prayer.
  2. exempt (from a punishment)

‏(מ)דרבנן — (mi)d'rabananliterally (by) that of our rabbis — (by) rabbinic decree

‏(מ)דאורייתא — (mi)d'oraysa, (mi)deoraytaliterally (by) that of the Torah — (by) divine decree

(Note that laws mid'oraysa are generally considered to include not only those literally in the Pentateuch but also many derived therefrom by the rabbis or transmitted generation to generation from the time of the revelation on Mount Sinai.)


משנה — mishna, mishnah

  1. a body of law compiled circa 200 CE (circa 4000 anno mundi). More at Wikipedia.
  2. a paragraph in that work. plural: משניות — mishnayot, mishnayos

מחלוקת - mahaloket, machlokes

Argument: difference of opinion. (Connotation can be positive/neutral, as in disagreements about how to understand the Bible, or negative, as in quarrels.)


מלאכה — melacha — labor, work; especially:

  1. acts, collectively, that are forbidden on the sabbath and festivals ("does that count as melachah?")
  2. any of the 39 major categories of acts forbidden on the sabbath and festivals ("the melacha of kindling also includes adding fuel to a fire")

plural — מלאכות — m'lachos, melachot

construct — מלאכת — meleches, m'lechet


בל תשחית – bal tashchis, bal tashchit

(literally - "do not destroy")

The commandment that forbids senseless waste. Biblically, it refers to cutting down fruit trees, but rabbinically, it has been applied to many things including throwing out food, tearing clothing, and killing animals (for reasons other than food).


סימן — siman — sign, marker; specifically:

  1. Chapter. (Used only for citations to certain works.)
  2. Any of certain foods eaten the night of Rosh Hashana (see e.g. a question about them).

השם – Hashem, HaShem – proper noun – literally The Name –

  • God (the one true god, the god of Judaism)

often abbreviated ה׳ or ד׳ or יי


צניעות — tznius, tseniyutnoun — modesty, quietness

צנוע(ה)‏ — tzanua, senuʿahadjective — modest, quiet

Used to describe especially people and their clothes, but also their actions, manner of speaking, etc.

See also questions tagged and the tag's explanation.


מלרע milra' and מלעיל mil'eil — preposition phrases (used as adjectives or adverbs) — when pronouncing Hebrew, where the stress is placed. Milra' stress is on the final syllable (e.g. sha-BAT, hav-da-LA); mil'eil stress is on the penultimate syllable (e.g. sha-MA-yim, ME-lech).


בשוגג — Beshogeg; Shogeg — accidental; unintended; accidentally; unintentionally.

במזיד — Bemeizid; Meizid — purposeful; intentional; purposefully; intentionally.


פוסק — poseknoun

plural: פוסקים — poskim, posekim

See also the question "Posek vs. Rabbi?" and the tag .


ספר — sefer, seifernoun

  1. a Jewish-content or holy book
  2. a book

Plural: ספרים — sforim, sefarim, s'farim


מחבר — mechaber, m'chaber, mehabernoun

  1. composer, author
  2. ("the mechaber") specifically, the author of Shulchan Aruch

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