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Understanding Commonly Used Hebrew Terms

Jewish people use the Hebrew language which includes words that may not be familiar to non-Jews. As many Jewish people celebrate various important occasions in their life, they also use Hebrew terms in describing certain aspects of the event. The bar or bat mitzvah, the coming of age of a child, is just one example.

Bar mitzvah – Hebrew terms meaning “son of the commandment.” This refers to a boy who turned 13 and who is expected to obey the Jewish commandments.

Bat mitzvah – Hebrew words meaning “daughter of the commandment.” It refers to a girl who has turned 12 years old and who becomes responsible for obeying the commandments.

Aliyah – This means to be called up to recite the blessing before the Torah reading.

Beit midrash – A designated place, normally part of the synagogue, for the study of sacred texts.

Haftarah – Refers to the portion of the Book of Prophets read in worship services in the synagogue.

Kaddish – A prayer proclaiming God’s greatness used at other points in the liturgy. It is often used as the mourner’s prayer.

Kippah – Also known as Yarmulke, this is a skullcap or a disc-like head covering. Kippot is the plural form.

Mazel Tov – Literally, this means good planetary influences. It is commonly known as good luck and is usually said upon hearing good news.

Midrash – This refers to stories, sermons, parables and other material explaining the Talmud.

Mishneh Torah – This means repetition of Torah. Specifically, this is the book of Deuteronomy or the code of Maimonides.

Mitzvot – Plural for mitzvah or commandments. Sometimes, it is used to refer to any good deed.

Oral Torah – The Traditional Jews say this is part of the Torah received by Moses at Mt. Sinai. This was said to be written down only in 200 CE as the Mishnah.

Rabbi – Teacher or Jewish spiritual leader.

Shalom – A greeting meaning hello, goodbye or peace.

Shabbat service – This is the worship service of the Jews that normally takes place on a Saturday. It is divided into four parts – the Shema which teaches the main Jewish belief, Tefilah which evokes the needs of Jews, Torah and concluding prayers featuring the Aleinu and the Kaddish. A bar or bat mitzvah is required to attend this religious service as an adult right after his 12th or 13th birthday. During the Torah service, the young man is called up to recite the blessing and read portions of the Torah. This part is a reenactment of the events at Mt. Sinai.

Siddur – This is a prayer book used in Jewish liturgy.

Simcha – A Hebrew term for rejoicing. It refers to any Jewish celebration.

Talmud – Literally, it means teaching. Today, it refers to the Oral Torah composed of the Mishnah and the Gemara.

Tallit – A prayer shawl worn only by Jewish men during prayer time, study or Torah reading.

Tefillin – Also called phylacteries, these are a pair of black leather boxes that contain scrolls of parchments inscribed with passages from the Bible. The hand tefillin is worn by the boys wrapped around the arm, hand and fingers while the head tefillin is worn above the forehead. However, male Jews are required to wear this only until they are close to celebrating their bar mitzvah, about 30 days before their 13th birthday.

Torah – The first five books of the Jewish Bible. It is also called the Five Books of Moses or the Pentateuch.

Yarmulke – Also known as the kippah or a head covering for the males.

Read more articles on the subject: Bar Mitzvah Traditions Still Being Observed Today

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