Glossary of Hebraic & Jewish Terminology

For beginners! With links to relevant articles

Lois Tverberg

A work in progress - please suggest terms that should be added to this list

Adonai - Hebrew for "my Lord" - a term of respect used for God or a king.

Bless - In Jewish prayer, people often "bless the Lord" for what He has given us. In that sense, blessing God means to praise him and acknowledge that He is the source of all blessing. In Hebrew the word is barach (bah-RAKH).

Blessing - The Hebrew word for a blessing is berachah (bear-ah-KHAH). Plural, berachot (bear-ah-KHOTE). A blessing is a short prayer to thank God, it isn't a magical formula for making something holy.

Derasha - (or drash) A lesson based on the scripture reading that is read in the synagogue each Sabbath.

Elohim - In Hebrew, one of the names to refer to God

Haggadah (or Aggadah) - Storytelling, like parables or midrash (see entry below). Explaining the Bible and theology using story. Often contrasted with halakah, legal rulings (below). Also, in the Passover Seder, each person traditionally has a book with the story of Passover, plus songs and prayers called a Haggadah.

Halakah - Hebrew word that is used for law and legal ordinances in Judaism. Note that the word "Torah" is not understood that way, but as "instruction, teaching". Halakah is how the Torah is applied to living - laws and ethics. Rabbis, including Jesus, taught both halakah, ethics and law, and haggadah, stories to explain the scriptures.

HaShem - Hebrew for "The Name". Very commonly used by Jews as a substitute for God's name, out of reverence for God, and a desire not to use His name in vain.

Kal v'homer
- Literally "light and heavy" - A rabbinic method to prove a point from saying if a small thing is true, a greater thing is even more true. Usually includes the words "How much more…" Jesus used these in his teaching, as when he said "Consider the lilies of the field… If God clothes them, how much more will He clothe you?"

Kanafim - See Prayer Shawl.

Mayim Hayim - (Mah-yeem khah-yeem) Hebrew for Living Water - an image of the Holy Spirit used in the Old Testament and by Jesus. Mayim means water, hayim means living or life.

Malchut Shemayim - (Mal-KHUT Sheh-mah-yeem) - Kingdom of Heaven - Rabbinic term used in the time of Jesus to describe God's activity and reign over those who enthrone him as king - when God takes control of a life or situation. (Malchut - kingship or reign, shemayim - heavens - a respectful euphemism for God) Exactly the same as Kingdom of God. Matthew generally uses K. of Heaven; Mark & Luke, K. of God

Messianic Jew - A Jewish person who believes that Jesus is the Messiah.

Midrash - An interpretation or expansion of a Bible text, often with explanations of the text by including some kind of story.

Mishnah - The Jewish commentary on the Torah with all of the interpretations of the various laws for different situations. It is comprised of the oral commentary on the Torah that was in effect from a few hundred years before Christ until it was written down in 200 AD. Much of it was observed at the time of Jesus.

Moshiach - Hebrew for Messiah, which in Greek is the word Christ. It means literally "Anointed One" and refers to the fact that God promised that one would come who would be specially chosen and anointed as a great king and priest for his people.

Parashah - Torah portion - reading of the Pentateuch that is used each week in the synagogue. Each reading is about 4-6 chapters long and has a name, usually one of the first few words of the reading. In one year all of the Torah is read. Sometimes the longer expression is used: Parashah HaShavuah - the portion of the week.

Pesach - (PAY-sakh) Passover - one of the most important Biblical festivals which commemorated the exodus from Egypt, still commemorated by Jews with a Seder meal. "Pesach" specifically refers to the lamb.

Pirke Avot - (Peer-KAY Ah-VOT) Saying of the Fathers - Name of one of the sections of the Mishnah (see above) that contains many proverbial sayings of the rabbis of Jesus' time. Gives much insight into the rabbinic world of Jesus, and has some parallels to His teaching.

Prayer Shawl - Currently it is customary for Jewish men to wear a prayer shawl during prayer, and in some denominations, women too. Its most important aspect is the fact that it has tassels called tzitzit ("zeet-zeet") at the corners to obey Numbers 15:37. (See tzitzit definition below.) To put the tzitzit at the corners (kanafim) is suggestive of being under God's wings, because kanafim means both corners and wings. This suggests that when we are under God's control, we are also under His protection.

Rabbi - In Jesus' day a rabbi was not ordained in a seminary or paid to run a synagogue, he studied as a disciple of another rabbi until he was considered wise enough to teach himself. He had another trade to support himself as he traveled from town to town, teaching in synagogues and training disciples of his own.

Remez - Hint - To put a reference into a teaching by mentioning one or two key words from the scriptures. The assumption is that the listeners would know the larger context, and have a deeper undertanding because of the context of the reference. Jesus did this often in His teaching. For example, he said, "My House is to be a house of prayer, but you have made it into a den of robbers!" (Luke 19:46) The words, "house of prayer" is from Isaiah 56:7, and "den of robbers" is from Jeremiah 7:11. See link for more explanation.

Rosh Hashanah - Jewish New Year - means literally "head of the year". It was also called the feast of trumpets, when a shofar (ram or antelope horn) was blown. It was the beginning of the high holy days - the 10 days of awe when people were to repent of their sins.

Septuagint - The Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament that was in use at the time of Jesus.

Shabbat - Hebrew for Sabbath - starts on Friday at sunset until Saturday at sunset. It means "to cease" - a time of ceasing from labor, according to the Bible. It is supposed to be a time of freedom from ordinary concerns to focus on family relationships, one's relationship with God, and to relax and trust God to keep you alive without your own efforts for one day

Shabbat shalom - Greeting people say to each other on the sabbath. It is expected that the shalom (peace, wholeness) of the sabbath will be even better than any day of the week. At the end of the sabbath, people say "Shavua Tov" - have a good week.

Shavuot - Jewish word for the feast that Christians celebrate as Pentecost. It means "weeks" because seven weeks are counted off after the festival of First Fruits to arrive at the day. Pentecost is Greek for 50 days. It is a harvest festival that also commemorates God's giving of His law and covenant on Mt. Sinai. The Holy Spirit was poured out on the new believers on this day, as a sign of the New Covenant, in which God would put His Law in our hearts (Jer. 31:31).

Shofar - Ram's horn used as a trumpet to sound alarms and announce events.

Tallit - Hebrew word for prayer shawl (see above)

Talmid - A student, or a disciple of a rabbi. Plural - talmidim.

Talmud - Large volume of texts which are commentary on the Mishnah, which is commentary on the laws of the Torah. Written down about 500 AD. Contains many Jewish oral traditions that may date from Jesus' time, even though it was written down later. Two versions exist - the Babylonian and the Jerusalem Talmuds. Orthodox Jews today put a high priority on studying the Talmud.

Tanakh - The Jewish term for their Bible - the same books as in the protestant "Old Testament" or better, Hebrew Bible. Tanakh is actually an acronym of the first letters that start each of the 3 main sections. These are the:

Torah (Pentateuch) - five books of Moses - the covenant and laws
Neviim (the prophets) - Isaiah, Jeremiah, other prophets, and some history books
Ketuvim (the writings) - Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon, Ruth, and others

Torah - First five books of Bible - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Usually translated into English as "Law". Actually means in Hebrew more like "teaching, instruction, guidance".

Tzitzit - Fringe tied on corners of prayer shawls to obey the command in Numbers 15:37. In the time of Jesus, they were worn on the outer garments of all Jewish men. Symbolic of nobility and priesthood, because Israel was to be a nation of priests. One strand was dyed blue, but is not now. They were also to remind the wearer to obey God's commandments. See link for article.

Yeshua - Jesus' name as it would have been said in Hebrew. It is a shortened form of Yehoshua, which we would say as Joshua. Both names mean God's salvation. That is why the angel said "You shall call him Jesus, for He will save his people from their sins." (Matt 1:21)

Yom Kippur - Means "Day of Atonement" in Hebrew. The most holy day of the year for the Jewish people, when they look ahead to the coming judgment. In biblical times it was the day that the High Priest made atonement for the sins of the nation.