Welcome to Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest
Regardless of your background, in an organization with “Jewish,” as a first name, it helps to familiarize yourself with the words, phrases, and concepts that are at the heart of what we do. To help all professionals at Federation, we offer this guide to provide insight into basic and nuanced aspects of Jewish heritage that you may come across in the course of your work, including:
- Key Jewish Concepts
- Hebrew Greetings and Expressions
- Holidays and Days of the Week
- Personal / Home
- Numerology & Miscellany
Hebrew words are accompanied by a translation and the Israeli and American pronunciations. For example:
Israeli pronunciation: shah•BAHT
American pronunciation: SHAH•bihs
And yes, some Israelis will pronounce words like Americans. Some Americans will pronounce words like Israelis. Confused yet? Welcome!
Don’t hesitate to reach out to colleagues if you are curious about this or other aspects of Jewish community, or Judaism. B’Hatzlacha! (Good luck!)
Chief Jewish Learning Officer
Key Jewish Concepts
Torah (The Five Books of Moses)
Israeli pronunciation: Toh•RAH
American pronunciation: TOH•rah
There are many ways to understand this word. At its most basic level, it is the hand-calligraphed parchment scroll that contains the Hebrew language version of the Five Books of Moses, sometimes referred to as the Jewish Bible. Torah also encompasses oral traditions that surround that written corpus. It also extends to what we might call Jewish values, attitudes, and outlooks. The Jewish lessons of individual people may also be referred to as “his/her Torah.” Beyond its literal definition, Torah is used to think about how we live our lives.
Israeli pronunciation: mitz•VOTE
American pronunciation: MITZ•vahs
A “mitzvah” is often used to connote a “good deed,” and while sometimes it is, that does not convey the many dimensions of this concept. The defining acts of a Jewish person stem from mitzvot (commandments) that were originally written in the Torah. Tradition teaches that the Torah contains 613 such mitzvot, but many more were transmitted orally and have been enacted by rabbinic authority.
Israeli pronunciation: keh•hee•LAH
American pronunciation: keh•HEE•lah
A key Jewish principle is to seek communal unity or at least alignment of purpose and action in the pursuit and fulfillment of mitzvot. Over the centuries, Jewish wisdom has suggested some of the essential institutions and activities that comprise a Jewish community, many of which are still relevant or being re-invented today in Jewish communities world-wide.
Israeli pronunciation: tzeh•dah•KAH
American pronunciation: tze•DUH•kuh
Often misunderstood as “charity”, the word “tzedakah” comes from the root-word, ”tzedek” (Justice). Tzedakah usually, but not always, consists of financial support, and while the amount of money given is at the discretion of the giver, the act of Tzedakah is considered a mitzvah. In other words, Jewish tradition views Tzedakah as more of a responsibility than “a good deed.”
Israeli pronunciation: ah•ray•VOOT
American pronunciation: ah•RAY•vus
From a foundational principle that “all Jews are interdependent, areyvim, one with the other.” This Jewish mutual responsibility informs our response to aid Jews in need anywhere around the world, as well as to celebrate achievements with Jewish communities anywhere around the world.
Tikkun Olam (Repair of the World)
Israeli pronunciation: teek•KOON oh•LAHM
American pronunciation: TIK•koon OH•lum
This principle informs the Jewish responsibility to take our place as global citizens and to act on issues that affect the community at-large.
Israel / Zionism
The land of Israel is the place where Jewish matriarchs and patriarchs lived and raised families over 3,500 years ago, where families that emerged as the People of Israel after liberation from Egyptian slavery returned to their national birthplace. Historically, Israel is where Jewish kings and prophets guided a sovereign Jewish nation for about 1,300 years until the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, the religious and national center, in 70 CE. Zionism is the modern term for the historical connection, yearning, and return to the land of Israel also referred to as tzee•YONE / TZEE•yon / Zion in biblical and now modern Hebrew. Many aspects of this vision were fulfilled with the establishment of the modern State of Israel in 1948. Today, Zionism is an expression of ongoing support for the Jewish State.
Chessed (loving kindness)
Chessed is a hard word to translate, and that’s why it is so precious. Doing “a Chessed” can be a small, anonymous gesture, or a gigantic public one, either way, it is one person or group unselfishly helping another person or group. Think of it as Tzedakah that is done with one’s body or other power rather than (or in addition to) money.
Your Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest is a community-building expression of commitments to Areyvut, Tikkun Olam, and Zionism, encouraging personal fulfillment in acts of Chessed, the mitzvah of Tzedakah and celebration of how Torah enhances Jewish communal life.
Hebrew Greetings and Expressions
Response: Boker Ohr (“morning of light”)
“Good night” Usually said before retiring for the night
“Have a good Shabbat.”
A Shabbat greeting that is appropriate to express as early as Thursday (if it’s unlikely to see the person before Shabbat) and throughout Saturday.
“A good week.”
Said at the end of Shabbat to mark the beginning of the new week.
Traditional Rosh Hashanah greeting; short for “L’Shana Tovah tikatevu,” (le•shah•NAH toh•VAH tee•kah•TAY•voo), which means, “May you be inscribed for a good year.” Other greetings include, “Happy New Year!”; “a happy and healthy New Year.”
G’mar Chatimah Tova
gah•MAHR khah•tee•MAH toh•VAH
Traditional Yom Kippur greeting. Some say “G’mar tov,” which means “a good completion to your inscription (in the book of life)”. The phrase is used between Rosh Hashanah and the end of Yom Kippur.
Todah / Todah Rabah
toh•DAH / toh•DAH rah•BAH
“Thank you” / “Thank you very much”
“See you soon”
“Excuse me” / “I’m sorry”
“Please”/ You’re welcome
Used to congratulate someone for a significant act, especially one that pertains to Jewish observance.
Israeli pronunciation: mah•ZAL tove
American pronunciation: MAH•zel tove
Although the literal translation is “Good luck,” the phrase is used to express congratulations.
Recognizing a job well done
“To Life!” Usually said as a toast.
The accepted way to congratulate someone who is pregnant or anticipating good news. The phrase literally translates to “in a good hour,” and is rooted in the same superstition that buying clothing or furnishing a nursery before the baby is born may invite bad luck.
Synagogues / Congregations / Temples / Shuls
These are all synonyms for Jewish houses of worship. A “Temple” will usually, but not always, connote a Reform Jewish congregation. A “Shul” (Yiddish for “school”) is a reference to the building or the congregation, rather than part of the synagogue’s name. Someone who is “going to shul” is on her/his way to synagogue.
Movements / Streams / Sects
Over the last 300 years, what was perceived as a common expression of Judaism has evolved into several different streams or branches. It would be wrong to refer to them as denominations because they are not breaks with one another as much as different perspectives of the same beliefs. There is also a tendency to place the streams along artificial spectrums, (e.g., more or less “religious,” or “liberal,” or “authentic”). We will provide links to each of the movements in alphabetical order so you can learn more about them and the synagogues with which you may interact. The important thing to understand regarding our work is that Federation itself is not another stream or branch of Judaism. It does not favor one movement over the other, and it works diligently to maintain a sense of unity of purpose and communal belonging among all who express connection to the Jewish People.
- Orthodox (Background, as there is no formal Synagogue Network)
- Reconstructing Judaism (Reconstructionism)
You can search for all Greater MetroWest synagogues by movement here.
Prayer in the synagogue is usually offered three times a day, and may also be said at home:
shah•kha•REET / SHAKH•ris / Morning prayers
meen•CHA / MIN•cha / Afternoon prayers
mah•ah•REEV / MAH•riv / Evening prayers
“Rav” means Teacher in Hebrew. It is both an academic and a professional title conferred upon completion of formal study in a yeshiva or theological seminary. A rabbi may serve in any number of rolls from classroom teaching to college campuses, chaplaincy, or as the spiritual leader of a congregation. Women and men serve as rabbis, however in the Orthodox community women rabbis are still rare.
Chazzan / Cantor
Israeli pronunciation: kha•ZAN
American pronunciation: KHA•zin
The chazzan is the lead voice in offering Jewish prayers in the synagogue. Cantors increasingly serve wider clergy roles as personal counselors and educators. Women and men serve as cantors. Most Orthodox synagogues do not employ a cantor and rely on lay members (men) to lead the services.
Lay Leader Roles
Synagogues are, typically, IRS-approved nonprofit organizations and by law must be led by volunteers. The president and other officers of the congregation are volunteers, as are members of the board and committees. Professionals of the Congregation (clergy, educators, staff) will support the work of the volunteers, parallel to the way our Federation works. The term “lay leader,” by the way, comes from the church.
Jewish education is a multi-faceted, lifelong endeavor that extends beyond the classroom. Traditionally, Judaism credits itself with creating the first formal Jewish school program going back about 1,500 years. In addition to formal education, Hebrew school, youth groups, and camps are all examples of Jewish learning.
Jewish Day School
Jewish Day schools combine a general studies curriculum that is equivalent to that of local private and public schools, and in addition to this teaches a parallel Jewish studies curriculum. These are private schools where tuition is charged.
Israeli pronunciation: Yeh•shee•VAH
American pronunciation: Yeh•SHEE•vah
In some cases, the term “yeshiva” is used to denote a school that has a more Orthodox leaning or offers an exclusively Jewish studies curriculum.
Hebrew / Religious / Congregational School
Congregational schools provide public school students with after-school or sometimes Shabbat/Sunday Jewish education. These schools are usually sponsored by synagogues and linked to membership.
Early Childhood Centers
Many synagogues and all our day schools and JCCs offer Jewish early childhood programs that integrate Jewish experiences with developmental learning offered in all such programs.
Jewish Summer Camp and other Informal / Experiential Learning
Jewish summer camps (day camps and overnight camps) range from those that are sponsored by Jewish religious movements and others that are more culturally Jewish. These camps vary in the way they weave Jewish content throughout their day-to-day activities. While most Jewish summer camps are nonprofit organizations, they charge a fee for participation.
Jewish children from early ages through college Hillels have opportunities to participate in Jewish youth groups, some of which are sponsored by the synagogue movements, others are more culturally or politically Jewish in their orientation.
Jewish tradition and custom calls for Jews to be buried in a Jewish cemetery. Graves are usually marked with the name of the deceased often in both Hebrew and English. The Hebrew will cite the person’s name, her/his father’s name or sometimes both parents. It will also indicate the date of death, often according to the Hebrew calendar. Cemeteries are sacred spaces and surviving family members are encouraged to visit periodically, usually on the Hebrew anniversary date of death, Yartzeit in Yiddish (YAHR•tzite), to reflect on the memory of the deceased and sometimes to pray, calling upon the virtuous deeds of the deceased to support their petition.
People can become Jewish in one of two ways: one is born into it or comes to it through conversion. As many distinct types of people there are, that is how many diverse types of Jews there are. The following are some terms used to identify people within or descended from various Jewish communities. You will find all kinds of Jews everywhere, including in Greater MetroWest.
- Ashkenazi – Primarily from Central Europe, S. Africa, US & Canada.
- Sephardi – Also called Hispanic Jews, from Spain and Portugal.
- Mizrachi – North Africa, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Iran.
- “Jews of Color” is a term one will hear. Keep in mind that this term is imperfect as it implies that the Jewish default condition is White.
- Gender – All genders are included.
- Inter-married, Inter-faith, Mixed Heritage. Different Jewish streams will have different views, but as a Federation, we welcome anyone who wishes to participate in Jewish community.
- Israeli – Including those who lived in pre-State Israel (before 1948).
- Russian – Generic term for Jews from the Former Soviet Union, also referred to as “Russian Speaking Jews.”
- “Affiliated” and “Unaffiliated” Jews – This is a phrase that we sometimes use to label people who are not members of synagogues, or Jewish organizations, or donors to Federation. It is unfair to apply labels in general. In the current Jewish communal environment of multiple options for participating meaningfully in Jewish experiences without having to join anything, the term “affiliated” is not only unfair, but also increasingly meaningless and a term that we do well to avoid.
Hebrew / Yiddish
Hebrew is the language of the Jewish Bible and one of the official living languages of The State of Israel. It is also a primary language for Jewish prayer.
Hebrew has combined with indigenous languages over the centuries, the most common and current example is Yiddish (literally “Jewish”), a mash-up of Hebrew and German spoken by some Ashkenazi Jews. Ladino is a parallel but less extant example combining Hebrew and Old-Spanish with other flavors included, connected to the Sephardic tradition.
In addition to whatever name appears on the birth certificate, many Jewish families also adorn their children with a Hebrew name. The name choice is completely at the discretion of the parents. The custom of the Ashkenazi community is to name in memory of a deceased person. The Sephardi community often names in honor of living people. Baby boys are usually named during the Brit/ circumcision ceremony; baby girls are usually named in the synagogue on a day when the Torah is read, and the community is assembled to hear the announcement of the name.
Israeli pronunciation: BREET
American pronunciation: Bris
Virtually all Jewish boys are circumcised, as Abraham and his sons Isaac and Ishmael were. Jewish boys are circumcised at 8 days, if they are healthy. If not, we wait as long as necessary, but the circumcision will take place. This is deemed to be a permanent, physical sign of (men) belonging to the Jewish community. While there is no parallel physical ritual for girls, many families celebrate the entrance of their daughters to the Jewish community at birth with a ceremony called a Simchat Bat (Celebrating the Daughter), or a Brit Bat marking the daughter’s spiritual, covenantal relationship with G-d and the Jewish People. The baby girl may also be named on this occasion.
Bar/Bat Mitzvah (Son/Daughter of the Commandments)
Israeli pronunciation: bar/baht mitz•VAH
American pronunciation: bar/bas MITZ•vah
Bar Mitzvah (for a boy) and Bat Mitzvah (for a girl) marks the transition in age when a person assumes adult membership and responsibility in the Jewish community, primarily in religious terms. Boys mark this milestone at age 13. Girls also at age 13, except for Orthodox communities where this is marked when the girl is 12. There is no religious ceremony or party that is required to become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. When one wakes up on the morning of her/his 12th or 13th birthday– There you are! Customs have evolved centering around a public reading of the Torah to mark this transition, symbolizing the young person’s inclusion in the Jewish community and accepting Torah as a way of life. The occasion has always been marked with celebration, ranging from an expanded family meal in the home to opulent festivities. The greeting to give to one upon this occasion is “Mazal Tov!” There is a new custom as we age better and longer to celebrate a Second Bar or Bat Mitzvah when a person reaches age 83, as the traditional lifespan is considered to be 70. 70 + 13 = Mazal Tov!
Israeli pronunciation: khah•too•NAH
American pronunciation: KHAH•sih•nuh
As in virtually all communities throughout the world, weddings are among the pinnacles of joy. In Jewish tradition, the couple to be married usually stands under a canopy, open on four sides, called a chupah (khoo•PAH / KHOO•puh). The ceremony includes giving or exchanging a ring or rings and the public reading of a prenup called a ketuba (keh•too•BAH / keh•SOO•buh). Guests may also see one of the couple stomp on a glass goblet at the conclusion of the ceremony. This is traditionally in remembrance of the destruction of Jerusalem which tempers even our highest joy. The greeting to give to one at or regarding a wedding is “Mazal Tov!”
Jewish custom for thousands of years calls upon the body to be buried in the earth as soon as practical. Cremation, although increasingly popular, is deeply frowned upon in traditional Jewish practice. And let’s bust a myth right now: although Jewish tradition proscribes permanent tattooing, there is absolutely no truth to the rumor that a tattooed body may not be buried in a Jewish cemetery. Spread the word.
Mourning begins immediately after hearing of the death of an immediate family member: spouse, sibling, parent or child. There are different mourning phases, of which, the most widely recognized is shiva (sheev•AH / SHIV•uh), which translates to “seven”. For seven days (sometimes less) mourning practices are most intense, calling upon the immediate family to stay in their home(s) to be comforted by all who offer it. Aside from the first meal after the burial, there is no requirement to send food, but this has become a widespread practice so that the family in mourning may focus on their loss. There is a highly regarded tradition to visit the mourner briefly in person, or by phone, or any way that is mutually workable. Traditionally the door to the Shiva home is unlocked to make it easier for visitors to enter without knocking. You may find the mourner seated on a chair that is lower to the ground than usual. The mirrors in the house may be covered. You may also notice that part of their upper garment is ripped or adorned with a black ribbon signifying deep anguish over the loss. Often, the best thing to say at the Shiva house is nothing, unless the mourner engages you in conversation. Even then, try to focus on positive memories (if appropriate) and express sorrow for their loss. Your presence is what matters most.
Holidays and Days of the Week
Night before Day
Based on the narration of Genesis, “And there was evening and there was morning, one day,” days on the Hebrew calendar begin at sunset and end the following secular day at a little after sunset. That is why Shabbat and Jewish holidays begin the day before they appear on the secular calendar. The day before Shabbat and the day before a Jewish holiday is referred to as “Erev,” as in Friday being “Erev Shabbat” or Shabbat Eve.
Israeli pronunciation: shah•BAHT
American pronunciation: SHAH•bihs
This is the Day of Rest, the 7th and final day of the week on the Jewish calendar. Traditionally this weekly event recalls the creation of the universe and the Exodus of the Jews from Egyptian slavery. As with other days, it begins the night before, from sundown on Friday to dark night on Saturday. Shabbat is observed in widely different ways. Traditional Jews will refrain from work (labor, writing, electronics), attend synagogue and partake in larger than usual meals on Friday night and Saturday lunch, often with guests. Others will make it the special night that family dines together. Others will walk in the woods.
Federation Shabbat Policy
In addition to being closed, staff are encouraged to unplug from work. We do not use email, phone or social media to communicate with lay leaders or others in the community about Federation matters.
Israeli pronunciation: kee•DOOSH
American pronunciation: KID•dish
Kiddush is the expanded blessing usually made over wine to inaugurate the Shabbat meals on Friday night and Saturday. Most have the custom of sharing the wine around the table (in a hygienically appropriate manner.)
Motzi (Bread Blessing)
MOH•tzee (pretty much the universal pronunciation)
This is the key word of the blessing made before eating the Challah – “Blessed are You, God, Sovereign of the Universe, who motzi / brings forth bread from the earth.”
Challah (Braided Bread)
Israeli pronunciation: khah•LAH
American pronunciation: KHAH•lah
This is the traditional braided loaf of bread over which the Motzi blessing is made. Two loaves are covered by a decorative cloth (any design or none) until the blessing is made and the Challah is shared with all present.
Israeli pronunciation: hahv•dah•LAH
American pronunciation: hahv•DUH•luh
The ceremony that ushers out the Shabbat and welcomes in the new week is said at home when Shabbat is over (about 25 hours after it commenced). Havdalah includes wine, sweet spices, and a braided candle that produces a bright flame.
The Holidays are Early (or Late) This Year
The Jewish calendar is based on the lunar, rather than solar cycle. Twelve lunar months comes out to 354 rather than 365 days, meaning that the Jewish calendar loses 11 days to the secular / solar calendar each year. A key feature of the Jewish holiday of Passover is that it must occur in the springtime (of the northern hemisphere). Springtime depends on the Sun, making it necessary to align the Jewish (lunar) and Secular (solar) calendars. To make a long story short, occasionally, the Jewish calendar adds a leap month right before Passover to make up for an accumulation of those 11 lost days every year and to make sure that Passover comes out in the springtime. That is why sometimes the Jewish holidays appear to be either “early” or “late.” They all come out exactly on time, but earlier or later relative to other solar years if a leap month is added. Confused? That’s completely OK. You’re in good company!
Here is a list of most Jewish holidays and links if you want to learn more about them:
- Rosh HaShana (Jewish New Year)
- Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement)
- Sukkot / Sh’mini Atzeret / Simchat Torah (Journeying in the Wilderness / Harvest)
- Passover (Exodus from Egyptian Slavery / Harvest)
- Shavu’ot (Receiving the Torah / Harvest)
- Purim (Jews are saved from Global Genocide)
- Hanukkah (Rededication of the Jerusalem Temple)
- Tu B’Shvat (New Year for Trees)
- Yom HaZikaron (Israel Memorial Day)
- Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day)
- Yom Yerushalaim (Jerusalem Day)
- Yom HaShoah (Holocaust and Resistance Remembrance)
- Fast Days
Days of the Week
- Yom Rishon (yohm ree•SHONE) Sunday
- Yom Shenee (yohm shay•NEE) Monday
- Yom Shlishi (yohm shlee•SHEE) Tuesday
- Yom Revi’i (yohm reh•vee•EE) Wednesday
- Yom Chamishi (yohm khah•mee•SHEE) Thursday
- Yom Shishi (yohm shee•SHEE) Friday
- Yom Shabbat (yohm shah•BAHT) Saturday/Sabbath
Personal / Home
Hebrew pronunciation: mih•zoo•ZAH
American pronunciation: mih•ZOO•zuh
The front door of a home where Jews live (and traditionally every door inside, as well as our offices) is graced with a small parchment scroll containing some hand-calligraphed Torah verses. It is placed within a protective and often decorative cover and affixed to the upper part of the right-hand side (as one enters) door post. The Hebrew word for the doorpost is Mezuzah, and the name applies as well to this object. Some people may kiss the mezuzah (by extending their hand) out of respect when entering and leaving the home.
Israeli Pronunciation: kee•PAH
American pronunciation: KEE•puh
Yiddish pronunciation: YAH•mih•kuh
Many Jewish men and some women wear a Kippah on their head either at times of performing Jewish ritual, prayer, or study, or at “Jewish” occasions such as weddings or Bar / Bat Mitzvahs, or always. The Kippah can be made of any material of any size or any color. Universal agreement is that it is round to functionally fit one’s head. This is an ancient tradition that has become an expected practice in some circles. It evolved from the concept of modesty, acknowledging that there is a greater power above us, and / or the practical consideration of the Middle East community where most Jews lived, to protect one’s head from the oppressive sun. For many it is a proclamation of Jewish identity and pride.
Kosher (fit to eat)
Israeli pronunciation: Kah•SHEHR
American pronunciation: KOH•sher
Foods that conform to the Jewish dietary regulations of kashrut
Kashrut (Kosher status)
Israeli pronunciation: Kash•ROOT
American pronunciation: KASH•rus
Contrary to popular perception, the laws of kashrut have nothing to do with food being blessed by someone. The Torah specifies many animals as kosher and unkosher and provides the physical signs to identify the status of any animals not specified. It also provides physical signs to identify kosher fish. Additional kosher laws stem from rabbinical interpretation of the Torah, which formulates that meat (including poultry but not fish) should not be cooked or eaten together with dairy products and that there should be a certain waiting period after eating meat products before eating dairy products. Additionally, it specifies that animals must be slaughtered and prepared in a certain way before consumption, in order to be considered kosher. Meat and poultry fall into a category called basar (bah•SAHR) / Yiddish: fleishig (FLAY•shik). Dairy products fall into a category called chalav (kha•LAHV) / Yiddish: milchig (MIL•khik). There is also a neutral category comprised of foods like fruits, vegetables, eggs, fish, cakes and beverages (other than milk) which are called pareve (PAH•rev).
Over time, different Jewish streams have developed different interpretations of these laws/customs and how they are observed.
Federation Kashrut Policy
Our Federation’s policy is that all public events in any space other than a private home must provide only food that is Kosher as approved by the (Orthodox) Va’ad of MetroWest.
If you go shopping for us, look for symbols on the package which are reliable signs of Kashrut. Examples are OU, OK, or you may check here. The word “Kosher” on the label does not indicate reliable kashrut.
When you see the line on our publicity that says “dietary laws observed” it means that this event will serve food that is kosher, meaning that it is fit for all Jews to eat.
Tallit (Prayer Shawl)
Israeli pronunciation: tah•LEET
American pronunciation: TAH•lis
Some Jewish men and not a small number of Jewish women wrap themselves in a prayer shawl for morning prayer. The Tallit is a four cornered garment with specially wound fringes on each corner. The garment can be of any color. Some men and boys also wear a mini-prayer garment with the same fringes under their shirt. Some people allow the fringes to be “untucked” so that people will see them. The name for this garment and the fringes themselves is tzitzit (tzee•TZEET / TZIH•tsihs).
Hebrew pronunciation: teh•fee•LEEN
American pronunciation: teh•FIHL•in
A set of small black leather boxes with leather straps containing scrolls of parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah. Some Jewish men and women will don Tefillin for morning prayer, except for Shabbat and holidays. Tefillin are worn on the arm and on the head, some say to symbolize the connection of thought and action. Tefillin are always made of leather and contain hand-calligraphed Torah texts; they are always black.
Israeli pronunciation: tsnee•OOT
American pronunciation: TSNEE•us
The concept of “Modesty” is often applied to the manner of dress. You may come across people in the Orthodox community, but not only there, who deliberately dress so as not to accentuate or call attention to their bodies. The concept of modesty also extends to the way people speak, their physical bearing, and how they conduct themselves in life.
Sheitel (Hair covering)
Some married Orthodox women keep their hair completely or partially covered with hats, hair falls or wigs as another sign of modesty. It is considered impolite to ask a woman if her hair is real.
Negiah (Physical Touching)
Israeli pronunciation: nih•gee•AH
American pronunciation: nih•GEE•uh
Some Jews, primarily but not exclusively among the Orthodox, maintain the practice of no physical contact between members of the opposite sex unless the two people are married to one another. This means not only no kissing or embracing, but sometimes shaking hands. This has two implications for our work. 1) It is good practice when one encounters an Orthodox person of the opposite gender to let the other person initiate the greeting, whether it be a handshake or merely eye contact and a wave. 2) When designing programs that call for physical contact, it is important to keep this idea in mind as it may apply to and create discomfort for some of the participants.
Mikvah (Ritual Bath)
Israeli pronunciation: mik•VAH
American pronunciation: MIK•vuh
Mikvah is a ritual bath that represents “living waters.” It is specially constructed using rainwater supplemented by running water. Mikvah is used primarily by women as part of their observance of the laws of marital relations. It is also used for conversions to Judaism for all genders. Some men also use the Mikvah in preparation for Shabbat and holidays. The Mikvah is increasingly used for other lifecycle passages, such as healing from trauma or illness, or for celebratory events open to the Jewish imagination.
Israeli pronunciation: Ay•ROOV
American pronunciation: AY•roov
According to rabbinic interpretation of Torah and primarily Orthodox observance today, Jews do not carry anything in public on Shabbat. The amount that is being carried does not matter. It could be as little or as light as a feather. Carrying within the synagogue, a private building or within the home is permitted. One way in which Rabbinic Judaism allows for carrying in public spaces is to convert the public space into a private one by encircling it with a wire symbolically combining all the residents together within that space into one entity. The Hebrew word, Eruv, means combination. The Eruv’s use is most practical in Jewish communities to allow people to carry things on Shabbat such as a prayer book to synagogue, or a fruit platter to their hosts for dinner, or pushing a stroller to bring children to the playground, all in keeping with the spirit of observing and celebrating Shabbat.
Numerology & Miscellany
18, 36, 54, 72 … 180, (multiples of 18) – Numbers in Hebrew are written as letters. Each letter has a numerical value. The numerical value of the word Chai / Life is 18, so sometime, somewhere the tradition took root to give Tzedakah in multiples of Chai/18. (Too bad they did not use the word Tzedakah as the base word; its numerical equivalent is 199.)
613 is the traditional answer to the question: How many mitzvot are enumerated in the Torah? It is also said that a pomegranate contains 613 seeds, equivalent to all the mitzvot.
The national anthem of the State of Israel. You may hear it at ceremonies and programs in our community and it is often sung at certain Federation events. If you would like to follow the music and lyrics, you can find them here.
The Star, or Shield, of David, also called The Jewish Star, it has been a graphic representation of Jewry for centuries. It has no religious significance, and likely no connection to King David, but is central to expressions of Jewish identity and pride (on necklaces, rings, Prayer Shawls, Kippot, documents, websites, etc.) and to Zionism as it is depicted boldly on the Israeli flag.
Chief Jewish Learning Officer
August 2022 / Av 5782