The additional sacrifice or prayer instituted on the Sabbath and other Jewish holidays.


The Talmud is a compendium of many texts, a comprehensive legal code, including rabbinic disputation and other, extra-legal material. It is the most significant compilation of Rabbinic Judaism, dating from the 4th and 5th centuries CE, consisting of the traditions of Jewish law (the Mishnah) and commentary.


Anti-Semitism means literally “opposed to Semites” although it has always referred specifically to Jews. Modern anti-Semitism arose in Europe toward the end of the 19th century, coalescing social, racial, and religious theories that denigrated the Jews. The Nazi campaign to eliminate the Jews from society resulted in the murder of some six million Jews in Nazi death camps; this constituted two-thirds of the pre-war Jewish population of Europe.


Halakhah means, literally, “the path that one walks” and refers to Jewish law. It is the complete body of rules and practices that Jews are bound to follow, including biblical commandments, commandments instituted by the rabbis, and binding customs.


A mikveh is a ritual bath, used for purposes of purification and conversion in the Jewish tradition.

Star of David

The Star of David is the six-pointed star known as the “shield of David” which has become emblematic of the Jewish tradition and community.


The Gemara refers to the second major layer of Jewish commentary on the Torah (Mihsna being the first). The Gemara is the written account of the legal deliberations of the generations known as the Amoraim, who lived approximately from the 3rd to 5th centuries CE. Stylistically, the Gemara is a commentary that dissects the Mishna line-by-line, elaborating on the terse prose of the Mishna to draw out contemporary concerns touching on almost any aspect of life imaginable.


Lubavitchers are members of a branch of Hasidism, a Jewish pietistic movement. They take their name from a Russian town called Lubavitch and follow a line of spiritual masters or rebbes, the last of whom was Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994), whom many of his followers regard(ed) as the Messiah.


Shtetl is the Yiddish diminutive meaning “small town”. Shtetl refers primarily to the Jewish villages which existed in Eastern Europe starting in the 16th century and continuing until World War II. Though they varied greatly in size, the shtetls had a unique socio-cultural communal pattern.

Deuteronomy, Book of

The fifth book of the Humash or Five Books of Moses, Deuteronomy (or Dvarim in Hebrew, meaning ‘Words’) is composed of the final speech of Moses’ life, followed by the narration of his death. Deuteronomy contains many retellings of events and laws that appear earlier in the Torah, most notably the Ten Commandments.


Kehillah is a Hebrew term for community, and generally refers to the formal communal structure of European Jewish communities.


The seder, literally “order” in Hebrew (with the same etymological root as siddur), is the traditional family service, held around the dinner table, that marks the opening of the celebration of Passover. The meal includes special foods, symbols, and narratives. The order of the service is found in the traditional narrative called the Passover Haggadah.


Jerusalem, the ancient capital of Israel from the time of King David (c. 1000 BCE), was the ritual and spiritual center of the Jewish people for 1,000 years until the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. For Jews, Jerusalem is still the geographical epicenter of the tradition. For Christians, Jerusalem the site of the mighty events of Christ’s death and resurrection. For Muslims, Jerusalem is the place where the prophet Muhammad came on his Night Journey from Makkah to the very throne of God.


Rebbe is the title of the spiritual leader of the Hasidim, the pietist Jewish movement which began in 18th century Poland and continues today, with its honoring of holy teachers and its emphasis on prayer and devotion.


Zion is a sacred hill in Jerusalem and refers, by extension, to Jerusalem and the homeland of the Hebrew people. In this latter sense, Zion came to symbolize Jewish national-religious hopes of renewal and Zionism became the name of the 19th and 20th century movement to create a new homeland for the Jewish people in Israel. These hopes were fulfilled, at least in part, through the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Zionism has penetrated Jewish life overwhelmingly, and plays an extremely important role in the identity of Jews, as individuals and communities.