Glossary of Hebrew terms




Faith, faithfulness. Related to the word Amen.

Etz Hayyim
Tree of Life, another name for the Torah

Law and observances for the whole legal system of Judaism.  Derived from the Hebrew word halach  – to walk – so it really means how we walk in this world.

Ha-kadosh Baruch Hu
“Holy Blessed One”

Ha-tov v’ha-meitiv:
God’s omnibenevolence: The One who is good and causes good. (“God’s omnibenevolence shines strong: Ha-tov v’ha-meitiv in all frames of reference.”
(See Artson, p. 157)

Kol d’mamah dakah
Still, small voice – we think of this as your inner voice, your soul/God speaking.

Doorpost, or a case containing Scripture affixed to a doorpost as a literal interpretation of Deuteronomy 6:9.

Prayer assembly, or the quorum required for prayer.

A homiletical interpretation of – or a commentary on – a Torah text, sometimes in the form of a more detailed Rabbinic story about a story in the Torah.  The word derives from the verb darash, when means “seek” or “inquire”.  Collections of midrash often give varied – and sometimes conflicting – interpretations and present them side by side, inviting the reader to derive meaning from all.

The written summary of the oral Torah, i.e. the orally transmitted laws and ethics based on Scripture, c. 200 CE.  The Mishnah makes up one strand of the Talmud.

God’s commandments, spiritual obligations

Soul, living being

Joyous celebration

The collected legal and ethical discussions of the rabbis, edited c. 500 C.E.                 Includes the Mishnah and Gemarrah (commentary) on the Mishnah.  (Mishnah+Gemarrah=Talmud)

Prayer boxes worn during weekday morning prayers by those who observe this practice. These are worn by all denominations of Jews, if that is their practice, including women. The practice is based on a literal interpretation of Deuteronomy.

Fringes on prayer shawl   (Numbers 15:40)

The Five Books of Moses, God’s law as revealed to Moses.  (Or, more narrowly, the scroll containing this text; more broadly, the interpretations of the five books (or even all Jewish teaching.)

The Hebrew Bible – Torah, Prophets, Writings.
Tanakh is an acronym for Torah, Neviim (Prophets), Ketuvim (Writings),
which is the order the Hebrew Bible follows.

Justice, righteousness

Tohu va-vohu
Absence, potentiality, no-thing; “cosmic chaos.”  The state of things before creation. (Genesis 1:2)

Self-contraction; God contracted the Divine self to make room for creation.

The Holy Name, as revealed to Moses  (Exodus 3:13-15)
This is how God’s name is written throughout the Torah: Yud, Hay, Vav, Hay.
This is the unpronounceable, unknowable Name of God.  It may be based on the verb “to be”, combining past, present and future.

Names for God
Describing, or naming God is beyond our  abilities, so we use words that describe different aspects of God, including aspects that are thought of as feminine:

Rachamana – The Compassionate One.  (Rachamin is the word for compassion,  which comes from the word rechem – which means womb.)
–   The Indwelling One. (From the word shachan which means to dwell.   Often thought of as a feminine aspect of God.)
Shaddai – another name for God which is associated with a feminine quality, God as nurturer.  (Shadda-im are breasts in Hebrew.)
Eloha – seemingly feminine word for God, rarely used.  Instead, Jewish tradition tends to use Elohim, a male plural form of the same word.  Rabbi Artson describes a modern playful combination of this word with the word for “mommy” – Ema – Elohema. 

Aspects of God:  In Kabbalistic thought (Jewish Mysticism) there are ten sephirot  aspects of the Divine.  Hokhmah means wisdom; Binah means discernment or insight.

Many thanks to Elaine Goodman (member of St. Benedict’s), and to Rabbis Linda Bertenthal (of Congregation Beth David) and Janice Mehring (of Congregation Ohr Tzafon) for compiling this glossary of Hebrew words. 


Some notes on Process Philosophy – John Horsley

Process theology derives from process philosophy.

Process theology derives in particular from the philosophy of Harvard professor Alfred North Whitehead.  Whitehead asked, “What is reality made up of?”    The standard answer is things – chairs, tables, books, living things – plants, animals, people.  What are these things made up of –  substances (stuff).  This stuff can change into other kinds of stuff but endures through time.

Whitehead says, in contrast to this picture, that everything is made of experience – in fact single moments of experience (drops of experience) that succeed one another.

For Whitehead, all kinds of experience must be taken into account: experience anxious and carefree, experience happy and grieving, experience emotional and experience intellectual, experience normal and abnormal, experience asleep and experience awake.….  (see Jesus Jazz and Buddhism, a short course on process thought, lesson 4) *  

What is a moment of experience?   It’s an event – something that happens.  This is reality – events.   The universe consists of  events  which come into existence, last for a moment, and then pass out of existence.……..becoming.

Process theology is thoroughly relational.

Whitehead believed that many of the great conundrums of modern philosophy and science could only be solved if one accepts the belief that all existing things are internally related.

If you draw two dots on a piece of graph paper, they are externally related; their relationship is relative to the piece of paper on which they are both located.

By contrast, each child is internally related to her or his mother. Not only was she once a part of her mother’s body, but she has internalized many features of her mother’s personality, her mother’s beliefs, and her mother’s reactions to the world. Our mother is a different person from ourselves (though it often takes many years to realize this!), but key features of who she was have now become a part of who we are.

It may be that our relationships with our mother is a paradigm case of internal relatedness. But Whitehead suggested that all existing things are internally related to all other existing things. All person‐to‐person relationships are of this nature. There is some sense in which I understand you from the inside, and I hope there are some ways in which you understand this presentation from a space internal to you. All living things are internally related to all other living things in certain senses.  (See Philip Clayton, God Beyond Orthodoxy: Process Theology for the 21st  Century) *

So, according to process thought, you are an unending process of becoming, internally related to all things, one member in a cosmic community of becoming.  And thus in Life Abundant, Sally McFague writes,

Each stage of the universe’s evolution has come about through greater and greater differentiation: individuality (not individualism) is built into the nature of things. All of these individuals are internally, intrinsically, related to one another…  Nothing can be itself (in all its wonderful, radical particularity) except by means of the whole. Everything is an individual but depends on others to be this individual. (See Life Abundant, p.101) *

What is the role of God in all of this?

In Whitehead’s philosophy God has two aspects: a non-coercive but guiding aspect which is home to all the potentialities which the universe can actualize, and which is within each experiencing subject as its own innermost lure toward full aliveness; and a receptive side which shares in the experiences of all living beings, anywhere and everywhere, and is affected by all that is felt. (See Jesus Jazz and Buddhism, lesson 19) *

At every moment of your becoming, God prehends (that is, takes in) your valuations and your most intimate responses – shares in your experiences. God takes them up into the divine life.  And God becomes different as a result. At the next moment of your becoming, God offers back to you those valuations, experiences, and the experiences of all other living things, but now valued and interpreted from the divine perspective. The becoming God becomes a part of the becoming you.  Then, in the next moment, you contribute your response to this becoming back, in an unending process of divine‐human (and divine‐nonhuman) dialogue.”  (See Philip Clayton, God Beyond Orthodoxy: Process Theology for the 21st Century). *

Whitehead proposes that, at every moment of our lives, we are improvising responses to given situations, adding our own voice to the very history of the universe. Other creatures are doing this, too. We live in an improvisational universe, in which indeterminacy is as real, and as important, as determinacy.

Thus, for Whitehead, the future is always open, and the future is never entirely pre-determined by the past or the present. This is the case even for God, who knows what is possible in the future, but not what is actual until it becomes actual.” (See Jesus Jazz and Buddhism, lesson 13) *

And thus as Sallie McFague concludes chapter 6 of Life Abundant, she writes:

“Reality is good” if we can help it to become so.  This is an acknowledgement that God is not the supernatural being who can control what happens either at a natural or personal level, but rather is the direction of flourishing for all creatures. (See Life Abundant, p. 154) *

I would add guide to this description of God, so the sentence would read:

God is the guide and direction of flourishing for all creatures.

John Horsley

* To learn more about process thought, go to


Introducing Process Theology

Rabbi Bradley Artson
God of Becoming and Relationship

A summary of Artson’s introduction, pp. xv – xvi: 

Process Philosophy is a  systematic approach to making sense of the world –
not just one aspect of it, but the world as a whole.

Process Theology integrates religion and science in a way that respects both disciplines as valid ways to relate to the world – and to each other.

Process methodology is based on the following convictions:

about the world: 

The world and God are expressions of continuous change, which is dynamic and relational.

We and the world are not solid substances, but recurrent patterns of energy; we change continually, but also maintain continuity from moment to moment.

To exist in this world is to be self-determining, interconnected, and creative to some degree.

*  We relate to each and all creation instantaneously and intuitively, responding  to the decisions of others – and to the events of the world around us – even as we ourselves are re-created in each instant.

*  We are interconnected, each to each and each to all.  Therefore, all creation has value and dignity.

about God:

* God is the One who makes all relationships possible.  God creates the openness of a future of real novelty and the variety of its possibilities, and God relates to each of us in our particular individuality.

*  God’s communication with human beings is a living, growing process. Therefore, God’s revelation is relational, ongoing, and continuous.

*  God’s revelation calls us to make decisions which will maximize justice, compassion, and love.

* God’s primary mode of power is persuasive, not coercive.  Therefore, we too are called to be persuasive, not coercive.

* God is the One who invites us – and empowers us – to make the best decisions for our personal flourishing and for our mutual flourishing.

* God invites us – and everything in the cosmos – to be co-creators in fashioning the present, out of the possibilities offered by the future, and out of the constraints imposed by the past.

About faith:

*  Commitment to this creative process requires faithfulness, which rises above any faith (doctrine or creed).




Who should read this book?


from the Introduction to God of Becoming and Relationship
by Rabbi Bradley Artson

I wrote this book for you if you want to be able to locate your life in a single, encompassing story, one that includes everything from the first moment the universe began until yesterday, a narrative that embraces deepest personal meaning, a yearning to love and be loved, a quest for social justice and compassion.

I wrote this book for you if you feel wounded by conventional religion, with its domineering God and not infrequent assaults on common sense, scientific method, and human dignity, or if you feel wounded by combative secularism and its not infrequent assaults on any real sense of purpose, transcendence, or belonging.

I wrote this book for Jews who are seeking a way to integrate their admiration for Jewish values and ethics with a spirituality that cannot put on blinders and forget what their minds learned in science labs and history classes.

I also wrote this book for non-Jews who are interested in what wisdom Judaism might contribute to their lives but cannot endure yet another system of counterintuitive faith and mandated obedience. And I wrote this book for all of us, beyond labels, seeking a way to celebrate the dynamism and unity of this marvelous, mysterious, awe-filled world.

Finally, I wrote this book for myself, so I could continue to hold onto Torah as a way of life without abandoning or betraying my best values and the people I love most.

Rabbi Artson begins the book…..

I live in west Los Angeles in a home that was built in the 1950s. Our dining room has wood paneling along its four walls. When we first bought the house a decade ago, the room was painted a sickly green, presumably in the late ’70s during the high-water mark of the aesthetics of The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family. The actual wood grain and tone were covered; I think in that era people thought such a look was cutting-edge. With that greenish coat of paint, the walls looked fake and cheap. When we finally got around to repainting the upstairs of the house, we asked our painter if he could just coat the paneling a simple white because the green was hideous. He pondered for a moment, then took his thumbnail and scratched on the paneling. The paint peeled away, and he said, “You know, I think that under this green there is actual wood.” His team spent three days sandblasting and varnishing. At the end of the week our dining room was transformed! The wood appears rich and the patterns in the grain are magnificent; it is now my favorite room in the house. I had thought, erroneously, that the wall itself was that sickly green when, in fact, that trashy look was just the coating that someone had painted over the shimmering wood.

Modern Westerners often approach religion as I did the paneling: they assume that the only way to be religious is to accept the sickly green overlay of Greek philosophy. They take neo-Platonized Aristotelian scholastic presuppositions and filter religion through those ideas. Then, because they have insurmountable problems with those assertions, they assume that the quandary involves religion itself, or the Bible, or the Talmud, or observance, or God. What Process Theology offers is the opportunity to sandblast the philosophical over lay of Hellenistic Greece and medieval Europe off the rich, burnished grain of Bible, Rabbinics, and Kabbalah so that we can savor the actual patterns in the living wood of religion, the etz hayyim, and appreciate Judaism for what it was intended to be and truly is.

Much like what the sandblasting did for our perspective on our dining room, this book offers the tools to relate to the world anew: not as the bumping together of solid substances in absolute space and time, but as a world of shimmering particles of energy that interact constantly and eternally. Every creature is a resilient pattern of interlocking energy, each in a developing process of becoming. Because becoming is concrete and real, and being is only a logical abstraction, the distillation of becoming in pure thought, Process Thought focuses on becoming as the central mode of every creature, of all creation, and indeed of the Creator as well. The universe is recognized as a series of interacting, recurrent energy patterns, but not one that endlessly loops in the same repetitive patterns. Instead, the surprising miracle of our universe is that it seems to generate novelty with each new moment of continuing creation. New stars, new galaxies, and new elements combine and create new possibilities. At least once, a galaxy with sufficient stability and diversity produced at least one solar system with at least one planet on which the slow and gradual evolution of self-conscious life could – and did – emerge.

In such a worldview, God is not outside the system as some unchanging, eternal abstraction. Rather, God permeates every aspect of becoming, indeed grounds all becoming by inviting us and every level of reality to fulfill our own optimal possibilities. The future remains open, through God’s lure, to our own decisions of how or what we will choose next. God, then, uses a persistent, persuasive power, working in each of us (and all creation at every level) to nudge us toward the best possible outcome. But God’s power is not coercive and not all-powerful. God cannot break the rules or unilaterally dictate our choices. Having created and then partnered with this particular cosmos, God is vulnerable to the choices that each of us makes freely as co-creators.


A RABBI LOOKS AT GOD:  God of Becoming and Relationship
by Rabbi Bradley Artson

Meeting on January 12, 19, 26 and February 2
10-11:30 am at St. Benedict’s Episcopal Church
(Los Osos Valley and Clark Valley Roads, Los Osos)

PURCHASE God of Becoming and Relationship at your local bookstore or go to: