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. 


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