• Bal Tashkhit

    The mitzvah not to abuse the Earth by wantonly wasting its resources, based on a verse from Deuteronomy 20. The Jewish Tradition teaches that we are guardians of the planet, and that we must serve as responsible stewards of Creation.

  • Bikkur Holim

    The mitzvah to visit the sick.

  • Brit

    “Covenant.” One of the dominant themes of the Torah is the ongoing development of the covenantal relationship between God and the Jewish People, beginning with Abraham, reaffirmed by Jacob, and formalized with the giving of Torah at Mount Sinai.

  • Gemilut Hasidim

    Acts of loving-kindness. The Mishnah teaches that the world stands on three things-- on Torah, on prayer, and on acts of loving-kindness.

  • Halakha

    “Jewish law.” Based on the root verb, “to walk,” halakha describes the Jewish path through life, which contains traditions and prescriptions for all aspects of daily living.

  • Kabbalah

    Jewish mysticism; the branch of Jewish thought which attempts to describe exactly who and what God is, and seeks to experience God's Presence directly. There have been many kabalistic systems developed over time, including the ideas presented in the Zohar in the 13th century, and those of Isaac Luria in Tsfat in the 16th century.

  • Kedushah

    “Holiness.” Leviticus 19, the famous Holiness Code, begins with the commandment: “Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” As Jews we are commanded to sanctify all aspects of life, and to strive for both ritual and moral holiness in all of our actions.

  • Mensch

    Yiddish: A good, moral, upstanding person. The highest aspiration of a Jewish parent is to raise a child to be a mensch.

  • Minhag

    A custom, as distinct from a mitzvah which is a commandment. Many well-worn Jewish practices, like wearing a kippah or refraining from eating kitniyot on Pesah, are examples of minhagim rather than actual laws.

  • Mitzvah

    Though often mistranslated as a “good deed,” a mitzvah is in fact a religious commandment. Some mitzvot are primarily ethical, such as the commandment to give charity to the poor or to feed the hungry, while other mitzvot are primarily ritual, such as the commandment to light Shabbat candles or to refrain from eating pork. Some argue that the origin of the word mitzvah comes from the Aramaic root meaning “to connect,” which is to say that the mitzvot are our unique Jewish means of connecting with God and with each other.

  • Moshiach (Messiah)

    Jewish Tradition teaches that someday a messianic figure will emerge who will inaugurate an era of universal peace and justice, when “nation will not lift up sword against nation, and neither shall they again know war.” Judaism does not accept Jesus as the messiah because this time of justice and peace clearly has not yet arrived. The Messianic era is often connected with the figure of Elijah the Prophet, who we invoke on Passover, as well at the brit milah and Havdalah ceremonies.

  • Pikuach Nefesh

    “Saving a life.” Halakha requires that in any case where Jewish ritual practice endangers life or health, that we set aside ritual punctiliousness in favor of human compassion. For example, a pregnant woman or a diabetic is exempt from fasting on Yom Kippur, because to do so would compromise their health or the health of their baby.

  • Rabbi

    A term of respect meaning, “my teacher,” given to those who have received ordination as clergy in the Jewish Tradition. The first Rabbis emerge in the last centuries before the Common Era, and are the figures who update Judaism for a post-Temple era and compose the Talmud. Today, in the Orthodox community only men can serve as a rabbis; however, in the Conservative and Reform communities both men and women study and receive rabbinic ordination.

  • Shalom

    Peace, wholeness, completion. Nearly all Jewish prayer services close with a prayer for peace.

  • Sh’mirat ha-Lashon

    The mitzvah of “guarding one’s tongue” from hurtful, destructive, or gossipy speech, often referred to as “lashon ha-ra.”

  • Talmud Torah

    The mitzvah of engaging in Jewish learning. Study is a lifelong pursuit, and an essential component of living a Jewish life.

  • Teshuvah

    “Repentance.” Stemming from the Hebrew root meaning “return,” teshuvah is the process of identifying our transgressions and making amends— with others, with God, and with ourselves. The month of Elul, leading up to the High Holy Days, is dedicated to taking stock of one’s actions, and the ten days which connect Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, are designated for actively doing teshuvah by seeking out those we have wronged and asking their forgiveness. The Jewish tradition is clear that Yom Kippur only effects teshuvah between people and God, teshuvah between people must come from actively reaching out to those we have harmed.

  • Tikkun Olam

    “Healing the World.” Many believe that Judaism’s essential mission is to teach people to be God’s partners in healing the brokenness in the world. By actions big and small, ritual and ethical, we can all take part in making a more peaceful, compassionate, holy planet.

  • Tzadik

    A righteous person. The mystical tradition teaches that there are always at least thirty-six true tzaddikim alive in any given generation, and it is through their merit that the world is sustained.

  • Tzelem Elohim

    “The Image of God.” One of the fundamental principles of Jewish theology is that all human beings are created in the Image of God (Genesis 1:26), and therefore possess an unalienable dignity and worth.

  • Tzedakah

    Righteous giving. Unlike the concept of charity, which derives from the Greek word caritas and means “kindness”, tzedaka comes from the root tzedek, meaning justice. Giving to those in need and to causes that we believe in is not simply an act of kindness, it is our obligation as Jews.

  • Yisrael

    One of the primary names of the Jewish People, which comes from the name given to the Patriarch Jacob after his confrontation with the angel in Genesis 37, meaning “God-wrestler.” This attitude of wrestling with God—asking questions and struggling with faith—characterizes Jewish religious life.