• Aninut

    The period of intense mourning between a death and the burial. During this period all Jewish ritual obligations on the mourners are suspended, so that they can devote their full attention to preparing for the funeral.

  • Aufruf

    The celebration of an engaged couple on the Shabbat before their wedding day. The couple will generally be called up for an aliyah at the Torah, and will receive a special blessing from the rabbi.

  • Aveilut

    The period of mourning prescribed by Jewish law. Halakha recognizes seven official categories of those for whom one is obligated to mourn: mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, and spouses.

  • Bar/Bat Mitzvah

    The ceremony recognizing that a young person has reached the Jewish age of majority-- twelve for girls, and thirteen for boys-- and thus gains all of the rights and responsibilities of Jewish adulthood.

  • Bedeken

    The ceremony that immediately precedes in which the bride is veiled, after her groom has check to ensure that she is indeed who he intends to marry. This comes from the story of Jacob in Genesis 29 who is fooled into marrying Leah, rather than his beloved Rachel.

  • Beit Din

    A rabbinic court composed of three rabbis, who oversee ritual proceedings including conversion and Jewish divorce (get).

  • Breaking a Glass

    The tradition at the end of a Jewish wedding ceremony, which recalls that even in the time of a person's greatest joy they should also recognize the existence of brokenness in the world and the duty to participate in the work of tikkun olam.

  • Brit Milah (Bris)

    The ceremony of circumcision, performed by a mohel on the 8th day of life, which initiates a Jewish baby boy into the covenant.

  • El Maalei Rachamim

    The Jewish funeral prayer, which asks that God shelter the soul of the person who has died and that their spirit be bound up in the bond of eternal life.

  • Get

    A Jewish bill of divorce, formalized in front of a Beit Din, which formally dissolves a marriage between two Jews.

  • Hatafat Dam Brit

    The ritual drawing of a single drop of blood from the penis of a man who was previously circumcised, but did not have a religious brit milah. This is a requirement for conversion for men in the Conservative and Orthodox Traditions.

  • Hesped

    A eulogy, delivered at a funeral. It is common practice today for friends and family members to join the rabbi in delivering eulogies at a funeral.

  • Hevre Kadisha

    “The holy society.” A group of volunteers who take responsibility for ritually preparing a body for Jewish burial, including performing the traditional washing of the body (taharah), dressing the body in shrouds (takhrikhin), and sitting watch with the body (shmirah) until burial.

  • Huppah

    The wedding canopy, symbolic of a couple's first shared home as a married couple, under which the wedding takes place. The huppah should be open on all sides and is generally held up by four poles, which special guests may be honored by being asked to hold.

  • Kriah

    The ritual of tearing a garment (now, most often performed symbolically on a black ribbon attached to one's shirt over the chest) by the close mourners at the start of a funeral service, as a way of symbolizing the heartbreak of loss.

  • Kaddish

    The Aramaic prayer recited by mourners and those who are observing the anniversary of a death. Even though the Kaddish is associated with bereavement, it never mentions death-- instead it focuses on sanctifying God and giving thanks for the gift of life. Different versions of the Kaddish are also recited throughout the service by the leader, as a way of punctuating the beginning and end of different “units” of prayer.

  • Kavod Ha-Met

    “Honoring the dead.” This is the general principle that all the rituals we do between the time of death and the burial are meant to show honor to the body of the person who has died. We do this by treating the body simply, washing it and dressing it in plain shrouds, and burying it as soon as possible, generally within 72 hours, if not sooner.

  • Ketubah

    The Jewish wedding document, which outlines the terms of the commitment between the partners in the couple. The ketubah is signed by two witnesses prior to the wedding ceremony and serves as a reminder of both the joys and duties of marriage.

  • Kiddushin

    The exchange of rings and declarations in the first half of the traditional Jewish wedding ceremony, which sanctifies the couple to one another and formally binds them in matrimony. Sometimes also referred to as erusin.

  • Kvatter/Kvatterin

    The honor of carrying in the baby to the brit milah or simchat bat. From the German word for “godparent.”

  • Mazal Tov

    “Good luck”, though almost always used to mean “Congratulations.” Another alternative is “Yashar Koach,” which also means that someone has done well.

  • Mikvah

    The ritual pool, which we immerse in order to purify ourselves and mark significant transitions in life. Converts use the mikvah to affirm their place in the Jewish People, brides and grooms visit the mikvah to enter their marriage in a state of holiness, others use the mikvah to give spiritual depth to major life events. Traditional couples also use the mikvah to mark the end of a woman's monthly menstrual cycle and for purification before resuming sexual relations, in accordance with the Laws of Family Purity.

  • Mohel

    A Mohel is a person trained to perform ritual circumcisions (milah). Today, many mohelim are also physicians; though some who are not doctors are extremely experienced in the procedure (it is said that the Queen of England used a mohel, rather than a doctor, to circumcise her son and grandchildren, because of their expertise.)

  • Nihum Avelim

    “Comforting mourners.” Following the completion of the burial rites, Jewish mourning rituals turn their attention from honoring the deceased to caring for the bereaved. Practices like sitting shiva and reciting Kaddish are meant to give the mourner the strength and support to come to terms with their loss and begin to heal.

  • Sandek

    The sandek is the individual given the honor of holding a baby boy during his circumcision. This is the highest honor given at a Brit Milah, and is often given to a family patriarch such as a grandfather or uncle.

  • Sheva Brakhot

    The Seven Blessings from the Talmud that are recited to a couple during their wedding. The words speak about the primordial love between the first two human beings in the Garden of Eden, and of the love of a world redeemed with the coming of the Messiah.

  • Shiva

    The seven day period of intense mourning, beginning with the day of burial. During the shiva period, the mourners are encouraged to stay at home while the community comes to them to offer comfort and support, and to form a minyan so that the bereaved can recite Kaddish. On the morning of the seventh day, the mourners get up from shiva and symbolically walk outside, indicating the start of their return to the world.

  • Shloshim

    The 30 day mourning period following burial. After the conclusion of shiva, the next 21 days are designated for less intense mourning— the bereaved returns to work, but doesn’t attend parties or social gatherings, and men may refrain from shaving. During this period, mourners traditionally visit the synagogue every day, or at least every Shabbat, in order to recite the Kaddish.

  • Simchat Bat

    The ceremony welcoming a baby girl and giving her a Hebrew name.

  • Taharah

    “Purification.” The ritual washing of a body, prior to burial.

  • Taharat Ha-Mishpaha

    “Family Purity.” This refers to the practice, common among Orthodox Jews, but not among more liberal Jews, of refraining from sexual intimacy during and immediately following a woman’s menstrual period. After the completion of her period, a woman who follows these laws will wait a number of days and then immerse in the mikvah, after which she can return to sexual partnership.

  • Takhrikhin

    The simple, linen shrouds that a body is dressed in for burial.

  • Unveiling

    The ceremony for unveiling the gravestone, which generally takes place one year following burial. This is an opportunity for the family to re-gather at the cemetery to remember their loved one and to officially dedicate a memorial in their honor.

  • Yartzeit

    The anniversary of a death. On the Yartzeit of a loved one, it is a traditional to light a 24 hour candle, and to go to synagogue on the closest Shabbat to recite Mourners Kaddish.

  • Yizkor

    The special memorial service that takes place in the synagogue on Yom Kippur, and on the last day of each of the Shalosh Regalim (Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot). All those who have lost a loved one are invited to stand and say Kaddish.