• Adonai

    A traditional name for God, often used in prayer, meaning “My Lord”.

  • Aliyah

    The standing prayer, which forms the heart of every Jewish service. It contains within it an opening section which evokes the merit of our ancestors and praises God, a middle section which varies depending on when it is said, and a final section thanking God for our blessings and praying for peace.

  • Aron Kodesh (Ark)

    The cabinet in which the Torah scrolls are kept in the synagogue.

  • B'rakha

    A blessing, beginning with the six word formula: “Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu Melekh Ha-Olam.” Jews are taught to strive to say at least one hundred blessings every day.

  • Bima

    The area of the synagogue, sometimes raised, where the leaders stand and conduct the service.

  • Birkat Ha-Mazon

    The long series of blessings following a meal. 

  • D'var Torah

    “Words of Torah.” This is the sermon, generally delivered by the rabbi, at a religious service.

  • Daven

    The Yiddish word for prayer.

  • Elohim/Eloheinu

    A name for God used through the Bible and the Hebrew prayerbook. Eloheinu is in the plural possessive, meaning “our God.”

  • Hazzan (Cantor)

    A branch of Jewish clergy who specialize in leading services and preserving the rich Jewish musical tradition. Synagogue services will often be officiated by a rabbi and a hazzan, and hazzanim are empowered to lead many Jewish lifecycle rituals including weddings and funerals.

  • Kavannah

    Intention and inwardness in prayer. Praying with kavanna means focusing not just on the mechanical act of prayer, but on the meaning of the words and often includes spontaneous, free-form prayer from the heart, as opposed to the fixed liturgy (keva) of the prayerbook.

  • Keva

    Spiritual discipline and repetition in prayer. This is the form of Jewish prayer, often contrasted with kavannah, which is fixed and formal and is found in the siddur, the Hebrew prayerbook. While our culture generally favors spontaneous prayer over fixed liturgy, it is important to reflect on the fact that it is often only through consistency and dedication that spiritual insight may be achieved.

  • Kippah

    The traditional Jewish head covering, worn while engaging in prayer, study, or eating, which indicates respect for God. Some wear the kippah at all times, to indicate that they are always in the Presence of the Divine. Also referred to as a yarmulke, in Yiddish.

  • Ma'ariv

    The evening service, one of the three daily prayer periods for Jews. Ma'ariv is related to the Hebrew word, Erev, meaning “evening.”

  • Mezuzah

    The box placed on the doorposts of a Jewish home, containing the words of the Sh'ma and the proceeding paragraph from Deuteronomy which commands that we “take these words to heart... and write them on the doorposts of our homes and on our gates.”

  • Mincha

    The afternoon prayer service, which is the shortest of the three daily prayer times, on weekdays consisting only of the recitation of a psalm (Ashrei), the Amidah, Aleinu, and the Kaddish.

  • Minyan

    The quorum of ten, adult Jews necessary to be able to say certain prayers, including the Kaddish, and to read publicly from the Torah. In the Orthodox world, a minyan must be made up of ten adult Jewish men; however, in the Conservative and Reform traditions, both Jewish men and women past the age of Bar/Bat Mitzvah count in a minyan.

  • Musaf

    The additional prayer service, added following the Torah reading, on Shabbat morning. This commemorates the additional offering that was given on Shabbat in the Temple, and reflects the additional leisure time we have on Shabbat to dedicate to prayer and community. Musaf is generally only a part of Conservative and Orthodox prayer services, Reform and Reconstructionist communities tend to skip it.

  • Ner Tamid

    The eternal light, present in most synagogue sanctuaries, which remains perpetually on as a symbol of God's Presence in the space. An eternal flame was kept lit in the Temple, and the story of Hanukkah centers around the Maccabees' efforts to re-light it upon recapturing the Sanctuary.

  • Sh’ma

    The central declaration of Jewish faith: “Sh’ma Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad”, meaning “Hear O Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai is One.” The Sh’ma is recited morning and evening, as well as immediately before going to bed. It is the first Hebrew phrase taught to small children, and the last words that one is supposed to say before dying. From Deuteronomy 6:4.

  • Shacharit

    The morning prayer service. This is longest of the three daily prayer services, including the recitation of Psalms, the Sh’ma, the Amidah, and other prayers. On Shabbat, as well as on Mondays and Thursdays, we read from the Torah at Shacharit services. Shacharit is also the time for wearing ritual garb, including tallit and (on weekdays only) tefilin.

  • Shehehiyanu

    The blessing for all new things— the first day of a holiday, the first cherries of summer, the first time wearing a new set of clothes, the arrival at a significant birthday or lifecycle moment. The words are: “Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha-olam, she’he’heyanu v’kiye’manu, v’higiyanu l’zman ha-zeh” meaning, “Blessed are You God, who has kept us alive, and sustained us, and allowed us to reach this special time.”

  • Shul

    The Yiddish word for synagogue. More commonly used in Orthodox and Conservative communities.

  • Siddur

    The Jewish prayerbook, which contains the liturgy for both weekdays and holidays (except the High Holy Days, on which we use the machzor.)

  • Tallit

    The prayer shawl, which has four tzitzit, fringes, tied to its corners as reminders of the mitzvot. Jews wear a tallit during daytime prayer services.

  • Tefilah

    “Prayer.” The word tefilah comes from the Hebrew root meaning “to judge/examine oneself.” True prayer is a reflective activity, finding and expressing the words and emotions that are contained in the deepest part of the heart.

  • Tefilin

    The leather boxes which are bound onto the arm and forehead with straps, and contain the words of the Sh’ma and the commandment to love God with all one’s heart, soul, and might. Tefilin are worn during weekday morning prayer services.

  • Tzitzit

    Knotted fringes attached to the corners of the tallit, which serve as reminders of the mitzvot, as commanded in Numbers 15.

  • Yad

    “Hand.” The pointer used to keep one’s place when reading from the Torah scroll.

  • Yarmulke

    see, Kippah.

  • YHVH

    The four letter, personal name of God. The Name was only pronounced by the High Priest in the Holy of Holies in the Temple on Yom Kippur. Today, when we come to YHVH in the prayerbook, we substitute the word “Adonai,” meaning “my God.”