Shabbat & Holidays Common Terms:

  • Afikomen

    “Dessert.” The final piece of matzah eaten at the Passover Seder, traditionally hidden at the start of the meal and found by the kids and ransomed back to the leader at the end. This game is a teaching tool for keeping kids engaged throughout the Seder.

  • Aseret Y'mei Teshuvah

    The Ten Days of Repentance, connecting Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, during which we are taught to seek out those we have offended in the previous year and attempt to make amends.

  • Dreidel

    A spinning top played with on Hanukkah. The four letters on the dreidel-- Nun, Gimmel, Heh, and Shin-- stand for the phrase: “Nes Gadol Haya Sham,” meaning “A great miracle happened there.”

  • Elijah's Cup

    A cup of wine placed on the Seder Table for Elijah the Prophet, who is traditionally thought to visit each home on Passover and we hope will signal the coming of the Messiah and a universal era of peace.

  • Elul

    The month preceding the High Holy Days in which we are taught to take an accounting of ourselves (heshbon ha-nefesh) and prepare for the work of teshuvah ahead.

  • Etrog

    A lemon-like citrus fruit, which is waved together with the lulav on Sukkot as a celebration of the bounty of the harvest.

  • Hag

    “Holiday.” A holy day on which most types of work are prohibited, in favor of rest, reflection, and celebration. The formal haggim of the Jewish calendar are Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, the first two and last two days of Sukkot (including Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah), the first two and last two days of Pesah, and Shavuot.

  • Hag Sameach

    “Happy Holiday!” The traditional greeting on a Jewish Festival. On Hanukkah one may say, “Hag Urim Sameach!,” meaning “Happy Festival of Lights!”

  • Haggadah

    The book which we use to conduct the Passover seder. There are thousands of haggadot in print, and many families choose to create their own.

  • Hallah

    The rich, braided loaves of bread which we use on Shabbat. It is traditional to cover the hallot with a cloth and then uncover them when the time comes to recite the hamotzi blessing and break bread together.

  • Hametz

    Leavened items (or products from grains, including wheat, barley, oats, spelt, and rye, which could become leavened) which are forbidden to eat, or even have in one's possession, during the holiday of Pesah.

  • Hanukkah

    The eight-day Festival of Lights, celebrated in the Winter, which commemorates the Maccabee'ssuccessful revolt against Syrian-Greek oppression and the restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem. Hanukkah teaches us the importance of religious freedom, and reminds us that the miraculous is possible.

  • Hanukiyah

     A nine-branched Hanukkah candelabra. On each successive night of Hanukkah another candle is lit, until on the final night it is completely full of light. Often referred to as a menorah, which simply means “lamp.”

  • Haroset

    Typically a mixture of sweet fruits and nuts (Ashkenazi haroset generally contains apples and walnuts, Sephardic haroset often contains dates and dried fruits), which is included on the Seder plate to commemorate the mortar which the Israelites used to build bricks in Egypt.

  • Havdalah

    The brief ceremony that concludes Shabbat, which includes four blessings said over a cup of wine, a braided candle, and a spice-box. After the blessings have been said, the candle is extinguished in the wine and all wish each other a “Shavuah Tov,” a good week.

  • Hol HaMoed

    The intermediate days of Sukkot and Passover, which are not considered hag and on which work is permitted, but certain rituals-- including dwelling in the sukkah or refraining from eating hametz-- continue.

  • Kabbalat Shabbat

    The series of psalms and prayers that begin the Friday evening service, centered around the poem “Lecha Dodi,” which personifies Shabbat as a queen or a bride and welcomes her to join us with blessings of rest and of peace.

  • Karpas

    Green vegetables, symbolizing Spring and re-birth, which are dipped in salt water, symbolizing tears, as part of the Passover seder. In addition to the traditional parsley and salt water, if you are hosting a seder you may wish to include other vegetables and dips as a way of keeping your guests full and willing to engage in the long story-telling and discussion, rather than ravenously rushing to get to the meal.

  • Kiddush

    The prayer, recited over a cup of wine, which begins Shabbat or a holiday meal.

  • Kitniyot

    Additional grains and other foods forbidden by the Ashkenazi rabbis (though not the Sephardim) during Passover, including corn, soy, rice, and beans.

  • Kol Nidre

    The famous, majestic declaration chanted on Erev Yom Kippur, which releases us from promises made over the previous year that we meant to keep but were unable to fulfill. This prayer has come to be so important that the entire Erev Yom Kippur service is generally referred to simply as “Kol Nidre.”

  • Lag B’Omer

    The 33rd day of the counting of the Omer, celebrated as a minor holiday. Traditions for Lag B’Omer include building bonfires, getting haircuts, and having weddings.

  • L'Shanah Ha'ba'ah B'Yerushalayim

    “Next year in Jerusalem!” The final, hopeful words of the Passover seder expressing the belief that just as the Israelites were liberated from Egyptian slavery, so too someday soon, Jews will be able to freely return to a Jerusalem at peace.

  • L'Shanah Tovah

    “Happy New Year.” The traditional greeting for Rosh HaShanah. May be extended to “L'Shanah Tovah Tikateivu”, meaning “May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a good new year.”

  • Lulav

    The collection of palm, willow, and myrtle branches that, together with the etrog, are waved on Sukkot as a celebration of God's bounty and as part of a ritual prayer for rain.

  • Makhzor

    The High Holy Day prayerbook, which is distinct from the siddur which is used year-round. The current makhzor in use by the Conservative Movement is Machzor Lev Shalem.

  • Maror:

    Bitter herbs eaten on Passover to commemorate the suffering of Egyptian slavery. For a truly mind and sinus-blowing experience, try substituting wasabi for the traditional horseradish.

  • Matzah

    The unleavened cracker bread that is the central symbol of Passover. Matzah commemorates the rush with which the Israelites left slavery, not even taking time to allow their bread to rise. So too, when faced with the opportunity of liberation, we should rush to grab it and not let it slip through our fingers.

  • Megillah

    One of the five scrolls from Ketuvim which are read on several of the Jewish holidays. The most famous megillah is Esther, which is chanted on Purim and when someone refers simply to “the Megillah” they are almost always talking about the Book of Esther.

  • Melakha

    Creative labor, forbidden on Shabbat. Shabbat is a day of rest and peace, and the Jewish Tradition strictly regulates the performance of any action that creates, destroys, otherwise changes the world during that 25 hour period. Instead, we are taught to live in harmony with the planet and to accept whatever we currently have with gratitude. Example of melakha include: writing, purchasing, building, cooking, or making a fire.

  • Menorah

    The generic Hebrew word for “lamp.” A Hanukiyah is a special form of menorah with nine branches that is used on Hanukkah. The seven branched menorah, the kind that was found in the ancient Temple, is the official symbol of the contemporary State of Israel.

  • Miriam's Cup

    A recent addition to the Passover table-- today, many families put out a cup of water commemorating the miracle of Miriam's well, which followed the sister of Moses throughout the desert to provide the people with water. This, and other new customs honoring women's contributions to Jewish history, are part of an ongoing effort in the progressive Jewish movements to integrate feminist teaching into Judaism's traditionally more patriarchal structure.

  • Mishloach Manot

    The Purim tradition of sending gifts of food to friends and loved ones to commemorate this joyful holiday.

  • Neilah

    The final prayer service of Yom Kippur, recited in the late afternoon before the Ark, which remains open the entire time. Neilah means “locking,” and its dominant image is that of the gates of heaven swinging shut at the end of a long day of prayer and spiritual introspection. Neilah concludes with a long blast of the shofar.

  • Omer

    The period between Passover and Shavuot is referred to as the “Counting of the Omer”, referencing the ancient practice of bringing sheaves from the barley harvest each day during this time. Every evening, beginning with the 2nd night of Passover and culminating with Shavuot, a special prayer is recited and the day is counted. Some Jews refrain from shaving or cutting their hair, as well as getting married, during the Omer period (except on Lag B’Omer).

  • Pesah

    “Passover.” Pesah is the Jewish festival commemorating our liberation from Egyptian slavery. Observed for eight days in the Spring, we refrain from eating hametz, leavened products, instead substituting matzah which symbolizes our freedom. We hold ritual meals, called seders, in which we re-tell and even act-out portions of the story of our Exodus. One of the most important ideas of Pesah is that we are meant to truly identify with the story of our liberation, to not just think of it as something that happened once in history to our ancestors, but, as the Haggadah says, “in every generation we are to see ourselves as though we personally came out of Egypt.”

  • Purim

    The joyful holiday which commemorates the victory of Queen Esther and her cousin, Mordechai, over the wicked royal vizier Haman, in ancient Persia. Haman wanted to destroy the Jewish community of the City of Shushan based on a personal grudge against Mordechai, who refused to bow to him. It is up to Esther, a Jewish woman who had become an unlikely Queen through winning a royal beauty pageant, to save her People. Purim is celebrated with costume parties and carnivals, as well as the reading of the Megillah of Esther and the giving of Mishloach Manot, gifts of food to friends, as well as charity to the poor. On topsy-turvy Purim, it is traditional to drink a little bit too much, until one is unsure who is the hero and who is the villain of this ancient tale.

  • Rosh HaShanah

    The Jewish New Year, celebrated over two days in the Fall. Rosh HaShanah is a time for contemplating the events of the past year, and resolving to make change (teshuvah) in anticipation of Yom Kippur. The most important symbol of Rosh HaShanah is the shofar, or ram’s horn, which is blown one hundred times over each day of the holiday and is used to stir the soul to wakefulness and repentance. In addition to synagogue services, Jews often gather for festive meals on Rosh HaShanah, at which Ashkenazim eat apples dipped in honey for a sweet new year, and Sephardim eat a variety of traditional foods each with a symbolic meaning.

  • Rosh Hodesh

    The beginning of the new Hebrew month, starting with the New Moon. In antiquity, these would be major festivals. Today, they are only minor observances marked by the recitation of Hallel, a collection of joyful Psalms, in the synagogue. The Hebrew months (beginning in the Spring with the month that contains Passover) are: Nissan, Iyar, Sivan, Tammuz, Av, Elul, Tishrei, Heshvan, Kislev, Tevet, Sh’vat, and Adar.

  • Seder

    The festive, symbolism-rich meal for Passover, in which we re-tell and re-experience the story of the Exodus from Egypt. The seder is conducted out of the haggadah and remains one of the most practiced of all Jewish rituals.

  • Seudat Shlishit

    The third meal on late Shabbat afternoon, which is understood by the Jewish mystical tradition to be the most spiritually powerful time of the day and is accompanied by singing, teaching, and storytelling.

  • Shabbat

    The greatest of Jewish spiritual institutions— an entire day each week dedicated to rest, relationship, and gratitude for life’s blessings. From sundown on Friday night, until the appearance of three stars in the sky on Saturday, the Jewish Tradition forbids us from engaging in any form of creative labor, instead commanding us to just accept and appreciate the world as it is. During the course of Shabbat, we eat communal meals, attend synagogue services, spend time with our families and friends, and engage in restorative activities that renew us for the week ahead.

  • Shabbat Shalom

    The traditional greeting for Shabbat. May you have a Shabbat of peace.

  • Shalosh Regalim

    The Three Pilgrimage Festivals— Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot— when the Israelites would all travel to the Temple in Jerusalem. These correspond with the three major harvest seasons— Spring, Summer, and Fall— of the year. Passover and Sukkot are both eight day long festivals, while Shavuot lasts for just two days.

  • Shamash

     “Helper.” On Hanukkah, the candle used to light the other candles.

  • Shavuot

    The holiday commemorating the establishment of the covenant at Mount Sinai. Shavuot is celebrated by staying up late at night (some stay up all night) and studying, in commemoration of the revelation. Traditionally, Jews eat dairy foods on Shavuot, symbolizing that Torah is like mother’s milk to us. In the synagogue, the Book of Ruth is recited.

  • Shmini Atzeret

    The eighth and final day of the festival of Sukkot is considered a special holiday unto itself, when work is prohibited. Yizkor, the special prayer service for those who have died, is recited in the synagogue on this day.

  • Shofar

    The ram’s horn, which is blown on the High Holy Days. The cry of the shofar is meant to arouse one to spiritual wakefulness and to stir the desire to do teshuvah. It is blown on each of the days of Elul leading up to the High Holy Days, one hundred times on Rosh HaShanah, and at the close of Yom Kippur services.

  • Simchat Torah

    A joyful holiday celebrating the completion of the annual Torah reading cycle, and its restarting. We remove the Torah scrolls from the Ark and sing and dance with them. Then we read the final chapters of Deuteronomy and immediately roll the Torah all the way back to Genesis and begin reading again, demonstrating that the learning of Torah goes on forever.

  • Sukkah

    The temporary structures, reminiscent of what the Israelites might have dwelt in during their desert journey, are built each Fall during the harvest festival of Sukkot. A sukkah requires at least two and a half walls, and an open roof through which one can see the stars. During the week of Sukkot, many people transfer most of their activities into the sukkah: eat meals, visiting with friends, even sleeping outdoors.

  • Sukkot

    The eight day harvest festival, celebrated in the Fall. In memory of our ancestors’ journey through the desert, we construct temporary structures and spend as much of our time as possible in them. We also shake the lulav, a collection of leafy branches, and etrog, a citrus fruit, which likely began as an ancient ritual to summon the winter rains. Sukkot is a joyful holiday, for focusing on gratitude for life’s bounty.

  • Tashlikh

    A folk ritual, practiced in between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, which involves going down to a body of water and casting either bread crumbs or something similar onto the water as a way of symbolically “throwing away” our sins from the year past.

  • Tisha b’Av

    The 9th of Av, which commemorates all of the tragedies and persecutions of Jewish History—including the destruction of the First and Second Temples. Tisha b’Av is observed by fasting and the chanting of the Book of Lamentations (Eicha).

  • Tishrei

    The Hebrew month that contains the High Holy Days. Rosh HaShanah is observed on the 1st and 2nd of Tishrei, and Yom Kippur on the 10th of Tishrei.

  • Tu B'Shvat

    The Jewish Arbor Day—this minor holiday, usually observed in February or March, celebrates trees and nature.

  • Yom Ha-Atzmaut

    Israel’s Independence Day, marking the anniversary of the Israel’s Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948. Celebrated on the 5th of Iyar, which generally corresponds to late April or early May.

  • Yom Ha-Shoah

    Holocaust Memorial Day, commemorating the murder of six million Jews, and five million others, by the Nazis. It is observed on the 27th of Nisan, which generally corresponds to late April or early May.

  • Yom Kippur

    The Day of Atonement. Yom Kippur is the most sacred day of the Jewish calendar, and is spent in intense prayer, reflection, and fasting. Yom Kippur marks the culmination of annual process of teshuvah— examining our past deeds and attempting to reconcile with those whom we have harmed through our words or actions.

  • Zeroah (Bone)

    The roasted shankbone that is placed on the Passover seder plate, in memory of the Pesach sacrifice which was given in the Temple every year on the holiday.