Glossary of hebrew terms used
in Jewish women in europe in the middle ages

Glossary of Hebrew terms used

aggada (adj.) aggadic That part of the Talmud (cf.) and Midrash (cf.) that contains anecdotes, parables, legends, and so forth.
aginut The state of being an agunah (cf.).
agunah (pl. agunot) A married woman who for whatsoever reason is separated from her husband and cannot remarry, either because she cannot obtain a divorce or because it is unknown whether he is still alive. Here the term is also applied to a ‘levirate widow’, i.e. a woman who cannot remarry because she cannot obtain halizah (cf.) from the levir or if it is unknown whether he is still alive (Tbab. Git. 26b, 33a; Yev. 94a).
al kiddush Hashem In sanctification of the Name of God – the supreme aspiration.
amidah Literally ‘standing’; the core and main element of each of the prescribed daily prayer services, must be recited standing.
amora (pl. amoraim) Used as a generic term for the rabbis of the post-Mishnaic period, whose activities were centred on the interpretation of the Mishnah (cf.) both in Palestine and in Babylonia between the third and sixth centuries.
anusa (pl. anusot) A woman forced to convert to Christianity.
Ashkenaz Germany.
Beit Din (pl. Batei Din) Rabbinical court.
Beit Hillel, Beit Shammai The two great schools called after Hillel and Shammai (c. 50 CEc. 30 CE), the famous pair of the leaders of the Sanhedrin. In general Beit Shammai took a more stringent attitude and Beit Hillel a more lenient one.
beraitah Literally ‘outside’ (sources) – the writings of amoraim (cf.) that were not included in the Mishnah (cf.).
bitul tefilah Disruption of public prayers in order to seek redress of a wrong (mainly a judicial or moral one). A form of protest and way of arousing public indignation afforded to an individual who felt that an injustice had been perpetrated upon him by the constituted authorities or by any other individual. This practice was prevalent mainly in the Middle Ages among Ashkenazic Jewry.
brakha God is blessed before the performance of all mitzvot (cf.), and the benediction is called a brakha.
brakha levatalah (pl. brakhot levatalah) A brakha (cf.) that is recited inappropriately or incorrectly, so that the name of God in taken in vain, transgressing the Third Commandment of the Decalogue.
chazan Synagogue cantor.
dam hatohar (pl. damei hatohar) Literally ‘pure blood’; refers to the period (up to forty or eighty days) following childbirth. See Lev. 12: 2–4.
dayan (pl. dayanim) Judge – a rabbi sitting on the bench of a rabbinical court. Eretz Yisrael The Land of Israel.
erusin Engagement prior to marriage at which, originally, the ketubah (cf.) was drawn up.
Gaon (pl. geonim) The formal title of the heads of the academies of Sura and Pumbedita in Babylonia, recognized by the Jews as the highest religious authority from the end of the sixth century to the middle of the eleventh.
Gemarah Discussions and explanations of the Mishnah (cf.), compiled by the amoraim (cf.) in Babylonia and Palestine from the fourth century to the sixth.
gematria The assignation of numerical values to Hebrew letters. geonic period 589 CE–1038 CE.
gett Jewish bill of divorce.
gezerah A rabbinical enactment; usually a preventative measure or ban.
hakhel Meaning ‘assemble’ and referring to the commandment to assemble all the people before God (Deut. 31:12).
halakhah (general): (adj.) halakhic (adv.) halakhically; halakhah (specific) (pl. halakhot) As a generic term halakhah refers to the whole of the legal system of Judaism, comprising all the details of Jewish law and observance. A specific halakhah refers to a specific Jewish law.
halizah A ceremony through which a woman is released from the levirate tie and is free to marry someone else if the levir (her late husband’s brother) does not marry her.
hallah A form of bread. The term also applies to the portion of dough set aside and given to the priest (Num. 15:19-20).
hametz Leaven and leavened food.
Hasid (n.), Hasidic (adj.) A member of the Hasidei Ashkenaz (cf.) group.
Hasidei Ashkenaz A social and ideological group, with a specific religious outlook, in medieval German Jewry. The first centres of the movement were Regensburg in southern Germany and the communities of Speyer, Worms, and Mainz on the Rhine; from there, its influence spread over most of Germany and, to a certain extent, to France also. Its main literature was composed during the first half of the thirteenth century.
havdalah Literally ‘distinction’ The blessing recited at the termination of Sabb aths and festivals, in order to emphasize the distinction between the sacred and the ordinary.
karet Literally ‘cutting off’ or ‘extirpation’, a punishment at the hands of Heaven mentioned in the Bible as the penalty for a considerable number of sins committed deliberately, such as: idolatry, desecration of the Sabbath, the eating of leaven on Passover, incest and adultery; and for some forbidden foods.
kasher (v.) To make a vessel ‘kosher’ or fit for use halakhically (cf.).
ketubah; (pl. ketubot) Marriage contract by which a bridegroom obligates himself to provide a settlement for his wife if he divorces her, or through his heir if he predeceases her. Ketubah is the name both of the written contract itself and of the amount the husband is obliged to settle on his wife.
kiddush Literally ‘sanctification’. The prayer recited over a cup of wine in the home and the synagogue to consecrate the Sabbath or festival in fulfilment of the biblical commandment to ‘Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy’ (Exod. 20:8; Pes. 106a).
kiddush haShem The sanctification in the name of God, referring to the conduct of Jews when among non-Jews that gave Jews and Judaism a good reputation. kidushin The complete marriage ceremony, which consisted of two parts, the engagement and the wedding. Kidushin is also a tractate of the Talmud.
kitzotah The sum of the three amounts specified in the ketubah.
kohen (pl. kohanim) Member of the priestly class – traditionally the descendants of the biblical Aaron. The original priests had responsibilities in the Temple in Jerusalem. After the destruction of the Temple they assumed specific ritual functions in the synagogue. They were prohibited from coming into contact with the dead (Lev. 21:1–4), and were restricted as to whom they were permitted to marry (Lev. 21:7).
libun Literally ‘whitening’ but in fact referring to the additional days following menses and prior to immersion and return to normal cohabitation.
lulav A shoot or young branch of a tree, here referring to the palm branch – one of the components of the Four Species used in the ritual the festival of Sukkot. Ma’akhelet The term for knife used specifically in the story of the binding of Isaac (Gen. 22:10) and so always associated with it.
mamzer (pl. mamzerim) A child born from a union prohibited according to the Torah. Though usually translated as ‘bastard’, it does not refer to a child born out of wedlock.
mamzerut The state of being a mamzer (cf.).
maneh One hundred zuz (cf.). The maneh was a weight in gold or silver equal to fifty holy, or 100 common, shekels.
matza (pl. matzot) Unleavened bread, eaten on the Passover, when leaven of any sort is forbidden.
Midrash (pl. Midrashim) A homiletic method of biblical exegesis and also the whole compilation of homiletic teachings on the Bible. A way of interpreting biblical stories that goes beyond simple distillation of religious, legal or moral teachings. This genre of rabbinic literature contains analogies and compilations of homilies, lore and law, usually forming a running commentary on specific books of the Bible.
mikvah (pl. mikvaot) A pool or bath of clear water, immersion in which renders a person who has become ritually unclean through contact with the dead (Num. 19) or any other defiling object, or through an unclean flux from the body (Lev. 15), especially a menstruating or postpartum woman, ritually clean. It is similarly used for vessels (Num. 31:22-23).
milei de-hibah Literally ‘words of fondness’: the affectionate relationship between husband and wife.
Minhag (pl. minhagim) Literally ‘custom’, and also meaning usage, i.e., customs which have been accepted into practice.
minhah The afternoon prayer service, one of the three daily services of the Jewish liturgy.
Mishnah The redaction by Rabbi Judah the Prince (usually called simply ‘Rabbi’) in the late second century of discussions by a group of rabbinic sages known as the tannaim (cf.) that attempted to set down the whole of the oral tradition of Jewish law and practice so that it would not be lost following the dispersion of the Jews after the destruction of the Temple.
mitzva (pl. mitzvot) Literally ‘commandment’. A precept, or religious duty. There are 613 commandments given in the Torah, and the seven rabbinic commandments instituted later make a total of 620.
mohar In biblical times mohar, whereby the groom bought his wife from her father (Gen. 24:53; Exod. 22:15-16; Hos. 3:2), was the accepted practice. It was then customary that the groom give the bride gifts, and that she bring certain property to her husband’s home upon marriage: slaves, cattle, real estate, etc. (cf. Gen. 24:59-61; 29; Judg. 1:14 ff.; I Kgs 9:16).
moredet Woman who refuses to have conjugal relations with her husband.
movet al kiddush haShem Martyrdom (death by sanctification in the name of God).
nedunyah The dowry that a wife brings to her husband on marriage. The custom of nedunyah became clearly defined and institutionalized only in the talmudic period. Evidence of the custom of nedunyah is to be found in Tobit (7:14, 8:21) and in the Assuan papyri (Cowley, Aramaic, nos 15, 18). This custom gradually superseded that of mohar (cf.).
niddah State of ritual impurity, a person in such a state, especially a menstrual woman.
nihbeshet (pl. nihbashot) A woman taken prisoner by an enemy in circumstances in which rape or her granting of sexual favours to save her own skin was considered to be very likely.
nikhsei melog Usufructuary property that the woman chooses not to enter into the ketubah (cf.), or which she inherits or gains during her marriage. Therefore, the husband does not benefit from any increase in their worth, nor does he accept responsibility for damage, deprecation or loss. His sole benefit from these properties is the right to enjoy their profits.
paytan Writer of liturgical poems.
peru u-revu The Hebrew words for ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ in Gen. 1:22, the commandment to procreate.
petzua daka The term used in Deut. 23:2 to describe a man who has a defect in his sexual organs: ‘No one whose testes are crushed [petzua daka] or whose member is cut off shall be admitted into the congregation of the Lord.’ piyyutim Jewish liturgical poetry.
responsa A rabbinic term relating to an exchange of letters in which one party consults another on a halakhic (cf.) matter.
Rosh Hodesh The first day of every month in the Hebrew calendar.
semikhah The ceremony of the laying of hands on an offering brought to the Temple. See Lev. 1:4.
shema One of the basic prayers in Judaism, consisting of three paragraphs from the Pentateuch and starting with the declaration of God’s unity: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One’ (Deut. 6:4).
shevuyah (pl. shevyot) A woman taken prisoner by an enemy in circumstances in which rape or sexual harm was considered to be unlikely.
shofar The ram’s horn, blown at the new year.
sukkah (pl. sukkot) During the Festival of Tabernacles, Jews were required (Lev. 23:42) to eat and sleep in a temporary structure with roofing made of natural materials through which sunlight could penetrate. Such a booth is called a sukkah.
taharah State of ritual purity.
takanah (pl. takanot) A ruling or ordinance agreed upon by the community. talmidei hakhamim Scholars, especially those erudite in the Talmud.
Talmud The Mishnah together with the Gemarah. Considered the definitive work on Jewish law and tradition.
tameh A ritually impure person.
tanna (pl. tanaim) A teacher of the oral law and in particular one of the sages of the Mishnah (cf.) from the time of Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai (cf.) to the period of Rabbi Judah the Prince.
tefillin Phylacteries: two black leather boxes containing scriptural passages (Exod. 13:1–10, 11–16; Deut. 6:4–9, 11:13–21).which are bound by black leather straps on the left hand and on the head and are worn during the morning services on all days of the year except Sabbaths and festivals.
tehinnah (pl. tehinnot) A supplemental prayer of supplication.
Tosafists Writers of tosafot (cf.).
tosafot Collections of commentaries on the Talmud (cf.) arranged according to the order of the talmudic tractates. The concept of the tosafot was originally bound up with the method of study characteristic of the schools of Germany and France in the twelfth to fourteenth centuries.
tumah Ritual impurity.
tzitzit (pl. tzitziot) Fringe worn on garments as prescribed in Num. 15:38–39.
tzon barzel Property that is appraised before the marriage and its value entered into the ketubah (cf.). The husband undertakes to repay the full value of this property in the event that he dies or they are divorced. On marriage these items are regarded as his property, any increase in their value accrues to him and he is liable for any damage, depreciation or loss.
yeshivah A talmudic academy.
yevamah A married man who died without leaving offspring.
yibbum A levirate marriage – one between a widow whose husband died without offspring and the brother of the deceased (the levir) as prescribed in Deut. 25:5-6.
zav (m.), zavah (f.) A person who has involuntary secretions.
zimun Three or ten men who together recite the grace after meals as a group.
zuz(pl. zuzzim) An ancient Hebrew silver coin minted during the Roman period, replacing and equivalent in value to the imperial denarii or the Roman provincial drachmas of Vespasian, Titus, Domitian, Trajan, and Hadrian.

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