Baal Shem Tov, or Besht — the founder of Chasidism —
You can find spelling variations here as well as loosely personal definitions. When you click on a term in the vocab list, the paragraph at the top of the page will be the one with your term in it. See also the pages on Kabbalah for explanations of Kabbalistic terminology. If you don't see a word here that you want to know more about, send me feedback and I'll try to add it.
Click on a term to go to the paragraph where the entry is found: Admat-kodesh Aggadah Aleinu Artziut Ashkenazi Avodah-b'Gashmi'ut Bal-tshuvah Black-Hat B'rakhah Brokha B'sho BT Charedi Chasid Chasidus Chassides Chavraya Chevre Chevraya Chevruta Chosid Chumra Davven Davening Davka Derekh-agav Deveikut Drash D'rash D'veikes Eretz-hakodesh FFB Frei Fry Frum Frummie Frumkeit Gashmi'ut Gashmi'es Gematria Gushpanke Halakhah Halevai Hamonai Haredi Hashem Hashgacha-pratit Hasid Hasidut Hazon-Ish Hekhsher Hilula Hishtalsh'lut Holy-Land Im-Yirtzeh-Hashem Itchy Kavanah Kavanot K'ilu Kiruv Kula K'v'yakhol L'shem-yichud Mamash Mamesh Mashiach Mashiach-zeit Melave-malka Meshichist Midrash Minhag Minhagim Minhag-avoteinu Minhag-shtut Minyan Misnaged Misnagdim Mitnagdim Mitsvah Mitzvah More-than-human Moshiach Nign Nigun Nogei'a-badavar N'tsotsot Nusach Nusach-S'farad Partsuf Partzuf Pitzu'ei-nachal Piyut Posek P'sak Red-triangle Ruchniyut Seder-Hishtalsh'lut Sefardi Sefirat-Ha'omer Sefirot Seudah-shlishit S'fardi Shaloshudes Shefa Shiduch Shiva Shloshim Shir Shtibl Shtipl Shul Sparks Snag Ta'am Takeh Tikkun-Olam Tree-of-Life Tsadik Tzaddik X-O Yeshivah-loshn Yichud Yid Yinglish Yom-Hilula Zemer
How we spell things on NeoHasid: In my scholarly work I always use a very consistent transliteration system, but on NeoHasid it just seems more natural and vital to let the shape of words be inflected by context, subject, etc. So the letter tsadi may be indicated by "ts" or "tz"; nigun may also be written nign (as it is pronounced in most Yiddish-inflected communities), ditto for Chassides (v. Chasidus) or Eleheini (for Eloheinu); the letter tav may be sov, or not, again depending on mood, whim, context.
Aggadah (Agada, Aggada) – the storytelling, myth-making, material of the tradition, esp. the Talmud, that complements the halakhah, the legal material. The two often inform each other deeply. Nonetheless, there is an edition of the Talmud (actually a legal synopsis) by the Ri"f focused on halakhah and a much more recent collection of Talmudic aggada called Ein Ya'akov. Sometimes midrash is used to mean aggadah, though technically there are Mid'reshei Aggadah and Mid'reshei Halakhah, collections of mostly legend-focused interpretation or legal-focused interpretation (the latter being much older).
Aleinu – the prayer at the very end of the service right before Mourner's Kaddish which declares that we must praise the Holy One because we were not made like the other nations etc., and that we look forward to the time when everyone will bow to our God. That's the more parochial way to read the prayer. It can also mean that we hope for a time when everyone will recognize that worshipping God demands justice, etc. And it can get more parochial if you add the line that was censored from Ashkenazi prayers, "for they (the other nations) bow to emptiness and pray to an unsaving god" (which Reb Zalman reinterprets as a reference to Buddhism). Many alternative versions of the beginning of the prayer have been written to take out the assertion of Jewish superiority. The version I use (and wrote) is somewhere in-between: "God made many nations who seek to know God's ways, and gave us a special role by revealing to us God's laws".
Ashkenaz and S'farad – lit. Germany and Spain. Most people think of this as European vs. "Oriental" Jewish customs, but what it means more precisely is the customs of Jews under the Christian empire vs. the customs of the Jews under the Muslim empire. However, even that's problematic, since Sefardi/Spanish customs were substantially different than the rest of the Muslim world's Jewry (as was the government – there were two Muslim empires at that point). The more proper general term for the Asian/Mideastern/African ways of practicing Judaism is Eidot Hamizrach, "communities of the East". Often when using Ashkenazi or Sefardi on is referring to different nusach or versions of the liturgy.
Neohasid draws mostly on customs from Chasidic Eastern Europe (centered in Ukraine to be precise) – the technical term for the siddur used is used by those communities is confusingly Nusach S'farad (see below). But we sometimes include Sefardic or other nusach. BTW, since I (Reb Duvid) am part Syrian and since those were my first customs, eventually you might see more of that on Neohasid.
Brakha (Brakhah, Brokha, etc.) – a blessing, both the formal rabbinic kind and any good wishes. In Chasidic contexts a brokha often refers to the blessing a rebbe gives a disciple. In Reb Shlomo's circles, it's rare not to see everyone giving brokhas to each other when taking leave of each other. Usually they begin, "Hashem should bless you with..." The word for bless in Yiddish, bench, or בענטשן, suprisingly does not come from Hebrew but from the Latin benedicere (as in "benediction"). The songbooks given out at weddings that include Birkat Hamazon (the blessings after eating) and wedding blessings are called benchers.
Bal tshuvah or BT – lit. "master of repentance", meaning anyone who grew in liberal Judaism or non-religious and became frum later in life. Correct Hebrew would be ba'al t'shuvah (for a man) or ba'alat t'shuvah (for a woman). The Talmud says that even a tzadik can't stand in the place of the ba'al t'shuvah, but in most Haredi communities, BT's are people you don't want your FFB kids to marry. It's a perversion of the idea of yichus, whether someone has a good enough lineage to be marriage material. In any case, when the Talmud was talking about BT's, it probably meant people like Resh Lakish, who started out robbing people and became a great Torah scholar, as opposed to someone who grew up with basically good Jewish values plus bacon and an organ in shul, and gave up the bacon.
I was part of the wonderful BT movement in the 70's-80's (at the tail end), which was driven by forces like the Diaspora Yeshiva (once home for the insane and non-conformist), by the people Reb Shlomo "m'karev-ed", and by the 60's Yidn coming home. Those days were heady times when BT's could imagine that they had something unique to bring back to Orthodoxy. But there was a radical cultural split between the BT's who became frum overnight and rejected their past, and those of us who gradually grew into it while cherishing the values we brought in from the "outside" (things like anti-racism, egalitarianism, diversity). Over time the Orthodox world demanded that BT's leave or conform. I can't say exactly where the demand came from, just that it was clearly in the air. My own choice was to leave. The trend led to the death of the BT movement in the late 80's, at least as far as anyone not going the Aish route was concerned, and to the slumber of creativity in Orthodoxy.
Chasidus (Chasidut, Hasidut, Chassides) – Hasidism, the Chasidic way of doing Judaism, especially Chasidic thought. Teaching Chasidus means teaching the inner meaning or experience, and it usually means an emphasis on the psychological dimension. Traditionally it also means Judaism with a rebbe and disciples. So, if you teach something that is from the inside, so to speak, but it comes from you, rather than a rebbe, is it still Chasidus? That's a uniquely neo-Hasidic question. Back in the days of Philly B'nai Or, Reb Zalman would ask each of his talmidim to sit in the rebbe's chair and teach from the rebbe place inside. So the Renewal answer is definitely yes; but I think the neo-Hasidic answer is tsarikh iyun, meaning, the question requires further study.
Chevre – friends, fellows, posse. Sometimes you hear "chevrei", which would be a sort of plural/construct-state, though it's probably ungrammatical. It can also mean society or fellowship, as in Chevreh Kadisha, the group responsible for preparing the body of a Jewish person for burial (and often for raising money for the funeral of an indigent person). But the colloquial meaning seems closer to the sense of the Kabbalistic fellowship of the Zohar, called the Chevraya or Chavraya (which is the correct Aramaic plural of chaver, "friend").
Chevruta – a learning partner, someone you argue with about what the Talmud is really saying, and so "expand Torah and sharpen your minds". A real chevruta can be a very intimate relationship, as much as a love relationship; in other words, it's an I–Thou relationship. A fundamental aspect of chevruta learning is that by debating over the text, we take what is now a written tradition and turn it back into an oral tradition, as Talmud once was. This dialogical method can be applied to any kind of learning, but it works best when one's learning is for a holy purpose.
Chumra – the "stricter" (or strictest, most restrictive) interpretation of any Jewish law. It's opposite is kula, leniency. If you think stricter means holier, the actual halakhah is that anyone who always goes for the stricter opinion is an invalid posek (judge of Jewish practice), just as one who always goes for leniency is invalid. Not a whole lot of the Orthodox community is following this halakhic standard right now. FTOR and Yeshivat Chovevei Torah are trying to change that, but YU (Yeshiva University) has sadly been a lost cause for decades now.
Here are four examples of crazy chumras (and one could go on and on): 1) Some people will only buy bread or grain products that are yashan, made from "old" grain that was harvested in last year's crops, from Pesach until Shavuot, which is when the first new grain was offered in the Temple. That was the rule in ancient times in Israel when the Temple was standing, but until about 8 years ago it was never the rule in Brooklyn. 2) The latest fad in Brooklyn is high-end water filters to eliminate all the microorganisms, lest one eat a live one-celled animal or, I suppose, a protozoan without cloven hooves. [Note: This is not Jainism; folks are still eating Agriprocessor's meat.] 3) Last year women all over Williamsburg were burning their wigs because of fear that the real human hair had been harvested from Indian women in some kind of Hindu (hence idolatrous) ritual (this turned out to be false from even the frumest perspective). 4) Broccoli – yep, hundreds and thousands of Haredim no longer eat broccoli because of fear of ingesting microscopic insects in the flowers. But all of their parents ate it. See below on minhag avoteinu and the destruction of Jewish culture by a certain style of Black-hat Judaism.
Davka – one of those Yiddish words you can't translate. "Davka" emphasizes what comes right before or after it, like underlining. "He left the party davka before she arrived." (Someone please help me come up with a better example!) What's emphasized is contrary to expectations, even to the point of being l'hakhis, that is, where someone davka does something the opposite of what they should do. Takeh and mamesh function like an underline as well, but takeh emphasizes something that fits high expectations, and mamesh, you might say, exceeds expectations. "He's takeh a mensch. She is mamesh the sweetest." Chasidim of Reb Shlomo love to say mamesh; Reb Shlomo used it practically every other word.
Davvenen (Davenning) – Yiddish for prayer, esp. heart-felt. The -en inflection is Renewal speak derived from the way Reb Zalman says it. Daven has a kind of homey-heimish intimate shtibl feel to it; davvenen even more so. Yiddishists say the word has the same Latin root as devotion.
Drash (D'rash) – a Torah teaching, sermon, exploration; from lid'rosh, to search out, to seek. This is also the root of midrash, which is usually more than just a teaching. It refers to the process of finding gaps or incongruities or etymological connections between words in the text of the Torah, and creatively explaining why those oddities or relationship are not only necessary but deeply meaningful. This is the subterranean current of meaning that flows through the whole Torah, and it can only be created by a living human interaction with the text. Midrash can mean the classical rabbinic literature that does this, or it can mean the process of doing this in all times and places, now included.
D'veikes (Devekut) – cleaving, clinging, holding on with all one's might. In Chasidus it means the effort and passion to connect deeply with God. A d'veikes nign is a song that goes deep. Very few songs in the American idiom (even the American Hasidic idiom) accomplish this,, mostly because the American idiom is all about being happy, but you can 't have devekut without yearning, and you can't have yearning without loss, even if it's mitigated by the joy of seeking. The first time the word is used in the Torah it describes the way a man cleaves to his woman to be joined with his missing half.
Frum – "firm", meaning, strictly observant, usu. equivalent to Haredi. Someone who's frum can be called a frummie. The oppposite of frum is fry or non-observant, which is really the Yiddish word frei, meaning "free". Frumkeit is the culture and religious practices which define strict jewish observance. Someone who grew up frum is called an "FFB", "frum from birth". FFB's in most places in the Haredi world (even in Chabad) look down on people who got religion later in life, so called "BT's" or bal-tshuvahs. Most other Chasidim look down on Chabad though because of their very high percentage of BT's.
Gashmi'ut or Gashmi'es – from geshem, "rain". Standardly, "materialism", in all the negative senses, but sometimes, "materiality", with the idea that one can invest (or divest?) materiality with holiness. Artziut, from aretz, "land", is less common and has a stronger sense of physicality. In Chasidus, both are usually presented in opposition to Ruchniyut, or spirituality (from ruach, "wind" or spirit). But the goal of Chasidus, according to many (esp. Chabad) is Avodah b'Gashmi'ut, holy service to God through the ways and tools of physical reality. Derekh agav, this kind of coining of nouns for abstract spiritual ideas from common words is typical of Chasidus. Such nouns almost always end in "-ut",which is just like adding "-ness" to an adjective in English.
Gematria – add up the value of each letter in a word to get a number: One (echad) equals 1 (Alef) + 8 (Chet) + 4 (Dalet) = 13. Any words which have the same value can be used to justify an equivalence—if it already fits your theological goal, e.g., "One"="Love" (1+5+2+5); "One Love" = 13+13 = 26 = YHVH (God). It can get kooky. Kabbalists love this stuff because for Kabbalah the essence of reality is not even the words but the letters themselves. The word 'Gematria' must be derived from the Greek equivalent of geometry (ge + metria).
Halakhah – Jewish law; the process of Jewish law. It once meant developing an entire hashkafah, a way of seeing the world, and developing a perspective on how to do Jewish practice based on the worldview. Nowadays it usu. means looking in a book of rules and deciding whether to follow the stricter or the more lenient. I used to be shomer halakhah, one who tries to "keep" or "observe" the rules, even though I was never drawn to strictness for its own sake; now I prefer to be shomei'a halakhah, meaning, "listening", on as deep a level as I can, to the meaning behind the rules, and then basing my practice on that. See also Aggada.
Haredi – lit. one who trembles with devotion, as in "Trembling Before God"—at least, that's the idea. It's usually translated "ultra-Orthodox"; "black hat" is more descriptive of the visible reality, which is often based on how you look and who's expectations you meet, rather than what you're inner reality is like. In my very limited experience, the PIB's (people in black) who live by the inner definition rarely describe themselves as haredi, though they might say they are part of the haredi community. See also the entry on frum and read the article Chulent Times. Speaking of hats, there's a plan to complete a photo essay on which hat goes with which Hasidic sect!
Hashem, The Name – meaning God's name, YHVH. In Torah study texts, this can be one of the heimish ways to invoke God. In general though, Hashem is a substitute for Adonai or for God. In liturgical contexts, creeping blackness (of the hat variety) has led to Hashem being substituted for God's "ineffable" name when singing Shabbat songs, quoting a verse, and sometimes even unawares by people davening (when davka they should say Adonai). The name Adonai is already a substitution for the name YHVH, aka the "Tetragrammaton", since it's forbidden to pronounce the name (except if one is the High Priest on Yom Kippur), even if we knew how to. So Hashem is a substitution on top of a substitution.
We know it hasn't always been the practice to avoid saying Adonai. For example, the chorus of the shabbos song Tsur mishelo goes Tsur mishelo akhalnu, barkhu emunai, savanu v'hotarnu kid'var YHVH... The end of this line was clearly sung "kid'var Adonai", which rhymes with emunai, and not "kid'var Hashem", as people nowadays sing it. Sefardim, derekh agav, use the more mellifluous word Hamonai as a substitute for Adonai in non-liturgical contexts. A parallel devleopment is the use of Keil and Kah instead of Eil and Yah in extreme or Haredi contexts. (In fact Yah was the substitute name for God that was used outside of ceremony in ancient Israel) . In any case, pet peeves aside, we pray for the time when God's name will be One, which I suppose must mean when we won't be saying Hashem or Adonai anymore.
Hashgachah, Hashgacha pratit – from the same root as Mashgiach, someone who watches over things (i.e. a kosher supervisor). But hashgachah can not only mean a kosher supervision, it also refers to God's supervision of the world. Hashgachah pratit means specific individual supervision, that is, the idea that God guides everything that happens in life, even whether you make the bus on time, or whether a bird eats a certain grasshopper. Most Jewish philosophers thought that there was individual hashgacha over people but not over other creatures, while the Baal Shem Tov insisted that hashgacha even extends to whether a leaf falls on a worm. The Rambam, on the other hand, said that God's hashgacha only extends over species, not individuals, even for humanity—unless you were a philosopher or prophet.
Hasid (Chasid, Chassid, Chusid, etc., pl. Hasidim, Chasidim) – any follower of a Rebbe, in the line of the Ba'al Shem Tov. The word comes from the same root as the word Chesed, lovingkindness, here more precisely "devotion". I've heard it said, Ous yid ken men vern; ous khusid ken men nisht vern —"One can stop being a Jew; one can't stop being a Hasid." Which begs the question, if you didn't grow up in it, how do you start being one? More precisely for our purposes, can you be a Hasid if you don't ever pass through being haredi? BTW, "hasid" seems to be the more official spelling on this site, if we go by the url, but I play with it a lot. You'll find these spellings and more on the web.
Hilula, Yom Hilula – the day of death, i.e. yahrzeit, specifically of a tsadik or tsadeket, a righteous person, which is made into a celebration. The most widely observed would be the Yom Hilulah of Rashbi (Shim'on bar Yochai), thought of traditionally as the author of the Zohar, celebrated in Meron. People make long lists of the days of hilula of all the tsadikim, and consider it a segulah (a kind of special merit) to remember the tsadik on that day. In Jewish we celebrate the day of death, while in Amercanish we celebrate the day of birth. According to a midrash, the reason for the Jewish way is explained like this: when the ship leaves port one is anxious about whether it will return, but when it comes home safely everyone can finally celebrate.
Holy Land, Eretz Hakodesh – One also hears Admat Kodesh, which more precisely means "ground of holiness". Some people think the "promised land"or "holy land" was a gift. It wasn't; it was a contract. The land isn't made holy by Jews (or any group) living on it, nor are Jews made holy by living ba'aretz, "in the land". Holiness comes when the land is respected as a covenant partner with God. That's anyway what the Torah says. Fundamental to that covenant are three things: how we treat the poor, how we treat people who aren't Jewish, and whether we let the land celebrate its own year-long Shabbats. The land belongs to no one, certainly not to the Jews. Thinking that it does belong to "us" is a clear sign that one is operating outside the covenant.
Kavanah, Kavvanah pl. Kavanot – direction, focus, intention, specifically attention to the sacred dimension of a moment. Even more specifically, it can mean a prayer said before a prayer or ritual action that focuses one's intention, usually in a Kabbalistic or mystical way (e.g. "for the sake of uniting the Holy One and the Shekhinah...'). The most complicated kavanot are rooted in Lurianic Kabbalah and involve all sorts of gematria and other mystical bric-a-brac. But a kavanah can be about anything, including political action, memorializing someone, etc. Though it's not exactly the same root, the word for hope, tikvah (and mikveh) are related by the "bilitteral root system", meaning kavanah and hope share the same first two root letters, kuf vav. Kivun means direction in the spatial sense as well.
K'ilu, K'v'yakhol – Magic words you can add before any overly anthropomorphic statement about God, like crossing your fingers behind your back, that make it OK (i.e., non-idolatrous). Literally "as if", "as if it could be". Variations with the same intent are strewn throughout Kabbalistic texts whenever the Sefirot are talked about as though they were "non-different" (to use the Hare Krishna terminology) from God. I use these expressions sometimes when I violate Maimonides' rules of apophatic theology (look it up!) or Steven (my brother)'s rules for not saying something dumb about religion. (Plenty of times I do that without any warning.) K'v'yakhol sounds more yehivish.
Kiruv – The process or effort to bring someone "close", meaning closer to Torah and observance. Aish Hatorah are the masters of kiruv, alongside Chabad in a very different way. To m'karev someone is to get them to be frum. Sometimes people say "to be m'karev someone". The people who teach you everything you knew is wrong and that you have to turn your back on what your parents taught you do the kind of kiruv I would call evil. Even the good kind though assumes it is always better to be frum than fry.
Mashiach or Moshiach – messiah or "anointed one", with of course all the trappings of redemption but none of the Christian trappings of God-hood. "Moshiach!" can be a kind of spiritual battle cry (as in the Chabad song "We Want Moshiach Now!"). This is distinct from the divide in Chabad about whether the Rebbe is the Messiah (the pro faction are called the meshichistim, the con are the anti-meshichistim—most of the rest of Jewish tradition thinks that being alive is a sine qua non for being mashiach). Moshiach zeit refers to the way the redeemed world will look after the advent of
Melave Malka – "Escorting the Bride", the time right after Havdalah where we linger with the taste and feeling of Shabbat even though we've separated from her; one of the spiritual high points in Jewish rhythms. Whether this moment or Seudah Shlishit right before Shabbat ends is the highest spiritual point in Jewish time is a matter of opinion—I guess it depends on context. There are special songs for both moments, though many of those songs feel right in a Seudah Shlishit or a Melave Malka in terms of mood. In any case, there's something beautiful and sweet about taking time that is davka not holy and turning it into the holiest.
Minhag – Custom, meaning all of the variations of Jewish practice (especially ritual practice). Classically this means variations that are not determined by Halakhah (Jewish law). It can also mean variations that are determined by different halakhic opinions, esp. where both opinions are seen as valid. Minhag is more inclusive than nusach, which applies only to liturgy. There's the concept that minhag avoteinu, the custom of one's ancestors, is stronger than halakhah; there's also the concept of minhag shtut, a stupid or foolish custom that should be thrown out. Sometimes the same custom is looked at both ways (sometimes even by the same people), e.g. the prohibition of eating kitniyot (legumes) on Pesach that exists only in Ashkenazi communities.
Halakhically, a person is supposed to follow the custom of his or her father (and a married woman is supposed to follow her husband's custom – obviously that's not our perspective). However, having the freedom to take on different customs than one's parents is not always liberating: one of the great tragedies of the Haredi community, which was the direct result of the teachings of the Hazon Ish, was the abandonment and destruction of the more liberal customs that existed in many different Orthodox communities in favor of the strictest Yeshivish interpretation, what some of us call "chumra-of-the-week" Judaism.
Mitsvah, pl. Mitsvot – commandment, not just good deed. Renewalists sometimes like to translate the word as "connection", but the connection is through being commanded. This means letting the mitsvah trump one's own preferences or predilections, and it means experiencing a direct relationship to God through the mitsvah. It's not easy (really not easy) to reach such a high madregah (level), but the simchah shel mitsvah, the joy of serving the One in response to feeling commanded, is really unparalleled.
More-Than-Human – The term "more-than-human world" was coined by David Abram in his book The Spell of the Sensuous to denote "Nature" while pointedly including human beings within what people call "nature". There's so much to say about how human culture, identity, ways of seeing, feeling, etc. are all deeply rooted in the more-than-human world — we could not be what we think of as "human" without what is given to us on all levels by the lives of all the other species we interact with. But what I love most about this term is that it can include divinity along with the natural world in one continuum, all of it more-than-human.
Musar – lit. correction or reproof, it's most important meaning is the spiritual movement developed in the Misnagdishe world as an alternative to Chasidus, esp. by R. Yisroel Salanter. The people who developed it were not always anti-Chasidic, though the communities they worked in were. Musar is a much drier approach to spirituality, less involved with Kabbalah, without rebbes in that next-to-God sense that is integral to traditional Chasidus, more focused on direct contemplation, cultivating humility and gratitude, and appreciating beauty – in some ways it is much more modern than Chasidus. Musar can also mean any of the types of ethical literature Jews have written over the ages (including Kabbalistic works like Tomer D'vorah and even Chasidic works like Tanya).
Nign, Nigun (pl. Nigunim) – most specifically a melody without words, but also any tune that comes from or is used in a religious or devotional context, with or without words. A devotional or deveikes nigun, the kind that is slow and lilting and full of yearning, is what people most often mean when they talk about nigunim, though there are also dance nigunim, tisch nigunim, etc. According to Rebbe Nachman, a wordless nigun can ascend higher than one with words, because it can cross the space of silence that separates us from God. Other words for song: Zemer,/a> can mean any religious song; Shir just means song but can also mean poem; Piyut often refers to more ornate compositions (see below).
Though Neohasid has limited its offerings to classical nigunim, any tune from anywhere can become a nigun if used in the right way. In fact, according to some rebbes, (using a political theology we don't exactly agree with), taking a tune from "the goyim" can be the highest, because it takes the spark trapped in the Other Side (Sitra Achra) and brings it back to holiness. The inner experience this describes of course is true—a tune from the most secular place can become high and holy in the right context—though the theology about non-Jews is pretty close to the opposite of what I hope neo-Chasidus means.
Nusach – formally, the musical motif that goes with a particular part of the liturgy (e.g. the Rosh Hashanah Musaf nusach, the Holiday P'sukei D'zimra nusach, etc.). In the Syrian/Arabic tradition the equivalent is the "maqam", which is more like the mode than the motif. Also formally, nusach means the liturgy of a particular community (eg. the Ashkenazi, Chalabi (Aleppo), Italian, Chasidic, etc. nusach). Less formally, the way anything is sung, the unique variations on a tune found in a specific place or community, or the way a particular text or a particular version of a text is worded. I guess it comes from the same root as conversation, siach (which btw midrashically is another word for prayer).
Nusach S'farad literally translates as Sefardic/Spanish nusach, but that's not what it means. It's really the standard Ashkenazi nusach with small emendations based on the Kabbalah and the Sefardic nusach of the prayers. It's also sometimes called Nusach Ha'ari, the nusach of Isaac Luria, though a Lurianic prayerbook with all of its complicated kavanot looks nothing like it. (The connection with the Ari is based on his belief in creating a combined nusach for all of Israel.) Nusach S'farad is more or less the universal nusach of the Chasidic communities; many non-Chasidic Jews have also independently adopted it.
Piyut – a liturgical poem, especially one in medieval literary Hebrew that almost no one understands. These are the pieces that make the High Holiday davening so long. But they aren't always impenetrable, and some are quite accessible. A paytan (pie-ton, which sounds a lot like "poet") is someone who writes piyutim (pl). There are many specialized piyutim written for special liturgical days that are now only rarely seen, e.g. a piyut to add to the blessing after the Sh'ma for the evening when we cross the Reed (Red) Sea, or a yotzer, which would be added to the blessing for light after the Barkhu. The vestige of a yotzer, Or mei'ofel, is found in the High Holiday nusach; full piyutim corresponding to this line were once written for every holiday or special shabbat.
Pitzu'ei Nachal – a group of Breslover chevre who traveled to Uman (where Reb Nachman is buried), who are on the edge, in a few ways. Some of them can be found at Chulent. Nachal means "stream" and it's a metaphor used to describe Rebbe Nachman's teachings (called a "flowing stream, source of wisdom" nachal nove'a mekor chokhmah). Pitzu'ei means "wounded" – as in, "those wounded by the stream".
P'sak – Halakhic decision. One only asks for a p'sak when there is some meaningful uncertainty about a question or when one is nogei'a badavar ("touched by the matter") and cannot be impartial about the decision. One who issues a ruling is a posek (see above under Chumra) and the process of making a ruling is sometimes called (in Yinglish) poskening.
Red Triangle – my boy Chanina's baby word for "rectangle" (now sadly gone from his gorgeous vocabulary). I have no doubt that there's some deep Kabbalah in this. For more on triangles in Kabbalah, see "The Structure of the Sefirot".
Seder Hishtalsh'lut (or Hishtalsh'lus), from "chain", "three-fold" (i.e. "three-fold cord") – the order of emanation, or as I sometimes translate it, "enchainment"; essentially, the unfolding process of the Sefirot. With some tweaking this could also mean the evolutionary progression through which life arises. This is one of those very technical terms that in certain contexts (e.g. a Chabad d'var Torah) is as common as "Please pass the water."
Sefirat Ha'omer – counting the omer, in the Torah counting the seven weeks day-by-day during which the wheat ripened. The name omer means the sheaf of wheat that was brought to the Temple each week as an offering and prayer for a successful crop. In Kabbalah (and Chasidus), however, the 49 days were each connected to a unique combination of the seven lower Sefirot, one associated with each week and one with each day of the week. See "How to Count the Omer" and get the Omer widget. No doubt the Kabbalistic connection was "overdetermined", as they say, by the confluence of the seven-by-seven numerology and the term "sefirah". This entry was written on the 49th day of the omer in 5747. The next day of course is Shavuot, "Weeks".
Sefirot – aka the Tree of Life, the powers, vessels, attributes, structures that describe in some way how God's shefa, blessing, energy come into this world. For Kabbalah, the Sefirot are the image of God, and they are the imprint or deep structure in all creatures, levels, domains, and worlds. Kabbalah rejected Jewish philosophy by asserting that this image of God corresponded to the shape of the human body as well as the structure of the soul. Their names, from the highest to the most manifest, are: Keter, Chokhmah, Binah, Chesed, Gevurah, Tif'eret, Netsach, Hod, Yesod, and Malkhut (Shekhinah). Read more in the Kabbalah section of NeoHasid.
Seudah Shlishit – the third meal on Shabbat, often taken when the light is waning. Few things can beat an impassioned third round of "Mizmor l'David" as the room grows dark in the company of a horde of bochurs (yeshiva-niks) or Chasidim at the end of a s'udah shlishit. It's also called shaloshudes, which is a weird Ashkenazified contraction of shalosh se'udot, meaning "three meals".
Shefa – flow, energy, free-flowing blessing that pours into the world continually, the sustaining lifeforce and power of the divine that gives not just life but being, connection, goodness to all. In Kabbalah, what we call "sin" causes the restriction of the flow of shefa into the manifest world – that is what makes it sin. But shefa can never be completely diverted from any thing, and all exists within God's blessing. See the Kabbalah section for more.
Shiduch – match, blind date; Shadchan – match-maker. Source of endless tsuris and angst (no surprises there), usu. profoundly exacerbated by questions of yichus, observance, prejudice against BT's, negiah, and the possibility of infinite choices created by the modern world. A b'sho is a first date in the Chasidic/Haredi (Ashkenazi) world, often supervised by parents. Pearl Gluck taught me that word.
Shloshim – the first thirty days after someone is buried, a time of intensified mourning, though not as intense as the better-known shivah, the first seven days when the immediate mourners stay in the house and sit low to the ground, and people visit them with food and stories. Most people don't realize that the Jewish custom is to *not* greet the mourners in a "shivah house", but just to be present for them, and to wait until the mourner talks first before entering a conversation.
Shtibl – a little shul, lit. a "little stove", from "shtub". A shtibl is where you go when you want to daven from the heart, intimately, maybe too intimately if the number of people (which would have been men until recently) overfilled the room. A classic shtibl might be found in a basement or in a rabbi's personal study. In general, shul means synagogue (from "school"), but it is also a more intimate term. A minyan, officially meaning the ten people required to do certain prayers, is also a more intimate davening group than a synagogue, but it implies less intimacy than a shtibl. A minyan is likely to be a place without a rabbi but with lots of rabbis. A shtibl is more likely to have a rebbe. The Shtibl Minyan in LA is a (or maybe, "the only") modern egal version of a shtibl, though the conjunction of "shtibl" and "minyan" embodies the tension of what it is trying to be.
Snag – short for Misnaged (mit'nageid, pl. mit'nagdim), from the root neged, opposed, opposite. Originally the Orthodox leaders who opposed the Chasidic rebbes, now applied to any frummies who are not Hasidic. I've only heard Chabadniks use the slang term. A snag may be someone who does things because they're supposed to, or because the halakhah says so, or even just because they're fulfilling a mitsvah, rather than in order to express love, to unify Shekhinah with Tif'eret, and/or to connect with God. But Musar is also Misnadgishe in origin (and it is definitely about connecting with God). Another way to think about the distinction would be what I call "dry" v. "wet" ritual (think Vipassana v. shamanism, if that means anything to you). "Snag" can be slightly derogatory or lovingly teasing, depending on the speaker and context, just like Itchy, the Syrian term for Ashkenazi. (P.S. I've known the term "itchy" for years, but I just heard from Reb Justin David that it comes from the Yiddishized pronunciation of Yitschak as heard by Sefardic ears.)
Sparks or N'tsotsot – In this twice-shattered world, as Kabbalah teaches, we find klippot—shards or broken shells—and sparks of light or divinity held (or trapped) by those shells. Anything that exists includes both; the Chasidic mission is to connect with the sparks and liberate them into their full connection with divinity. Sometimes this means separating them from the physical world; sometimes it means uplifting the physical to its highest spiritual reality. These images are central for most Chasidic teaching. See Sparks of Pesach in the Torah section.
Ta'am – taste, flavor, accent, but also, reason. Ta'amu ur'u ki tov Hashem—"Taste and see that YHVH is good" (Ps. 34:8). The cantillation marks for Torah reading are called t'amim in Sefardi culture (as opposed to trop). Explanations of the reasons for the mitzvot are called ta'amei mitzvot. I love the idea that each mitzvah has a unique taste, and that part of spiritual askesis (practice) is to discern what that is for oneself. People can try to tell you what to think, but they can't tell you what to taste. Each community of practice has its own spiritual cuisine, so to speak, and each of us cooks up our own religion, even though we may use the same recipes. That's a lot more to say about this term than I imagined!
Tikkun Olam – "repairing the world", nowadays meaning "social justice/progressive social transformation". Tikkun is most importantly a Kabbalistic term meaning the process of fixing or repairing the original cosmic shattering or the sin of the first humans against the tree, as well as fixing whatever in one's own soul uniquely needs fixing. But in the Aleinu prayer it means fixing the world by ridding it of idolatry, in the Mishnah it means special laws enacted to make sure the outcome of halakha is just, and in some early modern commentaries it means whatever we do to transform nature to make it amenable to human creativity and avodah (i.e. smelting metal). So the progressive meaning is relatively new. Even so, this is a fine moment to remember the excellent apothegm that graced early issues of Tikkun magazine: "Tikkun: to heal, repair, transform the world. The rest is commentary."
Tzaddik Tsadik also Tsadekes (for a woman) – A righteous person, someone who is completely good, or observant, a mensch, doer of good deeds, etc. In Chasidus, the Tsadik is the Rebbe; in Tanya, the complete tsadik is one who has no evil inclination, the tsadik who is less complete is the one who always overcomes his or her evil inclination. In the Zohar, it is the most righteous Kabbalist of the generation for whom the world is sustained, as it says, Tsadik y'sod olam, "The righteous One is the foundation of the world." In Kabbalah, Tsadik is also an epithet for Y'sod, the principle through which Tif'eret and Shekhinah unite.
X-O – ex-Orthodox. Slang coined in New York for the chevre who party with the homeboys and homegirls of Borough Park and Williamsburg: refugees, doubters and seekers from the hood. See the X-O entry under Cultures and the article about Chulent.
Yichud – aloneness. In the wedding ritual, it's the the time when newlyweds repair to a private room immediately after the ceremony (in ancient tradition this would be a moment for consummation; I have no idea if many people still use the time that way). Yichud also means unification, especially in the Kabbalistic sense of uniting the divine feminine with the divine masculine. The formula for this in the traditional Kabbalistic kavannah is l'shem yichud kudsha brikh hu ushekhinteih, meaning, "for the sake of uniting the Holy One and His Shekhinah". As I am writing it occurs to me that this formula actually means the same kind of yichud as the wedding yichud, and that the purpose of reciting this formula in preparation for a ritual is to create some alone time for God (i.e. for the Holy One and Shekhinah), as opposed to alone time with God. Divine unification is one interpretation of the meaning of the last line of the Aleinu prayer, "On that day Adonai will be one and His [/Her] name one."
Yid, pl. Yidn – Jew, comes from Judah ("Jid"), just as "Jew" does. Like many Yiddish terms (Yid-ish just means Jewish), it shows familiarity and intimacy. "Alle Yidn!" or "Yidn!" shouted at Chulent would mean "Pay attention, everybody!" or maybe just "Yo!" It's also great evidence for the Ashkenazi blindness to Sefardic culture.
Yinglish – Yiddish + English, especially hybrid words like poskening and syntactical expressions like k'ilu thrown into English sentences. Also called Yeshivah loshn, a kind of pidgin you hear in Yeshivot.
Design in progress © Rabbi David Mevorach Seidenberg 2006