Infofiles Index


The following is a list of translations and meanings of non-English terms often encountered in rabbinic genealogical research(F1) See also: Reading Hebrew Tombstones (a JewishGen Infofile)


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Term Translation
Admor (ADM"R) abbreviation of the Hebrew "Adoneinu Moreinu veRabbenu," title used for a Khassidic leader or "rebbe"
Aggadah literally means "legend" but more generally applied to the non legalistic teachings of the Talmud
Agudat Yisrael ultra orthodox political party which was founded in the twentieth century in Eastern Europe
Aliyah emigration to Israel
Ashkenazim Jews of European descent
Av Beit Din (ABD) head or chief of rabbinical court; the position was usually synonymous with chief Rabbi of a town.
Avreich newly-married and/or yeshiva student
Bachur  unmarried
Bachur Hatan  engaged to be married
bat daughter of
Beit Din a rabbinical court comprised of three rabbis
Beit HaMidrash house of study; often served also as a synagogue
ben, bar son of
B"H Boruch Hashem, blessed be the Name (literally), used as a sign of piety normally at the beginning of a correspondence (F2)
Brit Mila (Bris Mila) circumcision
Chabad (pronounced Khabad) a Khassidic movement, synonymous with "Lubavitch" founded in the late eighteenth century by Shneour Zalmen of Liadi, later centered in the Byelorussian town Lubavitch; currently one of the largest Khassidic groups, centered in New York Opposed by the followers of the Gaon of Vilna
Chevra Kaddisha (see Khevra Kaddisha)
Dayan rabbi who is judge in a rabbinical court
Eretz Yisrael Hebrew for "The Land of Israel"; the Holy land prior to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948; often referred to as "Palestine"
Erev the day preceding the Sabbath or a Jewish festival; usually refers to the evening period before sunset when the Sabbath or festival commences
Gabbai an official of an organization such as a Khevra Kaddisha or a synagogue
Gadol, HaGadol great, the great
Galut (Golus) (see Golah)
Gaon Hebrew for "genius"; the title applied particularly to the Gaon of Vilna who is referred to simply as "The Gaon"; the term is applied to great rabbis to a lesser or greater extent at various stages of Jewish history
Gmakh a mutual aid society which lends money discreetly for short periods without interest
Golah the Diaspora, or Exile; a term used by Jews to refer to all countries outside Israel
Gvir wealthy man
HaBetula  maiden, unmarried female
HaKala engaged to be married, female
HaKohen  the Kohen (see Kohen)
Halakhah general term which encompasses all codes of Jewish religious law
HaLevi  the Levi (see Levi)
Hapoel Hamizrakhi the labor faction of the religious Zionist party that believes in simultaneous support of the State of Israel and of Jewish religious law
HaRav the rabbi (see Rabbi)
Haskalah a movement among Jews similar to the Enlightenment in Europe during the eighteenth century (F2)
HaZekeina old lady
HaZakein old man
Harif (Charif) Hebrew term meaning "sharp one"; a rabbinical appellation
Ilui child genius, many times with the name of his town added
Kabbalah Jewish mystical teachings whose primary text is the Zohar which is believed to be of Divine origin
Kaddish a prayer recited periodically throughout all public religious services; requires a Minyan; a mourner is obligated to recite the Kaddish during the period of mourning following the death of a close relative, and on the annual anniversary of the death
Kadosh holy
Kahal  community, the Jewish civil organization which administered the law under the authority of the Government during most of the Tsarist period in the Russian Empire
Kashrut (Kashrus) the religious requirements with which all food must comply; these includes prohibition of certain living creatures (eg, pig, shrimp) and the separation between foods containing or utensils in contact with milk or meat
Khabad (see Chabad)
Khakham (Chacham) pl Khakhmei, Khakhamim wise person, sage
Khalukah (Chalukah) funds collected in Europe during the 19th century for the purpose of supporting the communities that lived in Eretz Yisrael
Khassidim (Chassidim) followers of the movement founded by the Baal Shem Tov and his successors; opposed by the followers of the Gaon of Vilna
Khazan (SH"TS) (Chazan) a cantor, leader of liturgical prayer in the synagogue
Kheder (Cheder) elementary school for small children; the curriculum is almost exclusively religious studies
Kherem (Cherem) excommunication; a rabbinic act which ostracized Jews who were accused of religious transgression; used against the Khassidim by the followers of the Gaon of Vilna
Khevra Bikur Kholim society for visiting the sick
Khevra Hakhnasat Kalla  society for collecting dowries for poor brides
Khevra Kaddisha (Chevra Kaddisha) Hebrew for "Holy Society"; a voluntary organization whose members are dedicated to performing the last rites for the dead, including ritual purification, burial, memorial prayers and maintenance of cemeteries; records maintained by such societies are often a valuable genealogical source
Khevra T'hillim  Psalm society
Khevra Tnak'h  Bible society
Kiddush the prayer for the sanctification of the wine which takes place on the Sabbath and festivals; also used to refer to the repast which accompanies the prayer
Kiddush HaShem "for the sanctification of G-d's name"
Kohen (Cohen) one of the three tribal divisions of the Jewish people, stemming from Biblical times. The Kohen, descended from Aharon, was the priest who served in the Temple in Jerusalem Since the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans, most of the functions of the Kohen have lapsed. The Kohen is still honored by certain privileges in the synagogue and performs certain religious duties. He is also prohibited from contact with a dead body Descent passes through the male line
Kollel 1) post graduate Yeshivah
2) an organization which functioned mainly in the 19th century in Eretz Yisrael to manage the finances and institutions of groups of immigrants who shared a common origin in a particular European town or region
Kosher (see Kashrut)
K"TZ (Ka"tz) abbreviation of Kohen Tzedek (see Kohen)
Levi a descendant of the Biblical tribe of Levi who performed specific tasks as an assistant to the Kohen in the Temple in Jerusalem. Since the destruction of the Temple, the Leviim retain few functions, except for certain synagogue privileges. A person who was neither a Kohen nor a Levi, belonged to the general tribal classification of "Yisrael."
Maggid Meisharim (M"M) a preacher who often served in small towns which could not support a full time rabbi Certain Maggidim were particularly renowned for their oratory
Maggid Shiur a functionary in a Yeshiva who delivers a regular Shiur to the students, usually on a fixed topic
Mashgiakh 1) a supervisor of Kashrut
2) official in a Yeshivah responsible for the conduct of the students
Mashiakh Hebrew for the Messiah
Maskil very learned, also in secular subjects
Melamed teacher in a Kheder
Mezuzah small rectangular box affixed to the doorposts of every room and the entrance to a Jewish dwelling or public building; contains a handwritten parchment on which is written the Biblical verses pertaining to the religious obligation (amongst others) of affixing a Mezuzah; a strongly maintained tradition of Jewish identity
Midrash that part of Talmudic scholarship which includes rabbinic teaching by the means of homilies and parables, rather than literal or technical explanation
Mikvah bath for ritual immersion
Minyan quorum of ten men required for public worship. The absence of a full quorum precludes certain prayers, such as the recital of the Kaddish, the mourner's prayer which is recited during the obligatory period of mourning observed after the death of a close relative.
Mishnah the codified religious law, of Divine oral origin, based on the Torah. The rabbinic exposition of the Mishnah is called the Gemarah. Together, the Mishnah and the Gemarah are the main components of the Talmud
Mishpakhah family
Misnagdim (Misnagedim, Mitnagdim) Hebrew for "opponents" used as a collective term for the followers of the Gaon of Vilna, originally derived from their opposition to Khassidim Communities were often ideologically split into two opposing camps, Misnagdim and Khassidim.
Mitzvah (plural: Mitzvot) Hebrew for "commandment," the code of religious law laid down in the Bible and expounded in the Talmud Also used synonymously for "good deed"
Mohel one who performs circumcisions
Moreinu Harav (MO"H) "Our Teacher the Rabbi"
Moreh Tsedek (MO"TS, M"Tz) Someone (especially in larger communities) who was authorized to give rabbinical rulings ("pasken shaalos"); title for a rabbi who teaches religious law.
Moreinu Verabeinu (MO"R) "Our Teacher and Rabbi"
Moshav Zekeinim old age home
Musar a movement founded in the nineteenth century by Rabbi Yisrael Lipkin (Salanter) (1810-1883) which stressed stringent moral behavior
Neduniah dowry
Niglah Hebrew for "revealed," the obvious, rational level of the Torah and religious study; the opposite of "Nistar"; The Gaon of Vilna was renowned for his dual interpretation of Jewish learning. His commentaries often were twofold "Niglah and Nistar."
Nistar Hebrew for "hidden," the mystic level of Jewish learning
Nusakh form of prayer
Ohel brick construction or mausoleum covering graves of rabbis and tzaddikim
Parnas supporter, leader of community
Parnas U-Manhig (PU"M) supporter and leader
Perushim literally means "separated," synonymous with Misnagdim, the opponents of the Khassidim; the followers of the teaching of the Gaon of Vilna. The term Perushim was used mostly for the followers of the Gaon who settled in Eretz Yisrael, while the term Misnagdim was usually used for their counterparts in Europe.
Peshat the obvious, plain meaning of a Biblical or Talmudic concept; The Gaon of Vilna was noted for his preference of this form of interpretation, rather than its opposite principle, Pilpul which is often complicated and obscure.
Pilpul the complex and often obscure means of studying and deriving religious law
Posek, pl. Poskim the rabbi one consults for halakhic decisions; an authority on Jewish Law (F3)
Prenumeranten list of people who subscribed to the publication of a book of religious study, prior to the publication of the book These lists, printed at the beginning of such books, are a valuable genealogical source
Rabani very religious and educated man, who is not a rabbi
Rabanit wife of a rabbi
Rabbi, R' (Rav, Rov), pl. Rabanim An authorized teacher of the classical Jewish tradition (oral law) after the fall of the second Temple in 70 CE. The role of the rabbi has changed considerably throughout the centuries. Traditionally, rabbis serve as the legal and spiritual guides of their congregations and communities. The title is conferred after considerable study of traditional Jewish sources. This conferral and its responsibilities is central to the chain of tradition in Judaism. (F3)
Rabeinu our rabbi
Ram abbreviation for Rosh Mesifta
Reb a term similar to the English "Mr."
Rebbe a title used for a Khassidic leader; not to be confused with "Reb," a term similar to the English "Mr" used for the formal addressing of any man
Rebbetzin wife of a rabbi
Rosh Beit Din head of the Beit Din, or rabbinical court, ie head Dayan (chief judge). This is different than Av Beit Din, who is the community rabbi/leader. The community rabbi could also be the Rosh Beth Din.
Rosh Hashanah the solemn festival which marks the beginning of the month of Tishrei, the beginning of the Hebrew year
Rosh Khodesh the first day (sometimes two days) of the month according to the Hebrew calendar Observed as a semi-festival
Rosh Mesifta (Rosh Metivta) (R"M) originally meaning the head of a Yeshivah, but now used for a rabbi who teaches in a Yeshivah
Rosh Yeshivah the head of a Yeshivah, usually a very prominent rabbi who holds the position for the term of his life; the elite of Jewish scholarship
Segan Leviyyah (S"GL) (see Levi)
Sefardi (Sephardi), pl Sefardim (Sephardim) Jews of Spanish or Eastern descent
Sefer book
Sefer Torah a handwritten parchment scroll of the Torah Considered to be particularly holy, such that the desecration of a Sefer Torah is considered an abomination Housed in the synagogue in a special cabinet, or ark, called "Aron Hakodesh"
Semikhah rabbinic ordination
Shabbat (shabbes) the seventh day of the week observed as the Sabbath Detailed religious laws define activities which must be abstained from on Shabbat (work, kindling, cooking, writing, driving, etc); traditionally a day devoted to prayer, family activities within the home or with friends, study and rest
Shamash (Shames) sexton, or caretaker, of a synagogue
Shavuot (Shavuos) the Pentecost festival commemorating the Divine giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai
Shekhinah the Divine Presence
Shekhitah the religious laws of slaughtering animals such that they will be Kosher
Shemitah the seventh Sabbatical year of rest during which most forms of cultivation in Israel are forbidden
Shidukh arranged marriage match
Shiura lecture on a religious topic, usually delivered in a Yeshivah or Synagogue
Shivah seven days of mourning
Shlita short for "shyehai lo yomim tovim vearuchim:" that "a person should have good and many days"; said of an acknowledged scholar, religious leader, while they are still alive (F2)
Shokhet, Shochet U-Bodek (SHU"B) person astute in the religious laws pertaining to the Kosher slaughtering of animals
Shtiebel (plural: Shtieblakh) a small Khassidic house of prayer
Shule, Shul synagogue
Shulkhan Arukh the code of Jewish law, collated by Rabbi Yosef Caro in the 16th century; the standard reference for daily conduct
Siddur book of prayers
Simkhat Torah (Simkhas Torah) festival which culminates the festival of Sukkot Marked by joyous celebrations, singing and dancing, as the yearly cycle of the reading of the Torah is completed
Sofer (STM) a scribe of Sfarim (Torah scrolls), Tefilin, Mezuzot
Talit (Talis) prayer shawl worn by men, mostly during morning prayer
Talmid Khakham a wise scholar and expert on the Talmud (F2)
Talmud compendium of religious law, rabbinic commentary and debate, moral codes and parables; comprised principally of the Mishnah and Gemarah
Talmud Torah place of study, usually for children and youth, preliminary to advanced Yeshivah study
Tefillin phylacteries - small black leather boxes, containing parchments with Torah verses, bound by leather thongs to the arm and head by the male at the daily morning service
Tenaim betrothal contract
Torah the first five books of the Bible; used more generally to include the entire body of religious study
Treif the opposite of Kosher, forbidden to be consumed
Tzaddik Hebrew for a person considered by his righteous acts and nature to be a holy person; used particularly for Khassidic leaders who were believed to possess mystical powers; also used for particularly pious rabbis of all persuasions
Yahrzeit Yiddish word for the anniversary of person's death, according to the Hebrew calendar
Yeshivah (plural: Yeshivot) academy of Jewish scholarship
Yiddishkeit a Yiddish term meaning both religious tradition and Jewishness in general
Yikhus (Yichus) ancestry, lineage
Yishuv general term for the Jewish population in Eretz Yisrael, used particularly during the nineteenth century
Yom Kippur the Day of Atonement, a solemn day spent in fasting and prayer for the forgiveness of sins; the most solemn day in the Jewish calendar
Yom Tov Hebrew meaning a "good day" - a religious festival
z"l Hebrew for "zichrono levrochah:" "may he be remembered for good"; the phrase for an am-ha'aretz (a regular person) who has passed on. (F2)
z"tl Hebrew for "zecher tzaddik livrocho" -- (literally) "remembering the righteous person for a blessing." This is an Orthodox custom, said of an acknowledged scholar and/or religious leader, and refers to the general belief that the tzaddik (righteous person) can intercede favorably on our behalf in the Olam Haba (world to come, afterlife). (F2)


1. Many of the terms and definitions in this glossary are from: Freedman, Chaim. Beit Rabbanan. Petah Tikva, Israel: self-published: 2001.(return)back

2. JewishGen Infofile. Dictionary of Key Words and Phrases.

3. The American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise. Jewish Virtual Library.

4Need more information? See Links to Glossaries and Dictionaries.