We hope the information below is useful. The list is not exhaustive but should help you to better understand some of the main Jewish festivals and customs.


CHANUKKAH / HANUKKAH (Dedication). Winter festival of lights symbolising the victory of the Jewish people against the Hellenists, at the time of the Maccabees, the re-dedication of the temple and the miraculous lasting of the holy oil for eight days rather than one. The celebrations include the lighting of a hanukkiah, a candelabra holding nine candles. The central ninth candle, the Shamash, or “servant” light, is the one from which all the other candles are kindled.

PESACH (Passover). A Spring festival remembering the story of the Exodus from Egypt.

PURIM (Lots, as in drawing lots). The Feast of Esther at which Jewish people celebrate their deliverance at the time of Esther and Mordecai. Celebrated around March.

(New Year). The Jewish New Year is celebrated in September or October.

SHAVUOT (Weeks). The Festival of Pentecost, which occurs fifty days after the first day of Passover, celebrates the giving of the Torah and the harvest of the first fruits of the harvest.

SUCCOT / SUKKOT (Booths or Tabernacles). The Feast of Tabernacles, one of three pilgrim festivals, is celebrated around harvest time (September/October).

YOM KIPPUR (The Day of Atonement – literally, Day of Covering) The most holy day of the Jewish year is a day of fasting. When the Temple was still standing, the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies on this day, once a year, to pray on behalf of the people.


BRIS / BRIT MILAH (Covenant of Circumcision) The circumcision of male children eight days after their birth.

BAR MITZVAH (Son of the Commandment). A ceremony at which Jewish boys, around the age of thirteen, personally accept their responsibility for keeping the Torah.

BAT MITZVAH (Daughter of the Commandment). In some congregations, girls undertake a ceremony similar to a Bar Mitzvah.

MARRIAGE Jewish people are strongly encouraged to marry within their own religious community.

A lamentation for the dead or for a calamity. The bereaved stay at home for seven days after the funeral and receive visitors.


KABBALAH (to receive). Mystical teachings, traditions passed “from mouth to ear”
over the course of time.

MAGEN DAVID (Shield of David). A six-pointed star which has become the symbol of the Jewish people.

MAZEL TOV (good luck – literally, good star). An expression used on celebratory occasions, particularly weddings.

MENORAH (Candelabrum). A seven-branched candle holder, which is a well-known Jewish symbol and an official badge of the State of Israel.

MESSIANIC JEWS This term usually refers to Jewish people who believe Jesus is the promised Messiah.

MEZUZAH Parchment scroll of God’s Word placed inside a small container and attached to the doorpost of a house (Deut 6:4-9).

MITZVAH (Commandment). One of the 613 commandments identified by the rabbis, collectively known as the "Law of Moses", "Mosaic Law," or simply "the Law." It can also refer to a religious duty or, more generally, to any good deed.

SEDER (Order). The order of service, particularly that used when Jewish families meet together on the eve of Passover to recount their deliverance at the time of the Exodus.

SHAMASH (Servant). A Jewish employee acting as a caretaker of a synagogue. Also the ninth candle which is used to light the other candles at Hanukkah.

SHANAH TOVAH (Good year). Traditional Hebrew greeting on Rosh Hashanah.

SIDDUR (Order, as in order of service). Jewish prayer book.

TALLIT (Little tent). Prayer Shawl.

TANAKH The Hebrew Scriptures. Tanakh is an acronym for the three parts of the Hebrew Bible: the Law (Torah), the Prophets (Nevi'im) and the Writings (Ketuvim).

TORAH (Teaching) The teaching or instruction of God to the Jewish people. Torah can refer to the five books of Moses (in English: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), to laws on a particular subject, or to all the Jewish Law, Written and Oral. The five books of Moses are the most holy of the sacred writings in Judaism.

TZITZIT (Fringes). Tassels attached to the four corners of a garment, such as a prayer shawl.

YIDDISH The language spoken by the Ashkenazi community. It is still spoken in Eastern Europe, some areas in Israel and the USA. Although Yiddish sounds like German, it is written in Hebrew characters.

ZEALOT A Jewish person who opposed Roman rule and fought against the Roman occupation of Judea.

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