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Glossary of Terms & Phrases

Glossary of Phrases | Glossary of Terms

See also: Learn Modern Hebrew Words & Phrases | Modern Hebrew Dictionaries & Translators

Glossary of Phrases

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Glossary of Terms

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Amarna Letters

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Ashlar Masonry

Ashlar Masonry is a type of ancient masonry. Royal buildings would often be made with specially cut stones, called "ashlar" stones in archaeological terms. The ashlar stones are embossed—raised in the center with borders.

Birthright Visit

Young Jewish children of certain ages are treated to a visit of Israel, their ancestral homeland. This is done usually to encourage the young Jew to continue in his/her Judaism, and possibly someday to immigrate to Israel. It is designed to help connect the young person to his/her history as a Jew. Often such a visit is a gift by friends or parents, and frequently it is sponsored by an organization or synagogue. The State of Israel seeks to offer all Jewish children living outside of Israel the opportunity for a free visit to Israel thru Taglit-Birthright Israel. Learn more about Taglit-Birthright Israel and see if you qualify!


Chanukah is a winter holiday in Israel that dates from the time of the Maccabees. After the Maccabean family defeated Antiochus Epiphanes IV in the 2nd century CE and once again secured the freedom of the nation of Israel, they rededicated the Second Temple in Jerusalem. According to tradition, when the Temple was being rededicated, oil for the menorah was needed, but only one day's supply of it could be found. Miraculously, however, that one day supply burned for eight days. Hence, the Festival of Chanukah is celebrated in Israel for eight days. Chanukah is also called the Feast of Dedication or the Feast of Lights. Read more about Chanukah.

Execration Texts

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The third division of the Hebrew Bible. Literally, "writings." It includes the books that are most literary in nature (Psalms, Proverbs, so forth).

Lamelekh Seals

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A lexicon is essentially a dictionary that defines words in one language with another language. For instance, you might look up ארץ in a Hebrew-English lexicon and find that it means "earth, land."

Mari documents

Read more at Jewish Virtual Library.


The Masoretes is the general term for a large group of Jewish scribes who lived in the 7th-11th centuries CE. They are most well-known for adding the vowel pointing to the consonantal text of the Hebrew Bible completed in the 10th century CE. Read more at Wikipedia


Massebot are standing stones used for cultic (religious) reasons. They usually represented some god and were often worshiped as idols.


A menorah is a seven-branched lampstand as the golden one that stood in the Tabernacle and the Temples. It has come to be a symbol representing Israel and Judaism. It plays a special role in celebrating Chanukah. See photographs of a menorah.

Messianic Jews

Messianic Jews are ethnic Jews who believe in Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah (the Christ). Their religious practice tends to differ significantly from Protestantism or Catholicism and more closely resembles traditional Judaism in many ways.


The second division of the Hebrew Bible. Literally, "prophets." It contains the books of a mostly prophetic nature.

Pesach (Passover)

Pesach is a spring holiday celebrated in Israel that commemorates the Israelites' exodus from Egypt in the 15th or 13th century BCE. During this Biblical event, God struck down the firstborn of every Egyptian household while sparing the Israelites from this plague. The Israelites were to sacrifice a lamb for each household. The Samaritans celebrate Pesach to this day by sacrificing a lamb on Mt. Gerizim. Read more about Pesach.


Purim is a spring holiday in Israel that commemorates Esther's saving of the Israelite people from the wicked Haman, as related in the Biblical book of Esther. Israelis today celebrate it by dressing up in costumes, having parties, giving gifts, and reading the story of Esther. Read more about Purim.

Shabbat (Sabbath)

Shabbat is the Hebrew pronuciation of the English word "Sabbath." Shabbat is the seventh day of the week—Saturday. It is holy for the Jews for two Biblical reasons: 1) God rested on the seventh day from His creation (Gen 2:2-3); and 2) He gave Israel laws concerning Shabbat to set them apart from all other nations (Ex 20:8-11). On Shabbat in Israel, then, out of respect for God's laws regarding Shabbat, most stores are closed, and religious Jews do not do many activities, including cooking, taking photos, driving, turning on lights, and using various electronics.


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Tanak is an acronym (TaNaK) that stands for "Torah, Neviim, Ketuvim." The Torah is the first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis-Deuteronomy); the Neviim ("prophets") are the prophetic books of the Hebrew Scriptures; and Ketuvim ("writings") are the books of the Hebrew Bible characterized as general writings. Thus, Tanak is a designation for the Hebrew Scriptures in its three sections.


A "tell" is an archaeological term referring to the mound upon which many cities are built. In ancient times, a city would typically be built on top of a hill. Then, over time, that city would be destroyed and rebuilt many times. Each time the city was destroyed, it would be rebuilt on top of previously destroyed city. Thus, over time, the city's mound or hill would get taller. A tell is easily recognizable, then, in the field, as it is a largely artificial mound on which the ancient cities were built.

Text-critical Apparatus

A text-critical apparatus is a section of notes added to original language books (like the Hebrew Bible, for instance) that points out variant (different) readings that different manuscripts contain. Some times there are different spellings or even different words (missing or added) between different copies of the early Hebrew Bible documents. The text-critical apparatus alerts the reader to those differences and often grades which reading the editors of that edition of the Hebrew Bible think is preferrable.


The first five books of the Hebrew Bible written by Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

Tu B'Shvat

Tu B'Shvat is a winter holiday in Israel that celebrates the planting of trees. Israelis celebrate it by planting trees throughout Israel. Read more about Tu B'Shvat.


Ulpan is a Hebrew word designating intensive Modern Hebrew-learning classes. Students will gather for many hours per week for several weeks or months in an intensive effort to learn Modern Hebrew. Often classes are taught entirely in Hebrew from the first day, even if the students are not very proficient in Hebrew. Thus, the classes are designed to inductively teach the student Modern Hebrew by immersing the student in the language.

Yom HaShoah

Yom HaShoah is a spring day set aside in Israel to remember the victims of HaShoah (the Holocaust). Read more about Yom HaShoah.

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