a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self


Throughout my blog I’ve used Hebrew, Yiddish and Arabic words without linking them all or defining them all.  I do this mainly because I presume that people understand what I’m saying, though I realize that if I were reading my blog, even a year ago, I wouldn’t understand half of the things that I read.

In an effort to try to make my blog more easy to understand and more tangible for people who are not Jewish or do not use Yiddish/Hebrew/Arabic,  folks not familiar with Queer/LGBTQ/Gay terminology I will be updating this list of words commonly seen in my blog.

Please be sure to let me know if my definitions/explanations of words are incorrect.

All Jewish Definitions listed below are taken from Essential Judaism-A Complete Guide to Beliefs, Customs and Rituals by George Robinson unless otherwise noted*.

Queer Definitions are my own understanding/usage of words unless otherwise noted.

Arabic Definitions are my own understanding of the words unless otherwise noted.


Adhan-(Arabic) Call to Prayer.

Alhamdulillah-(Arabic) Praise to Gd/Thank Gd.

Allah-(Arabic) name of Gd

Ashkenazi-A term used for Jews who derive from norther Europe and who generally follow the customs originating in medieval German Judaism, as distinct from Sephardic Jews, whose distinctive roots are traced back to  Spain and the Mediterranean.

Baruch HashemB”H-Blessed be Gd.

BCE-A term used by non-Christians and scientist meaning “before the Common Era” sometimes “the Christian Era” but I use the former.

Bible-*When I refer to “Bible” throughout my blog I am referring to the Torah, or the Tanakh.

Beit Din-(lit.house of judgement)-A rabbinical court made up of three rabbis who resolve business disputes under Jewish law and determine whether a prospective convert is ready for conversion.

Be’ezrat HaShem B”H-(Hebrew) With Gd’s Help

Black-*I personally identify as black over African American.

CE-*A term used by non-Christians and scientists meaning the “Common Era”

Chabad-Acronym (C{k}hokhmah/Wisdom, Binah/Insight, Da’at/Knowledge) used to  designate the Lubavitcher Hasidim

Chanukat Ha’Bayit-A Chanukat HaBayit (literally “dedication of the house”) is a Jewish house-warming party.

Chasidim/Hasidim-(sing. chasid; Hebrew, “pious ones”)The term may refer to Jews in various periods:1-a group that resisted the policies of Antiochus Ephiphanes in the second century BCE at the start of the Maccabean revolt; 2-pietists in the thirteenth century, known as the Ashkenazi Hasidim, much involved in the mysticism of the period; 3-followers of the movement of Hasidim founded in the first half of the eighteenth century by Israel Baal Shem Tov.

Chilul Hashem Desecration of the Name (Hebrew) meaning desecration of the names of God in Judaism, is a term used in Judaism particularly for any act or behavior that casts shame or brings disrepute to belief in God, any aspect of the Torah’s teachings, Jewish law, or the Jewish community.

Conservative Judaism-A modern development in Judaism, reacting to early Jewish Reform movements in an attemt to retain clearer links to classical Jewish law while at the same time adapting it to modern situations.  Its scholarly center in the United States is the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.

Daven-(Yiddish “to pray”)

Gay-*I personally use the term “gay” as an umbrella term.

Frum-(Yiddish) “devout” or “pious”  Someone committed to observing all 613 mitzvot

Gd-*Traditional Jews do not use or write the name of Gd out of respect.  It’s sometimes seen as G-d, and I have spelled it out completely in the past.  Going forward, I’m trying to remember to respect Gd’s name and therefore have stopped spelling it out completely.

Haggadah-The liturgical manual used in the Jewish Passover Seder.

Halakhah/Halachah-Any normative Jewish law, custom, practice or rite.  Halacha is law established or custom ratified by authoritative rabbinic jurist and teachers.  Colloquially, if something is deemed halachic, it is considered proper and normative behavior.

Hashem-(lit. “The Name”)-Used by traditionally observant Jews so as to not actually utter the names of Gd.

Erika Kosher-*My house only contains Kosher certified animal products (eggs, milk, etc.) I try to only by Kosher certified dry products (sugar, flour, etc.) or organic.  The meat/fish I eat is Kosher (see below) but not always under rabbinical supervision because it’s more important that I support local and sustainable farmers rather than eat meat that has a Kosher label.  I don’t use separate plates/utensils/cook ware, but my wooden spoons and cutting boards are labeled dairy, meat and parve.  I don’t mix dairy and meat in one meal.
(As of October 2014 I eat EVERYTHING. This may change again)

InShah’Allah-(Arabic) If Gd wills it.  Gd willing.

Islam-(Arabic) lit. “Submission to Gd.”

Jews of Color-(JOC)* My personal definition of Jews of Color is any Jew who identifies within the spectrum of racially and ethnically diverse peoples whether by family, by family structure, or by society.  This can be a Jew who is of Indian, Mexican, Chinese, Caribbean, Mediterranean, Arabic, Black, Biracial, African, African American, etc., etc. decent. 

Jewish Multiracial Network -(JMN) The Jewish Multiracial Network (JMN) was founded in 1997 by a group of parents who wanted to provide a community and supportive network for multiracial Jewish families. JMN’s initial programming efforts sought to provide Jewish children of color and their families a space where their dual identities would not be challenged — through the organization of social gatherings along the East Coast and the development of an annual retreat, which continues to this day. As our organization has grown, we have expanded our impact to include adult Jews of Color and members across the continental United States. What started over 15 years ago as a group of just a handful of families has now grown into a thriving community of hundreds of members.


Kashrut-Dietary Laws

Kavanah-(lit. “intention or direction”) The focus and concentration that is essential for meaningful prayer

Kippah-A head covering worn for worship, religious study, meals, or at any other time; also called a yarmulke

Kosher -(Hebrew, “proper” “fit” “ritually correct”) Kashrut refers to the ritually correct dietary practices.  Traditional Jewish dietary laws aer based on biblical legislation.  Only land animals that chew the cud and have split hooves (sheep, beef; not pigs, camels) are permitted and must be slaughtered in a special way.  Further, meat products may not be eaten with milk products or immediately thereafter.  Of sea creatures only those (fish) having fins and scales are permitted.  Fowl is considered meat food and also has to be slaughtered in a special manner.

LGBTQ-*Acronym standing for “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer

L’cha Dodi-Hymn welcoming the Sabbath Bride during Kabbalat Shabbat, an acrostic that spells the name of its composer, sixteenth century mystic Solomon Alkabetz.

Magen David-(Hebrew, “shield of David) The distinctive six-pointed Jewish star, used specifically in the seventeenth century.

Masha’Allah-(Arabic)-Allah (Gd) has willed it.

Mazel/Mazal Tov-Means congratulations and good luck in Hebrew and Yiddish

Mehitzah-a curtain or other divider that serves as a partition between the women’s and the men’s sections inOrthodox Jewish synagogues

Mikveh/Mikvah-A ritual bath used for spiritual purification.  It is used primarily in conversion rituals and after women’s menstrual cycles, but many Hasidim immerse themselves int he mikveh regularly for general spiritual purification.

Mezuzah-Hebrew for doorpost.  A parchment scroll with selected Torah verses (Deuteronomy 5:4-9; 11:13-21) placed in a container and affixed to the exterior doorposts at the right side of the entrance of Jewish homes (Deuteronomy 6:1-4) and sometimes also to the interior doorposts of rooms.  The word shaddai (almighty) or the letter shin usually inscribed on the container.

Mitzvah-(pl. mitzvot) Obligation or commandment.  Colloquially, a good deed.

Modeh Ani*-Morning Prayer recited thanking Gd for restoring your soul to your body.

Modern Orthodox-A branch of Orthodox Judaism found primarily in the United States.  Believers in halacha and traditionally observant, they also accept the importance of secular study, modern dress, etc.

Orthodox-The most traditionally observant stream of Judaism

Palestine-(Greek form representing “Philistines,” for the seacoast population encountered by early geographers)  An ancient designation for the area between Syria (to the north) and Egypt (to the south), between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, roughly modern Israel.

Pesach(Passover)-The major Jewish spring holiday (with agricultural aspects) also known as chag hamatzot (festival of unleavened bread) commemorating the Exodus or deliverance of the Hebrew people from Egypt.  The festival lasts eight days, during which Jews refrain from eating all leavened foods and products.  A special ritual meal (called the Seder) is prepared the first two nights, and a traditional narrative (called the Haggadah), supplemented by hymns and songs, marks the event.

Queer-*Queer is seen as an all-encompassing word for LGBT.  Queer can also be applied to people who are gender-non-conforming or gender queer.  Unlike “gay” it doesn’t have male connotations.

Rabbi-(lit. “my teacher” or “my master”) Ordained expert in Jewish worship and law.  An authorized teacher of the classical Jewish traditions 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 conferral and its responsibilities is central to the chain of tradition in Judaism.

Reconstructioinal Judaism-Founded by Mordecai M. Kaplan (1881-1982), this represents a recent development in American Judaism, and attempts to focus on Judaism as a civilization and culture constantly adapting to ensure survival in a natural social process.

Reform Judaism-Modern movement originating in the eighteenth century Europe that attempts to see Judaism as a rational religion adaptable to modern needs and sensitivities.

Sabbath-(Hebrew Shabbat, Yiddish Shabbos/Shabbes) The seventh day of the week, recalling the completion of the creation and the exodus from Egypt.  It is a day symbolic of new beginnings and one dedicated to Gd, a most holy day of rest.  The commandment of reset is found in the Bible and has been elaborated by the rabbis.  It is a special duty to study Torah on the Sabbath and to be joyful.  Shabbat begins at sundown on Friday and ends at sundown the following evening.

Sephardim-The designation Sepharad in biblical times refers to a colony of exiles from Jerusalem (Obadiah 20), possibly in or near Sardis; in the medieval period, Sephardi(c) Jews aer those descended from those who lived in Spain and Portugal (The Iberian peninsula) before the Expulsion of 1492.  As a cultural designation, the term refers to the complex associated Jews of this region and its related diaspora in the Balkans and Middle Wast (especially in Islamic countries)  The term is often used in contradistinction to Askhenazi, but it does not refer, thereby, to all Jews of non-Ashkenazi origin.

Shabbat Shalom-(Hebrew) A greeting given on Shabbat meaning “{may you have} the peace of the Sabbath”

Sh’ma-(Hebrew, “hear”) Title of the fundamental, monotheistic statement of Judaism found in Deuteronomy 6:4 (“Hear O Israel the Lrd is Gd, the Lrd is One”).  This statement avers the unity of Gd and is recited daily in the literagy and customarily before sleep at night.

Shul-Yiddish for synagogue

Siddur-prayer book.

Synagogue-(Greek for “gathering”).  The central institution of Jewish communal worship and study since antiquity, and by extension, a term used for the place of gathering.  The structure of such buildings has changed, though in all cass the ark containing the Torah scrolls faces the ancient Temple sight in Israel.

Talmud-(Hebrew “study” or “learning”) Rabbinic Judaism produced two Talmuds:the one known as Babylonian is the most famous in the western world and was completed around the fifth century CE, the other known as the Palenstinean or Jerusalem Talmud, was edited perhaps in the early fourth century CE.

Tanakh-A relatively modern acronym for the Jewish Bible, made up of the names of the tree parts of Torah (Pentateuch, or Law), Nevi’im(Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings)

Torah-(Hebrew, “teaching” “instruction”) In general, Torah refers to study of the whole gamut of Jewish tradition or to some aspect thereof.  In its special sense, “the Torah” refers to the “five books of Moses” in the Hebrew scriptures.

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