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Torah Terminology


           Planning on visiting Bat-Zion? Never been to a Messianic congregation or just new to the Jewish expression & need some understanding on what’s going on in the Torah Service? What’s the deal with all those Hebrew words that Aharon’s using? Here’s a primer on some of the terms to expect during The Torah Service & what they all mean.

Aliyah– lit. to ascend. Making aliyah to the Torah is what bat & bar mitzvahs do. This is also used for anyone who ‘ascends’ up to the bima to read from The Torah & give a d’rash

Ashkenazai– (ash-ken-nawz-zee): A term refering to the East European Jews of Poland/Germany/ Hungary/Russia etc. Yiddish is one of the languages that’s part of the heritage of Ashkenazai Jews. World wide Jewry is generally broken up into 2 main groups of Jews the Ashkenazim & Sephardim. The Eydot Mizrachi are Jews from the Middle East from countries such as Iraq, Iran, Yemen, etc. The Falashas are Jews from Ethiopia.

Aron– Ark, the place where Torah is kept. Named after the Ark of The Covenant that held the tablets of G-D’s Word.

Bar/ Bat Mitzvah– lit. Son/Daughter of the Commandment. Rite of passage for boys 13 & older & girls 12 & older.

Bima– (bee-ma), Judgment seat, platform where The Torah is read from.

Brit– (Breet) Covenant

Brit HaChadasha– (Breet Ha’Khadasha)‘New Covenant,’ referring to the collective writings of the New Testament.

Canting/Cantillation marks– System of singing The Torah. Originally developed as a mnemonic in ancient times to help memorize. The Hebrew term is ta’amei

Chazan– Cantor. Official who cants The Torah

D’rash– the inquiry, commentary / teaching on the weekly parasha that is expounded on.

Gematria– A form of hermeneutical interpretation for expounding the Hebrew. This form of numerology is used in various instances in the Tanak. There is a difference between Biblical numerology & occultic numerology. Biblical numerology looks backwards to understand & gain insight into Biblical passages, concepts, & words. Occultic numerology focuses on gaining insight into the future…which is divination & outlawed by The Torah.  Biblical gematria is never used for such things.

It works like this….there are no number symbols in Hebrew so the letters themselves represent numbers depending on context. The letter ‘Alef’ (A) is in numeric form a 1 but there isn’t a Hebrew symbol for 1 so the Alef is used. Reading the numbers as letters & the letters as numbers therefore bears ways of understanding the text. This isn’t occultism but is just one of the several amazing properties that Hebrew has a multi-faceted language & alef-bet.

Haftara-Complimentary portion of prophets that is read weekly alongside the parasha.

Halakha– Normative Jewish law. Application & Interpretation of Torah law in response to modern changing times.

HaShem– lit. The Name. Often used in place of ‘Adonai’ when not reading or speaking in public worship to avoid taking ‘The Name’ of G-D in vain.

Klaf– Sheet of parchment (goat skin) that is written on & sewn together to form the Torah Scroll.

Nusach– Melody. Referring to traditional style of which Torah is canted in. 

Parasha / Parashot/ Sidra– Portion/Portions. The Torah is divided into sections & read on a weekly basis over the period of  a yr. Parasha is the  Ashkenazai term, Sidra the Sephardi term.

Qulmus– A quill made of a large kosher bird’s pinion such as that from a goose or turkey. The feather is cut a particular way, formed, than is used to write the Torah, Mezuzah, or Tefillin scrolls with.

Sefer– Scroll, book.

Sephardi/Sepharadi– A Sephardic Jew is a Jew from The Iberian Peninsula or North Africa. Countries such as Spain, Italy, Portugal, Egypt, Morocco are generally places where Sephardic Jewry developed. Now Sephardim are spread throughout South & Central America as well as The U.S. as most fled from Spain & Portugal during the Inquisition. Generally Sephardic culture is distinct from Askenazai & Sephardim  can tend to be darker than Askenazim. Sepharad is the Hebrew term for ‘Spain.’ Ladino, which is somewhat of a non-spoken language is a mixture of Hebrew/Spanish/Arabic & Turkish it’s the Sephardic equivalent to the Askenazai ‘Yiddish.’

Sh’ma– also ‘Shema’ (Hear). This is the national creed of Judaism found in Deut.6:4

Siddur– Jewish prayer book

Sofer– Lit. one who counts. Hebrew word for ‘scribe’ one who writes a Sefer Torah.

Talmud– Vast compendium of Rabbinic law, lore, legend, & sayings. Expounds on finer points & details of Torah laws that are not actually contained in Torah.

TaNaK– acronym for Torah, Nevi’im (prophets), Ketuvim (writings). The Jewish way of referring to the ‘Old Testament.’

Torah/ Chumash/ Pentateuch– various terms for the 1st 5 books of the Tanak from Genesis-Deuteronomy. Torah- instruction, law. Chumash- from Hebrew ‘chamesh’ (5) referring to the 5 books. Pentateuch is the Greek term.

Ve’Ahavta– If the Sh’ma is the national creed of Judaism the Ve’ahavta (And you shall love) would be like the Biblical anthem of Judaism. You can read it in Deut.6:5-9

Yad– lit. Hand. A small pointer used to stay focused while reading the text of The Torah since hands can’t touch the face of the scroll.

Yiddish– a language composed of Hebrew mixed with Slavonic languages such as German & other Easter European languages.