Chapter 1 Glossary

Hurban: Destruction.

Beth Hamidrash: House of study. Learn more.

Shtetlach (plural of Shtetl): “Little town” (Yiddish). Before WWII, Eastern Europe was dotted with small Jewish towns called shtetlach; almost all were destroyed in the Holocaust. Learn more.

Hadorim (plural of Heder): A traditional Jewish elementary school where students study Hebrew and Torah. 

Mincha: The afternoon prayers. This is the second of the three daily Jewish prayers.

Talmud: A central text of the Oral Torah, a compilation of Rabbinic discussions of law, Jewish lore, and interpretation of the Torah. Learn more.

“Around Passover of 1942, eye witnesses reported that the slaughter of Jews in the Warsaw ghetto”: Learn more.

Jobian: Job was a wealthy, successful, and righteous man. In the biblical Book of Job, Satan bets God that if Job loses all of his wealth he will lose faith in God. The Book of Job recounts Job’s reaction to this bet and ultimate fate. Learn more.

Shehitah: Kosher slaughter. Learn more.

Gestapo: The secret police of Nazi Germany. Learn more.

Reichsmarks: German currency from 1924 to 1948.

Galicia: A region currently split between Poland and Ukraine. Map (1882): Learn more.

Dibbukim (plural of dibbuk): Evil spirit that possesses a person. Learn more.

Judenrat: The Nazis forced the Jews to create administrative bodies in German-occupied territories. The members of these groups often received privileges unavailable to other Jews, but were eventually also going to be exterminated by the Nazis. Learn more.

Sodom: A city renowned in the Bible for its wickedness. Learn more.

Mikveh: Ritual bath. Learn more.

Khasenes: Weddings. Learn more.

Brisen: Plural for “Bris,” the circumcision ritual performed on all male Jewish infants. Learn more.

Pogrom: A violent mob attack. The term is used to refer to attacks against Jews during the 19th and 20th centuries, most famously in Russia or in the Kristallnacht (night of glass) Pogrom in Germany in 1938. Learn more.

Yom Kippur: One of the holiest days of the Jewish year, the Day of Atonement. It falls on the 10th day of the Jewish month of Tishrei. In 1942, it fell on September 21. Learn more.

Sukkot: Begins on the 15th day of Tishrei, 5 days after Yom Kippur (September 26, 1942). Learn more.

Simchat Torah: An annual holiday celebrating the completion of the annual cycle of reading the Torah, and immediately beginning the cycle anew. The holiday takes place on the 23rd day of the Jewish month of Tishrei. Learn more.

Parashat Lech Lecha: Parasha is the name for the weekly Torah portion. Lech Lecha is the 3rd Parasha in the book of Genesis, and tells the story of Abram leaving his homeland to go to Canaan, the Promised Land. Learn more.

Davening: Praying.

Kabbalat Shabbat: Translates to “the receiving of the Sabbath,” the formal evening service on Friday nights. Learn more.

Shivah: A seven-day period of mourning observed after the death of a family member. Learn more.

Shtiblech: “Little House” (Yiddish), a name for a house of prayer. Learn more.

Hasidic: A movement within Judaism founded in the late 18th  Century. Learn more.

Rosh HaShanah: The Jewish New Year, one of the holiest days in the calendar. Considered to be the Day of Judgment, when God decides who is fated to live and die in the coming year. Learn more.

Sefer Torah: Torah scroll. Learn more.

Shul: Synagogue (Yiddish).

Lekha Dodi: One of the central prayers of the Kabbalat Shabbat service, the title translates  to “Come, my Beloved.” It was written in the 16th century by Rabbi Shlomo Halevi Alkabetz, a Kabbalist (mystic). Hear It Here or here.

Rozo de’shabbos: Literally “the mystery of the Sabbath,” this is recited on Friday evenings by Sephardic and Hasidic communities. Hear it here.

Zohar: The most important text of Jewish mysticism. Learn more.

Shechinah: Literally “dwelling” or “residence,” refers to the divine presence. Learn more.

Krechtz: Gasp or grunt of pain (Yiddish).

Tzenah Urenah: A Yiddish version of the Torah and various other Biblical texts written in the 17th century. It includes many homilies and interpretive sections. It was intended for both genders, but was commonly read by women. Learn more.

Kiddush: The blessing said over wine on the Sabbath and other holidays. Learn more.

Loshon Hakodesh: “the holy tongue,” meaning Hebrew.

Shalom Aleichem: Literally “Peace onto you,” a song greeting the angels who accompany a person home on the Sabbath eve. Traditionally sung before Kiddush.  Hear it here.

Korban: Sacrifice.

Zemiroth: Songs sung at the table during or after Sabbath meals. Hear some here.

Peyes: Sidelocks traditionally worn by many Hasidic men.

Agudah: Agudat Yisrael was the main Orthodox anti-Zionist organization in Europe at this point. Applied strict interpretations of Torah to secular politics and social issues. Learn more.

Mizrahists: An Orthodox Zionist movement founded in 1902. It’s motto was “the Land of Israel for the People of Israel according to the Torah of Israel” (YIVO). Learn more.

Shomer Hatzairniks: Followers of the earliest Zionist Youth movement, HaShomer HaTzair. Had far-left, but not Communist leanings. Learn more.

Bundists: A group that envisioned “the creation of a modern, secular and culturally autonomous Jewish society which would strive for the ideals of Socialism and for the rights of the Jewish working class.” (YIVO institute) Significantly, the Bundists represented a non-Zionist Jewish national movement. In Inter-war Poland it was more popular than the Zionists. Learn more.

Parashah: The weekly Torah portion read every Sabbath.

“The Lord said to Abram, Go thee from thy land…to the land which I will show thee”: Genesis, 12:1.

Suppose, the ram would not have been there as a substitute for Isaac: A reference to the famous story of the Binding of Isaac in Genesis Chapter 22:1-19, in which God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. At the last moment, God provides a ram for Abraham to sacrifice in place of his child.

Gematria: A coding system that turns words into numeric values. Each letter in the Hebrew alphabet is given a value according to its place in the alphabet, and the letters in each word are summed to give the word its value. Gematria values are considered meaningful in several schools of thought, especially by Kabbalists (mystics). Learn more.

Tehinot: Devotional prayers recited by women. They were written in Yiddish for people unable to read Hebrew.

Minyan: A group of 10 adult Jews, required to recite certain prayers. (In pre-WWII Poland, the 10 adult Jews would have been required to be males).

Kaddish: Literally translates to “sanctification” (Hebrew). Kaddish is a prayer recited only when praying with a minyan. A specific version of the Kaddish is recited by mourners for a set period of time after the death of a relative. Learn more.

Havdalah: Literally “separation” (Hebrew), a prayer said at the end of the Sabbath to make a distinction between the holy Sabbath and the mundane weekdays. Learn more.

“lo yutzlach”: Not a success (a failure).

“talmid hokhom”: Literally a “wise student,” (Hebrew) refers to a respected Torah scholar. 

Borer: Literally, “choose,” “select,” or “clarify,” (Hebrew), an expert in rabbinic civil Halakah, who was brought into Jewish courts to serve as a judge/advocate.

Sefarim: Books.

Armia Krajowa: Translates to “Home Army,” (Polish), the Polish resistance army in WWII. Learn more.

Kenkarte: The civilian identification card used by the 3rd Reich. Learn more.

Volkischer Beobachter: The official newspaper of the Nazi party. Learn more.

Gan Eden: The Garden of Eden, Paradise. Learn more.

Passage from Avodah Zarah 8b: “the wicked Government of Rome issued a decree that he who ordains a rabbi shall be slain, likewise he who is ordained shall be put to death, the town In which an ordination takes place shall be destroyed, and the tehum in which the ordination is held shall be laid to waste. What did R. Judah b. Baba do? He went and sat down between two mountains and between two large towns between two tehums, namely, between Usha and Shefar’am and there he ordained five elders: R. Meir, R. Judah [b. Il’ai], R. Jose, R. Simeon, and R. Eleazar b. Shammua (R. Awia adds also R. Nehemiah). On seeing that they were detected by the enemies, he said to them, ‘Flee, my children!’ but they said to him, “And you, O Rabbi, what about you?’ ‘I,’ he replied, ‘will lie still before them, even as a stone that is not turned.’ It was stated that the Romans did not move from there until they drove three hundred iron spears into his body and made his corpse like a sieve!” (The Soncino Talmud, Trans. Rabbi Dr. I. Epstein)

Kabbalah: Literally “reception,” in this context the word refers to the transfer of the “Chain of tradition” of Jewish learning from generation to generation. In other contexts, Kabbalah refers to the range of esoteric/mystical Jewish activity.

Charoses: A sweet paste usually made of apples, nuts, wine, and cinnamon, eaten during the Passover Seder and placed on the ceremonial Seder plate in the center of the table. Learn more.

Maror: The bitter herb (often, but not necessarily, horseradish) eaten during the Passover Seder and placed on the Seder plate.

Passover Seder: A ritual performed in the home on the first two nights of Passover. Learn more.

Goy: non-Jew. Literally a Biblical Hebrew word meaning “nation.”

Shtreiml: Fur hat worn by some Hasidic Jews, especially on Shabbat and holidays. Learn more.

Misnagged: Literally, “opponent,” (Hebrew). A term for non-Hasidic Jews. Learn more.

Heilige Tzadikim: Holy saints. From “Heilig,” German for Holy, and “Tzadikim,” Hebrew for “righteous ones.”

Khosen: Groom.

Purim: A holiday celebrating the victory of the Jews in the Persian Empire over the evil Haman, who wished to exterminate them. One part of the celebration is dressing up in costume. Learn more.

Tefillin, Rabbenu Tam Tefillin, Rashi’s Tefillin: Phylacteries, the small black boxes attached to leather straps worn by adults during weekday morning prayers. The obligation to wear Tefillin comes from a verse in Deuteronomy. Rabbenu Tam and Rashi were two early scholars who had slightly different interpretations of how the Tefillin should be put together, and so some people wore both types of Tefillin every day to be sure that they did not accidentally follow the commandment incorrectly. Learn more.

Yeshivah: A school focused on advanced study of religious texts.

Shkotzim: plural for “shegetz,” non-Jew (Yiddish).

Gendarmes: The Russian Empire’s security police in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Learn more.

Line from Avot: ‘al deateyft’ (דאטפת): A line from the Mishna (part of the Talmud), attributed to Hillel (a major rabbi from the 1st Century BCE): “As you drowned others so have you been drowned, and those who drowned you will be drowned in turn.” (Avot 2:6)  He is reported to have spoken this to a skull he saw floating in the water. (Ben Zion Wacholder’s use of the word “stolen” in this verse is unusual.)

Midrashic: Midrash is a version of Biblical exegesis focusing either on law or homilies. Involves careful, in-depth study of textual details. Learn more.

Jacob feared Esau, but he did not give up. He divided his camp into two groups. One goes hither and the other thither. The reference is to Genesis, 32:7-9: “The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau he himself is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him.” Jacob was greatly frightened; in his anxiety, he divided the people with him, and the flocks and herd and camels, into two camps, thinking, “If Esau comes to the one camp and attacks it, the other camp may yet escape.” (The Jewish Publication Society, A New Translation of the Holy Scriptures According to the Traditional Hebrew Text)

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