Exhaustive, of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism

Glossary Prepared initially by Robert A. Kraft, University of Pennsylvania, and intended to be used freely in the public domain in this and any updated versions (based partly on materials from introductory textbooks by Phillip Sigal, Jacob Neusner, Michael Fishbane, Sandra Frankiel, R. Dean Peterson, Frederick Denny, Kenneth Cragg, F. E. Peters; see also Cyril Glasse/, The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam [Harper, 1989]).


* indicates that the word/term that follows is a glossary entry, except that such frequent terms as Jew(ish)/Judaism, Christian(ity), and Islam/Muslim are not so identified.

<t>...</> indicates the title of a book or similar work.
<a>...</> Arabic word, especially used in Islamic studies.
<h>...</> Hebrew (or Aramaic) word, especially used in Judaism.
<g>...</> Greek word, especially used in Christianity.
<l>...</> Latin word, especially used in Christianity.

Diacritics follow the letter to which they pertain.

Note that in the Semitic languages (Heb., Arabic), the apostrophe and reversed apostrophe distinguish between two different "a" letters.

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The seventh day of the week (Heb., <h>shabbat</>), recalling the completion of the creation and the Exodus from Egypt. It is a day symbolic of new beginnings and one dedicated to God, a most holy day of rest. The commandment of rest 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. Sabbaths near major festivals (see calendar) are known by special names.


A messianic movement begun in the 17th century by Sabbatai Zvi/Zebi (1626-1676), who ultimately converted to Islam.


Especially in classical Christianity, a formal religious rite (e.g. baptism, eucharist) regarded as sacred for its perfect ability to convey divine blessing; in some traditions (especially Protestant), it is regarded as not effective in itself but as a sign or symbol of spiritual reality or truth.

sacrifice (Latin, "perform a sacred act")

A general term for the giving up of things of value for religious purposes, such as (1) liturgical sacrifices of animal life or of other valuables (grain, wine, etc.), and (2) personal sacrifices of time or money or talents or potential (e.g. taking holy orders). In classical Christianity, the death of Jesus is interpreted as a sacrifice for sin on behalf of humankind. Islam retains a liturgical use of animal sacrifice especially in connection with the hajj (see also calendar).


A general term for violation of that which is considered sacred. See blasphemy, shirk.

s.adaqa^t (or zadakat; Arabic)

Charity (voluntary alms), going beyond the obligatory zakat tax; righteous acts.


An early Jewish sub-group whose origins and ideas are uncertain. It probably arose early in the 2nd century BCE and ceased to exist when the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE. Sadducees supported priestly authority and rejected traditions not directly grounded in the Pentateuch, such as the concept of personal, individual life after death. They are often depicted as in conflict with the Pharisees.


A Shiite Iranian/Persian dynasty that fought against the Ottoman rulers.


For Judaism, see hakam.


Name given to persons considered to be "holy." Used in a special sense in Roman Catholicism for deceased persons who are believed to have entered God's presence (see heaven) and thus can provide special benefits to humankind (e.g. intercession by the saints). Used more generally in protestant Christianity for all believers. See also wali, zaddik.

saki^na (Arabic)

Sakina is a divine "tranquility" that is believed to descend when the Quran is recited.

S.ala^t (Arabic)

Salat designates the obligatory Muslim prayer service held five times daily, one of the five pillars of Islam (din).


In Christian thought, most generally, liberation from the power and effects of sin; often refers to an experience or series of experiences leading to a sense of liberation; sometimes refers to the expected liberation of a Christian after death.


Another of the numerous sub-groups in early Judaism (see also Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes) and residents of the district of Samaria north of Jerusalem and Judah in what is now Israel. They are said to have recognized only the Pentateuch as scripture and Mt. Gerizim as the sacred center rather than Jerusalem. There was ongoing hostility between Samaritans and Judahites. Samaritan communities exist to the present.

Sanhedrin (from Greek for "assembly" [of persons seated together]; see also synagogue, church)

A legislative and judicial body from the period of early Judaism and into rabbinic times. Traditionally composed of 71 members.

Satan (Hebrew, "accuser/adversary")

The opponent of God (or of God's supporters) in Hebrew tradition (and thence into Christianity and Islam) who is often depicted as a fallen angel (also called "the Devil"; in Arabic Iblis) amd is considered to be in charge of evil and its influences (with "demons" as his aides), and to rule over Hell until the final judgment (see <a>yawm al-din</>).

S.awm or s.aum (Arabic)

Sawm refers to "fasting" during daylight in the month of Ramadan, one of the five pillars of Islam (din).

sayyid (Arabic)

A title borne by descendants of the Prophet Muh.ammad.

schism (Greek, "split, division")

See great schism.


One who causes a split or division (schism). See heretic, min.


A general term for highly organized and highly rationalistic scholarly developments and discussions according to well developed conventions. In Christianity, the rise of universities in 12th-13th century Europe was a high-point for scholasticism (e.g. Thomas Aquinas). Judaism and Islam experienced similar scholastic flourishing in that general period in the west (and earlier in the east, especially for Islam).


General designation for canonical or biblical writings.


A general designation for a definable sub-group, often with negative overtones. See also cult, denomination.

secular (Latin, "of this world")

A general term for non-religious, or the opposite of religious.

seder (Heb., for "order"; pl. sedarim)

The traditional Jewish evening service and opening of the celebration of Passover, which includes special food symbols and narratives. The order of the service is highly regulated, and the traditional narrative is known as the Passover Haggadah. Also one of the six divisions of the Mishna; or one of the 154 sections into which Torah/Pentateuch is divided for a three year cycle of liturgical readings in synagogue. See also siddur.

See (from Latin, "seat")

A term used in Christianity to refer to the ecclesiastical location of a bishop's authority (e.g. "the See of Rome"), and by extension to the authority itself.

semikah (Heb.)

Rabbinic ordination.

Sephardim (adj. Sephardic; Heb., Sephardi)

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 are 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 with Jews of this region and its related diaspora in the Balkans and Middle East (especially in Islamic countries). The term is used in contradistinction to Ashkenazi, but it does not refer, thereby, to all Jews of non-Ashkenazi origin.

sephira(h) or sefira (Heb., "counting, number"; pl. sefirot)

See also omer. In Jewish kabala, the sefirot are the primary emanations or manifistations of deity that together make up the fulness (<g>pleroma</>) of the godhead.


Strictly speaking, refers to the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Pentateuch, probably made during the reign of Ptolemy II, Greek ruler of Egypt around 250 BCE. Subsequently, Greek translations of other portions of the Jewish scriptures came to be added to the corpus, and the term Septuagint was applied to the entire collection. Such collections served as the "scriptures" for Greek speaking Jews and Christians.

Seveners or Ismailis

One of the more influential Shiite groups, emphasizing secrecy and certain gnostical ideas. Split off from the main Shiite stream (see twelvers) at the 7th generation of recognized successive leaders, in 765 CE. See also `Alawi^s, Druzes.

shabbat (Heb., "rest")

The Sabbath.

Shabbatai Zvi

See Sabbatianism.

Shaha^da (Arabic, "witnessing")

The formal content of the shahada(h) witness is the Kalima(h): "There is no god but God (Allah), and Muhammad is the messenger (rasul) of God," which serves as a kind of minimal creed for Muslims and is one of the pillars of Islam (din). The Arabic form is: <a>La^ ila^ha illa^ Alla^h, Muhammad rasu^l Alla^h</>.


See Hillel.

Shari^`a(h) (Arabic, "way to the water")

Sharia is the "way" of Islam (see fiqh; compare halaka) in accord with the Quran and Sunna (hadith), ijma and qiyas. It is the comprehensive path of duty for Muslims, including law, ritual, and life in general.

Shavuot/Shabuot (Pentecost; Heb., "weeks")

Observed 50 days from the day the first sheaf of grain was offered to the priest; also known as Festival of First Fruits. See calendar.

shaykh (Arabic)

Word meaning an old man with grey hairs, a term that came to mean a respected leader and in Islam a religious teacher or person learned in religion or respected for piety.


Jewish term for the divine presence; the Holy Spirit. In Kabalism it sometimes took on the aspect of the feminine element in deity.

Shema (Heb., "hear")

Title of the fundamental, monotheistic statement of Judaism, found in Deut. 6:4 ("Hear, O Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD is One"; <h>shema Yisrael YHWH elohenu YHWH ehad</>). This statement avers the unity of God, and is recited daily in the liturgy (along with Deut. 6:5-9, 11.13-21; Num. 15.37-41 and other passages), and customarily before sleep at night. This proclamation also climaxes special liturgies (like Yom Kippur), and is central to the confession before death and the ritual of martyrdom. The Shema is inscribed on the mezuzah and the tefillin. In public services, it is recited in unison.

Shemini Atzeret (the Eighth Day of Assembly)

An eight-day festival that immediately follows the seven-day festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles). See also calendarr.

shemoneh esreh (Heb., "eighteen")

The main section of Jewish prayers recited in a standing position (see amida) and containing 19 (yes!) "benedictions": praise to (1) God of the fathers/patriarchs, (2) God's power and (3) holiness; prayers for (4) knowledge, (5) repentance, (6) forgiveness, (7) redemption, (8) healing sick persons, (9) agricultural prosperity, (10) ingathering the diaspora, (11) righteous judgment, (12) punishment of wicked and heretics (birkat haminim, (13) reward of pious, (14) rebuilding Jerusalem, (15) restoration of royal house of David, (16) acceptance of prayers, (17) thanks to God, (18) restoration of Temple worship, and (19) peace.

sheol (Heb.)

Place of departed dead in (some) ancient Israel thought, without reference to punishments and rewards. See also hell, heaven.

Shi^`a (Arabic, "party," of `Ali)

The Shi^`ites believe that Muhammad designated his son-in-law, `Ali, to succeed him as leader of the umma of Islam; members of the Shiite communities (which often vary from each other on important issues) number about 10 to 15 percent of the total Muslim community today. See also Sunna, from which Shiite Islam often differs radically in a variety of ways (e.g. interpretation of Quran, eschatology, jurisprudence, worship).

shirk (Arabic)

In Islam, "association" of something with God, thus "idolatry," the one unforgiveable sin according to the Quran.

shiva (Heb., "seven")

Seven days of mourning after the burial of a close relative (as in, "to sit shiva"). See also abelut, shloshim.

shloshim (Heb., "thirty")

An intermediate stage of 30 days of less severe mourning, including shiva.


In Jewish worship, Ram's horn sounded at Rosh Hashanah morning worship and at the conclusion of Yom Kippur, as well as other times in that period during the fall.

Shulhan Aruch (Heb., "prepared table")

A code of Jewish law attributed to Joseph Karo in 1565 CE, which became authoritative for classical Judaism.

siddur (from Heb., to order)

Jewish prayer book used for all days except special holidays (see seder). See also liturgy.

Simhat Torah (Heb., "rejoicing with the Torah")

A festival which celebrates the conclusion of the annual reading cycle of the Torah. See calendar.


The sin of attempting to purchase spiritual gifts, named after Simon the magician in the NT story in Acts 8.


Transgression or offense against God's laws or wishes;; more generally in Christian belief, a continuing state of estrangement from God. See also original sin, shirk.

sira (Arabic)

The life story of Muhammad in Islam.


Name given to the early 20th century Protestant Christian movement or perspective that placed its emphasis on the application to modern society of the principles of the Gospel. see also Liberal, Modernist.

sola fidei, sola scriptura

Famous principles of the Lutheran reformation emphasizing "faith alone" as the way to God, and "scripture alone" as the source of authority and guidance.

sopher or sofer (pl. <h>sopherim</>; Heb., "scribe")

Used as a general designation for scholars and copyists in both talmudic and later literature; a "scholastic," a learned researcher whose vocation was the study and teaching of the tradition. In early times the sopher was the scholar. By the 1st century he was no longer a real scholar but a functionary and teacher of children.

stigmata (Greek, "puncture marks")

Used technically in some Christian groups and traditions to refer to the miraculous appearance on a living believer of wounds like those attributed to Jesus (especially nail imprints in the hands).


An ancient Greek philosophical position contemporary with early Platonism and Aristotleianism that emphasized the close relationship between human activity and nature, governed by reason and law. Influenced early Judaism and early Christianity significantly (e.g. Philo, Paul).


A modern position that emphasizes the personal nature of truth. See also existentialism.

S.u^fi^ (from Arabic for "wool"?)

Sufi is a general term for a Muslim mystic and/or ascetic. Sufism refers to the mystical path of Islam in general (not to a specific sect or denomination).

Sukkot (Tabernacles) (Heb., "booths, tabernacles")

Seven-day Jewish fall festival beginning on Tishri 15 commemorating the sukkot where Israel lived in the wilderness after the Exodus; also known as <h>hag haasiph</>, the Festival of Ingathering (of the harvest). See also calendar.

Sunna(h) (Arabic)

The "custom" of the prophet Muhammad, that is, his words, habits, acts, and gestures as remembered by the Muslims and preserved in the literary form of the hadith reports. The Sunna is second in authority only to the Quran for Muslims.


The majority of Muslims, who are viewed as connected to the authoritative Sunna (<a>Ahl al-Sunna wa 'l-Jama^`a</> = people of the Sunna and the broad-based community) and believe that any good Muslim can be leader; they prefer to reach agreements by means of consensus and do not recognize special sacred wisdom in their leaders as Shiites do.

su^ra (Arabic)

In Islam, a sura(h) is a section ("chapter") of the Quran, of which there are 114 in all. Suras are subdivided into <a>a^ya^t</> or "verses."

synagogue (Greek for "gathering")

The central insitution of Jewish communal worship and study since antiquity (see also bet midrash), and by extension, a term used for the place of gathering. The structure of such buildings has changed, though in all cases the ark containing the Torah scrolls faces the ancient Temple site in Jerusalem.

syncretism (Greek for "draw together, combine")

Synthesis of variegated religious beliefs derived from more than one religion or cultural/religious tradition. See also eclectic, assimilation.

synod (Greek, "gathering")

Technical term used especially in Christianity to designate formal convocations (meetings) relating to church governance. See Presbyterianism.

synoptic gospels

Name given to the first three Christian NT gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke), which view the story of Jesus from the same general perspective.

Tabernacles, Festival/Feast of

See Sukkot.

tafsi^r (Arabic, "explanation, commentary")

In Islam, tafsir refers to interpretation (especially of the Quran), of which there are various types (e.g. grammatical, historical, allegorical, traditional).


A large, four-cornered shawl with fringes and special knots at the extremities, worn during Jewish morning prayers. The fringes, according to the Bible (Numbers 15.38-39), remind the worshiper of God's commandments. It is traditional for the male to be buried in his tallit, but without its fringes.

Talmud (Heb., "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 centuty CE; the other, known as the "Palestinian" or "Jerusalem" Talmud, was edited perhaps in the early fourth century CE. Both have as their common core the Mishnah collection of the tannaim, to which are added commentary and discussion (gemara) by the amoraim (teachers) of the respective locales. Gemara thus has also become a colloquial, generic term for the Talmud and its study.

TaNaK (Tanakh)

A relatively modern acronym for the Jewish Bible, made up of the names of the three parts Torah (Pentateuch or Law), Nevi'im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings) -- thus TNK pronounced TaNaK.

tanna (Heb., "repeater, reciter"; adj. tannaitic, pl. tannaim)

A Jewish sage from the period of Hillel (around the turn of the era) to the compilation of the Mishnah (200 CE), distinguished from later amoraim. Tannaim were primarily scholars and teachers. The Mishnah, Tosefta, and halakic Midrashim were among their literary achievements.

taqli^d (Arabic)

In Muslim jurisprudence, taqlid denotes uncritical adoption and imitation of traditional legal decisions. Criticized by reform-minded legal thinkers as blind imitation -- the opposite of ijtihad.

Targum (Heb., "translation, interpretation")

Generally used to designate Aramaic translations of the Jewish scriptures. See also Septuagint (in a sense, Greek Targums).

T.ari^qa (Arabic)

The Islamic Sufi special "way" of discipline and mystical insight in contrast to the sharia, the ordinary religious law; tariqa can also refer to a specific Sufi organization or method of meditation.

tawh.i^d (Arabic)

Tawhid (or tauhid) means asserting and maintaining the divine unity, Islam's central doctrine.

ta`zi^ya (Arabic, "consolation")

Specifically, in Islam taziya refers to a Shiite passion play commemorating the tragic death of the third Imam, Husayn (son of `Ali), at Karbala, in 680 CE.


Usually translated as "phylacteries." Box-like appurtenances that accompany prayer, worn by Jewish adult males at the weekday morning services. The boxes have leather thongs attached and contain scriptural excerpts. One box (with four sections) is placed on the head, the other (with one section) is placed (customarily) on the left arm, near the heart. The biblical passages emphasize the unity of God and the duty to love God and be mindful of him with "all one's heart and mind" (e.g. Exod. 13.1-10, 11-16; Deut. 6.4-9; 11.13-21). See also Shema.


In the ancient world, temples were the centers of outward religious life, places at which public religious observances were normally conducted by the priestly professionals. In traditional Judaism, the only legitimate Temple was the one in Jerusalem, built first by king Solomon around 950 BCE, destroyed by Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar around 587/6 BCE, and rebuilt about 70 years later. It was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. The site of the ancient Jewish Temple is now occupied, in part, by the golden domed "Dome of the Rock" Mosque. In recent times, "temple" has come to be used synonymously with synagogue in some Jewish usage.


Term for an agreement between two (or more) parties, such as a "last will and testament." In Jewish tradition, the covenant concept played an important role, and was translated as "testament," especially in Christian references to the scriptures of the "old covenant" (OT) and the "new" (NT).


A general term for "witness," used especially in evangelical protestant Christian circles for personal accounts of religious experience.

tetragrammaton (Greek, "four lettered [name]")



The position that affirms the existence of deity. See also atheism, agnosticism.


From Greek, "divine rule"; the idea that God should be the ultimate ruler, over or instead of human rulers. See zealots.


From Greek, "study of deity"; a general term for discussions and investigations of things pertaining to God(s), and by extension, to religious matters. One who engages formally in theological studies is called a "theologian."

thirteen principles

Statement of classical Jewish outlook (see belief) by Maimonides. See handout for details.

tila^wa (Arabic)

In Islam, tilawa is ritual recitation of the Quran.


Literally, a tenth part, usually with reference to prescribed or voluntary contributions to one's religious community. "Tithing" is often used to refer in general to systematic giving, without specific reference to the exact percentage. See also zakat.


In Christian charismatic circles, ecstatic utterance while in a state of religious excitation; sometimes regarded as a special spiritual language (see NT Paul's 1 Corinthians 14.9) or ability to speak in different languages (see NT Acts 2.1-15).

Torah, torah (Heb., "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 (see Pentateuch). In the Quran, "Torah" is the main term by which Jewish scripture is identified.

Tosefta (pl. Tosafot) (Heb., "supplement")

Tannaitic supplements to the Mishnah. Called <h>beraita</> (extraneous material) in the Talmud.


Something perceived to have been handed down (or passed along) from the past, often considered authoritative. See also mainstream, classical, orthodox.


In Roman Catholic Christian dogma, the change, during the eucharist, of the substance of bread and wine into the substance of Christ's body and blood -- the "accidents" (taste, color, shape) of the elements are believed to remain the same, but the substance or essence (in an Aristotleian sense) changes into the holy elements of the sacrifice. This interpretation was largely rejected by Protestant reformers.


In classical Christian dogma, God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit exist in perfect unity, as three "persons" in one God. The nature of this union was much debated in classical Christianity, and Western and Eastern expressions differ. See also monarchian, unitarian.


That which conforms to reality. For classical Judaism, Christianity and Islam, ultimate truth is defined and determined in relation to the ultimate reality, God. "The Truth" is attested as a way of referring to the deity in Islam (the execution of Hallaj is a memorable example), and to Jesus in Christianity (Gospel of John).


The main surviving sub-group of Shiite Islam, named for its distinctive allegience to the imam they count as the legitimate 12th in the succession. See also seveners, Zaidis.


A form of (usually biblical) interpretation wherein a person, event, or institution is viewed as foreshadowing a later one. For example, for Christian interpreters, Abraham's intended sacri fice of Isaac (Genesis 22) is seen as a "type" of the sacrificial death of Christ.


See zaddik.


See zedakah.

`ulama^' (Arabic)

The Ulama is the collective name for the top class of religious officials in Islam -- scholars "learned" in Islamic law (see sharia, fiqh).

`Umar (or Omar)

Second successor (caliph) to Muhammad (and a father-in-law). Sometimes called the "St. Paul" of Islam because of his sudden conversion and his success in spreading the message (including militarily).

Umma(h) (Arabic)

The Muslim "community" or ideal state worldwide.


The first major Muslim dynasty, established in Damascus by Mu`a^wiya the nephew of Uthman (of the Quraysh clan from Mecca) after fierce rivalry with `Ali, the last of the four "rightly guided caliphs." The events leading to the Umayyad takeover were influential in the establishment of Shiite Islam and also the Kharijite movement. After about a century (660-750 CE), the Umayyad dynasty was defeated and replaced by the Abbasids in Baghdad, but a branch of the Umayyads survived and prospered for centuries in Spain.

`umra (Arabic)

A "lesser pilgrimage," or religious visit to Mecca at a time other than the appointed month for hajj (see also calendar, pillars).


A movement with roots in the Radical Reformation of early 16th century protestant Christianity which emphasized the oneness of deity (monotheism, see also monarchianism) by rejecting the traditional doctrine of trinity and pursuing a rationalist approach to religion. It became a distinct denomination in early 19th century England. In the 1960s, American Unitarianism dissocated itself from Christianity.


The idea among some Christians that everyone will ultimately attain to the heavenly reward (salvation).

unleavened (Greek <g>azyma</>)

See leaven.


Old term for the principle of monetary interest, which is prohibited or limited under certain conditions in the scriptures of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

`Uthma^n (or Othman)

`Uthman was the third successor (caliph) to Muhammad, under whom an authorized collection of Quran materials was established.


A general term for religious devotion to a particular object or person. See saint, mawlid, wali, zaddik, icon, relic.

verbal inspiration

An idea especially important for Christian protestant fundamentalism/evangelicals, holding that God established the Bible as "inspired" (usually interpreted to mean without error) in its literal meaning (see literalism, allegory).


Substitute, representative, proxy; one who takes the place of, or acts instead of, another. In Roman Catholic Christianity, the pope is considered the vicar of Christ. The pope (and other ecclesiastical authorities) may designate their own vicar. In the Church of England, the term is used to designate the priest who acts in a parish in place of the rector.

vicar of Christ

Term applied especially to the pope, as the prime "representative" of Jesus Christ in Roman Catholic Christianity.

virgin Mary (Heb., Miriam, Greek Maria), virgin birth

The mother of Jesus/Joshua is believed in classical Christian thought to have conceived and given birth to Jesus without losing her virginity (thus the "perpetual virginity" of Mary). The ideal of virginity became important for both women and men as classical Christianity developed (see celibacy, monasticism), but in protestant Christianity (in reaction to Roman Catholicism), there has tended to be much less emphasis on Mary or on virginity.


A general term for one who claims to (or is considered to) be able to see into the future, and/or is committed to changing the future in accord with particular ideals.

vulgate (Latin, "common, popular")

The official Roman Catholic Latin version of the Bible, prepared or edited by Jerome (Hieronymus) around the year 400. See also Septuagint.


Adherents of the puritanical Muslim reform movement that arose in Arabia in the eighteenth century under Muhammad ibn `Abd al-Wahha^b (1703-1787) are called Wahhabis.

wah.y (Arabic)

In Islam, wahy refers to "revelation" of the Quran to Muhammad by a kind of verbal/mental process of inspiration and communication.

wali^ (Arabic)

"Friend," "client," "kinsman," "patron"; in English wali most often means Muslim "saint" or "holy person."


See kiphah.

yawm al-di^n (Arabic, "day of judgment")

A key eschatological idea in Islam, paralleling the same concept in Judaism and Christianity.

yeshivah (pl. yeshivot)

A Jewish rabbinic academy of higher learning. See also beit midrash.


A technical Heb. term for human "inclination" to do good (yetzer ha-tov) or to do evil (yetzer ha-ra).

YHWH (Yahweh)

The sacred name of God in Jewish scriptures and tradition; also known as the tetragrammaton. Since Hebrew was written without vowels in ancient times, the four consonants YHWH contain no clue to their original pronunciation. They are generally rendered "Yahweh" in contemporary scholarship. In traditional Judaism, the name is not pronounced, but <h>Adonai</> ("Lord") or something similar is substituted. In most English versions of the Bible the tetragrammaton is represented by "LORD" (or less frequently, "Jehovah").

Yiddish (from German "Juedisch" or Jewish)

The vernacular of Ashkenazic Jews; it is a combination of several languages, especially Hebrew and German, written in Hebrew script.

yigdol/yigdal (from Heb., to be great; thence "Great is he")

A hymn/chant/poem from 11th century or earlier, frequently found at the beginning or end of the Jewish prayer book (siddur). Also found as an adopted Christian hymn.

Yom Kippur (Heb., "Day of Atonement")

Annual day of fasting and atonement, occurring in the fall on Tishri 10 (just after Rosh Hashanah); the most solemn and important occasion of the Jewish religious year. See also calendar.


See sadakat. Islamic voluntary almsgiving.

zaddik (Heb., "righteous one")

A general term for a righteous person in Jewish tradition. More specifically, the spiritual leader of the modern Hasidim, popularly known as rebbe. See also saint.


A sub-group of Islamic Shiites, with positions relatively close to those of the Sunnis, by comparison to the seveners or the twelvers.

zaka^t (Arabic)

Zakat is legal almsgiving required as one of the five pillars of Islam (din). See also sadakat.

zealot (from Greek, to be enthusiastic)

A general term for one who exhibits great enthusiasm and dedication to a cause. Specifically, a member of an early Jewish group or perspective that advocated Jewish independance (see theocracy) from Rome. See also assassins.

zedakah (Heb., "righteousness"; see tzedakah)

Term in Judaism usually applied to deeds of charity and philanthropy.

Zion, Zionism

(Mount) Zion is an ancient Hebrew designation for Jerusalem, but already in biblical times it began to symbolize the national homeland (see e.g. Psalm 137.1-6). In this latter sense it served as a focus for Jewish national-religious hopes of renewal over the centuries. Ancient hopes and attachments to Zion gave rise to Zionist longings and movements since antiquity, culminating in the modern national liberation movement of that name. The Zionist cause helped the Jews return to Palestine in this century and found the state of Israel in 1948. The goal of Zionism is the political and spititual renewal of the Jewish people in its ancestral homeland. See also Herzl.

zizit (Heb., "fringes")

See tallit.


"Book of Splendor"; the chief literary work of the kabalists. The author of the main part of the Zohar was Moses de Leon (12th century) in Spain, but it is pseudepigraphically ascribed to the Palestinian tanna Simeon bar Yohai (2nd century CE), sometimes called RaShBaY (Rabbi Shimeon bar Yohai).

z.ulm (Arabic)

Zulm is the most basic Quranic term for sin (wrong-doing, wrong-dealing).

End of Glossary.