Glossary beginning with K

K'riah
Tearing. An article of clothing is customarily torn by mourners prior to the funeral and worn throughout the week of shiva. Sometimes a black ribbon is used instead of an article of clothing.
Kabbalah
Tradition of Jewish mystical interpretation of sacred texts.
Kabbalat Shabbat
Lit., receiving Shabbat. Kabbalat Shabbat refers to the Friday-night service instituted by the mystics in Safed in the 16th century. It includes selections from Psalms and the song Lecha Dodi.
Kaddish
Memorial prayer for the dead. Mourners recite this prayer at every service, every day, in the presence of a minyan (prayer quorum) over the course of a year (for a parent) or 30 days (for a sibling or offspring). The prayer actually makes no mention of the dead, but prays for the sanctification and magnification of God's name.
Kallah
Bride.
Kapparot
Among certain hasidim, a live chicken (who metaphorically has transferred to it the family's sins) is swung around the head of its owner before being slaughtered prior to Yom Kippur as a sign of atonement. Today, some people swing a bag of money in a kapparot ritual and give the money to charity as a sign of atonement.
Kashrut
Jewish dietary laws. There are many specific regulations but they cluster around three primary ideas: certain food are forbidden (shellfish, pork); mixing meat and milk is prohibited; animals must be slaughtered in a specific way which minimizes pain to the animal; and all blood must be drained from the animal before it can be cooked and eaten.
Kavanah
Intention. This refers both to one’s intention when performing a mitzvah or focusing for prayer and to specific readings to help focus the attention prior to performing the act.
Kavod
Honor, as in kavod av v’em, honoring one’s parents, kavod ha’met, respect for the dead, kavod hatorah, the honor of the Torah.
Kedusha
Holiness.
Ketubah
Jewish wedding contract. Traditionally, the ketubah protected the wife in marriage by spelling out the husband's obligations to her and guaranteeing her a financial settlement in case of divorce. Throughout the ages, ketubot have been illuminated and calligraphed, also becoming significant as Jewish art. Today, all manner of egalitarian ketubot are written. Some dispense with the financial and legal aspects, focusing more on the emotional and spiritual sides of the relationship. Others maintain the rabbis' concern with the practical, but define mutual obligations for husband and wife.
Kiddush
The prayer recited over wine on Shabbat, holidays, and other joyous occasions.
Kiddush Ha-Shem
Kiddushin
The first part of the traditional wedding service in which the groom acquires the bride by giving her a small token, usually a ring, and declaring that she is betrothed to him according to Mosaic law. Today, most non-Orthodox couples have made this ceremony egalitarian, exchanging rings and empowering the bride to speak as well. Some, disliking the property aspects of the ceremony, have dispensed with it altogether, substituting a brit shutafut – a partnership covenant.
Kinyan
Acquisition. In a traditional wedding, the bride is "acquired" by the groom. The kinyan is effected by the giving of a small object, usually a ring. Under traditional Jewish law, a bride cannot acquire a groom -- therefore, this act cannot be made mutual. Liberal Jews have found various ways to work around this dilemma although the Orthodox community, for the most part, does not accept these solutions.
Kippah
A small cap, traditionally worn by men, symbolizing humility before God. Although women traditionally covered their heads with a scarf or hat as a sign of modesty, today, some women wear kippot as well.
Kittel
A white robe in which one is buried. Also worn at Passover, on Yom Kippur, and at one's wedding as a symbol of rebirth.
Kol Nidrei
A prayer widely known for its mournful, haunting melody, recited Yom Kippur evening.
Kosher
Food which it is permissible to eat according to Jewish dietary law. See kashrut.
Kotel
The Western Wall, or Kotel, which was a retaining wall of the Second Temple, is all that visibly remains of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. It has long been a holy site for Jews. Since 1967, when the Israeli army recaptured the Old City, including the Western Wall, a large plaza has been created where Jews can congregate and pray. The Wall has also been the subject of controversy, particularly for women, who have been successfully barred from reading Torah or donning a tallit at the wall.