Glossary beginning with M

Ma'asim Tovim

Lit. Good deeds.

The traditional prayer for a newborn infant at his or her brit milah or baby naming concludes, "May s/he grow to Torah, to Chuppah, and to ma'asim tovim."

Synonyms: Maasim Tovim
Machzor

The siddur (prayerbook) used for the High Holidays. Other major holidays also have their own machzor.

Maggid

Lit. The telling

The section of the Passover seder for telling the story of the exodus from Egypt

Mamzer

Lit. Bastard

According to Jewish law, a mamzer is child born of a mother who is married yet conceives by someone else. A child born out of wedlock is not a mamzer. The issue of a mamzer is a complicating factor in the question of Orthodox divorce. If a woman who is refused a get – a writ of divorce by her husband – or who never receives a get – remarries and gives birth to children, those children are considered mamzerim (plural).

Maror

Bitter herbs eaten at the Passover seder to recall slavery in Egypt

Synonyms: Marror
Matzah

The unleavened bread eaten on Passover that recalls the Israelite's hasty escape from Egypt when there was no time for the dough to rise. Matzah is also considered the "bread of our affliction," eaten while we were slaves.

Synonyms: Matzoh, Matza
Mazal

Good fortune, luck, and the Hebrew sign of the Zodiac.

Synonyms: Mazel
Ma’ariv

Lit. Evening

The evening prayer service.

Synonyms: Maariv
Mechitzah

Lit. Partition, Division

The partition used on Orthodox synagogues to separate the men's and women's seating sections during prayer services.

Synonyms: Mechitza, Mekhitza, Mekhitzah
Megillah

Lit. Scroll

Usually refers specifically the Scroll of Esther (Megillat Esther) read on Purim, telling the story of how Esther saved the Jewish people. Megillat Ruth is read on Shavuot.

Synonyms: Megilla, Megilah, Megila
Menorah

The seeven-branched menorah stood in the Temple, and many present-day synagogues feature the menorah. Titus' arch depicts the Romans' sacking of the Temple and theft of the menorah. A nine-branched menorah called a Hanukkiyah is lit on Hanukkah to symbolize the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days.

Synonyms: menora
Mensch

Lit. A man (Yiddish)  

Usually connotes a good person who behaves in an ethical way.

Mezuzah

The mezuzah is a small box containing parchment on which are written the words of the Shema (Judaism's most central prayer). It is affixed to the doorpost of a Jewish home in order to fulfill the commandment to "inscribe [the words of God] upon the doorposts of your house and on your gates."

Synonyms: Mezzuzah, Mezuza, Mezzuza
Midrash

A rabbinic method of interpreting text, often through the telling of stories.

Mikveh

The ritual bath. The waters of the mikveh symbolically purify – they are seen as waters of rebirth. A convert immerses in the mikveh as part of conversion. Many Orthodox married women go to the mikveh following their period and before resuming sexual relations. Couples go to the mikveh before being married. Many, including some men, immerse before Yom Kippur; some go every Friday before Shabbat.

Synonyms: Mikve, Mikvah, Mikva
Minchah

The afternoon prayer service.

Synonyms: Mincha, Mincheh, Minkha, Minkhah
Minyan

The group of ten adult Jews needed to read from the Torah and to recite some of the most important communal prayers. In Orthodox communities, a quorum of ten men is traditionally required. Today, most liberal Jewish communities count all Jewish adults as part of a minyan.

Miriam

Miriam is the sister of Miriam and Aaron. As Moses' and Aaron's sister she, according to midrash, prophesies Moses' role and helps secure it by watching over the young baby, seeing to it that Pharaoh's daughter takes him and that the baby is returned to his mother for nursing. During the Israelites' trek through the desert, a magical well given on her behalf travels with the Israelites, providing water, healing, and sustenance. 

Synonyms: Miryam
Mishna

The first layer of Jewish oral law, written down in Palestine around 200 CE. The Mishna consists of six books or sedarim (orders), each of which contains seven to twelve tractates or masechtot (singular masechet). The books are Zeraim (Seeds), Moed (Festival), Nashim (Women), Nezikin (Damages), Kodashim (Holy Things), and Tehorot (Purities).  

Synonyms: Mishnah
Mitzrayim

Lit. Egypt.

Because the Hebrew word for narrow is tzar, Mitzrayim is also understood as "narrowness," as in, the narrow and confining places in life from which one emerges physically and spiritually.

Mitzvah

Lit. Commandment.

It is traditionally held that there are 613 mitzvot (plural) in Judaism, both postive commandments (mandating actions) and negative commandments (prohibiting actions). Mitzvah has also become colloquially assumed to mean the idea of a “good deed." 

Synonyms: mitzvot, mitzva
Mizrach

Lit. East

Jews pray facing east, toward Jerusalem. Some homes and synagogues have a piece of artwork called a "mizrach" with the word mizrach on it, which they hang on the eastern wall to denote the direction of prayer. 

Synonyms: mizrakh
Mizrachi

Lit. Eastern

The adjective describing the origin of Jews of North African or Middle Eastern descent.

Synonyms: mizrakhi
Mohel

Ritual circumciser. The person who performs the brit milah for a baby boy.

Moses

The quintessential Jewish leader who spoke face to face with God, unlike any other prophet, and who freed the people from Egypt, led them through the desert for forty years, and received the Torah on Mt. Sinai. His Hebrew name is Moshe.

Synonyms: Moshe
Motzi(a)

Blessing over bread. When a meal is served with bread the blessing for bread serves as a blessing for the entire meal. One reason for this is because in the Ancient Near East, a real meal, as opposed to a snack, was generally served with bread.

Musaf

The additional prayer service recited on holidays and on Rosh Chodesh, symbolizing the Temple sacrifice offered on those occasions.