Glossary beginning with M

Ma'asim Tovim
Good deeds. The traditional prayer for a newborn infant at his or her brit/babynaming concludes, "May s/he grow to Torah, to Chuppah, and to ma'asim tovim."
Machzor
The prayerbook used for the high holidays. Other major holidays also have their own machzor.
Maggid
the telling; that part of the order of the Passover seder for telling of the exodus from Egypt
Mamzer
(Lit., a bastard.) According to Jewish law, a child born of a mother who is married to someone else is a mamzer. A child born out of wedlock is not a mamzer and is, in fact, no different from any other child. The issue of mamzer is a complicating factor in the question of 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 mamzerim.
Maror
Bitter herbs eaten at the Passover seder to recall the slavery in Egypt
Matzah
The unleavened bread eaten on Passover; recalls both our hasty escape from Egypt (hence, there was no time for the dough to rise) and the "bread of our affliction," eaten while we were slaves.
Mazal
Good fortune; luck; Hebrew sign of the Zodiac.
Ma’ariv
The evening prayer service.
Mechitzah
Megillah
Scroll, 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 Shavuoth.)
Menorah
The 7-branched menorah stood in the Temple. Titus' arch depicts the Romans' sacking of the Temple and theft of the menorah. The 9-branched menorah is lit on Hanukkah to symbolize the miracle of the oil that burned for 8 days.
Mensch
(Yiddish) Lit,. a man. Usually connotes a person who behaves in an ethical way.
Mezuzah
The mezuzah, containing the words of the Shema (Judaism's most central prayer affirming Divine unity), is affixed to the doorpost of a Jewish home, reminding us of God's presence as we cross the boundary from public to private space and back again.
Midrash
A rabbinic method of interpreting text, often through the telling of stories.
Mikveh
Married women traditionally go to the mikveh following their period and before resuming sexual relations. The waters of the mikveh symbolically purify – they are seen as waters of rebirth. A convert immerses in the mikveh as part of conversion. * Couples go to the mikveh before being married. *Many, including some men, go to the mikveh before Yom Kippur; some go every Friday before Shabbat.
Milah
See brit milah.
Minchah
The afternoon prayer service.
Minyan
To read from the Torah and to recite some of the most important prayers, a quorum of ten men is traditionally required. Today, most liberal synagogues count all adults as part of a minyan.
Miriam
In recent years, Miriam, more than any other female biblical figure, has become a feminist hero. 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. Ultimately, Miriam, in a unique moment in the Bible, leads the women in song at the sea. Miriam is one of the triumvirate of leaders in the desert, along with Moses and Aaron. A magical well, given on her behalf, travels with the Israelites, providing water, healing, and sustenance throughout the 40 years in the desert. Synonyms: Miryam
Mishna
The first layer of oral law, written down in Palestine around 200 CE.
Mitzrayim
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. Many Reform Jews interpret mitzvah to mean “good deed.” Other Jews object to this interpretation. Many things – eating matzah on Passover, making kiddush on Friday night – are mitzvot but not necessarily good deeds. Such a definition limits Jewish law to ethics and disregards ceremonial law.
Mizrach
East. Jews pray facing east, toward Jerusalem. Some homes and synagogues have a piece of artwork with the word “mizrach” on it, which they hang on the eastern wall to denote the direction of prayer. This object is called a mizrach.
Mizrachi
Jews of North African or Middle Eastern descent.
Mohel
Ritual circumciser. The person who performs the brit milah.
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 40 years, and received the Torah on Mt. Sinai.
Motzi(a)
Blessing over bread. When a meal is served with bread (in the Ancient Near East a real meal, as opposed to a snack, was generally served with brerad), the motzi prayer blessing the bread, serves as a blessing for the entire meal.
Musaf
The additional prayer service recited on holidays and rosh chodesh, symbolizing the Temple sacrifice offered on those occasions.