Glossary beginning with S

Sandek
The person given the honor of holding the child through the brit milah. This is the highest honor at a brit and is usually given to a grandfather or uncle or someone very close to the family.
Sarah
The first matriarch, wife of Abraham, and mother of Isaac, whom she birthed at the age of 90. Sarah, in rabbinic tradition, is considered holy, beautiful, hospitable, a prophet, and a covenantal partner to God, like Abraham. Many prayers, particularly the amidah (the central silent prayer), refer to God as Magen Avraham – protector of Abraham. Many Jews now add: pokehd or ezrat Sarah – guardian or helper of Sarah.
Seder
Lit., order. Seder is the festive meal, conducted in a specific order and replete with symbols for Passover night. The mystics of Sefat also created a seder for Tu B'shvat, the new year of the trees.
Sefirot
In Kabbalah, the multiple faces or attributes of God.
Sefirot
(pl of sefirah) In Kabbalah, the 10 “attributes” – channels of Divine energy – via which God interacts with creation.
Selichot
Services held early in the morning throughout the month of Elul, leading up to Rosh Hashana, in which we begin the process of asking forgiveness for our sins.
Sephardic
Jews of Spanish descent; also used to describe Jews of North-African and Middle-Eastern descent.
Seudah
Lit., a meal. Seudah Shlishit is the third meal on Shabbat. A seudat mitzvah is a meal associated with a mitzvah, like a wedding feast or a party at a brit milah. On Purim, a special seudah is held in the afternoon.
Sh'tar
A legal contract, like a get or ketubah.
Shabbat
Shabbat, the 7th day, the Day of Rest, is set aside from the rest of the week both in honor of the fact that God rested on the 7th day after creating the world, and that, as people freed from slavery, we are not slaves to our work, nor can we enslave others. Shabbat is observed with festive meals, wine, challah, prayers, the reading and studying of the Torah, conjugal relations, family time, and time with friends.
Shacharit
The morning prayer service. Traditionally, Jews pray three times a day -- morning (shacharit), afternoon (mincha), and evening (ma'ariv).
Shalechet
Literally refers to the fallen leaves of deciduous trees; metaphorically refers to sloughing off of sins during the High-Holiday Period of Atonement.
Shavuot
Pentecost, the holiday 50 days after Passover on which the Israelite liberation from Egypt is completed with the giving of the Torah. Traditionally, Jews study in an all-night study session, eat dairy products (one interpretation being because the Torah is like milk to us), and read both the Ten Commandments and the Book of Ruth.
Shechinah
Sheloshim
30. The first 30 days after someone dies are called sheloshim. This is an intermediate stage of mourning -- less intense than then initial week of shiva, but more intense than the remainder of the first year. It is customary not to shave or cut one's hair and not to attend social gatherings, parties, concerts etc during this time.
Shema
The most central prayer in Jewish liturgy, the Shema states: "Hear O Israel, the Lord Our God, the Lord is One." These words are written inside mezuzot and t'fillin. Throughout history, Jews have gone to their deaths with these final words of faith on their lips.
Shemini Atzeret
Holiday at the end of Sukkot on which we pray for rain. Rain figures prominently as God's blessing in the arid land of Israel.
Shemoneh Esreh
Lit., 18. A name for the Amidah, the standing, silent prayer which consists of 18 blessings.
Sheva Berachot
Seven blessings with which the bride and groom are blessed at their wedding. Also refers to the 7 days of celebration following the wedding in which the seven blessings are recited at every meal at which there is a minyan of ten Jews and there is at least one guest who was not present at the wedding.
Shifra
Shifra is one of the two Hebrew midwives mentioned in Exodus 1 who refuses Pharaoh's orders to kill the boy children, instead enabling them to live. She, along with her partner Puah, is instrumental in beginning the process leading to the Exodus. Shifra is often identified as Jochebed, Moses' mother.
Shiva
Seven-day mourning period following the funeral of a first-degree relative, during which time family members remain at home and receive visits of comfort. Other customs include abstinence from bathing and sex, sitting lower than other visitors, and the lighting of a special memorial candle which burns for seven days.
Shiva Asar b'Tammuz
Shiva Asar b'Tammuz or the Fast of Tammuz falls on the 17th day of Tammuz. It was on this date that the walls of Jerusalem were breached, which is believed to be a defining moment in the struggle which eventually led to the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem.
Shi’ur
A lesson, usually in Talmud.
Shofar
The shofar, a ram's horn, was blown on the High Holidays to wake us up and call us to repentance. Its blast will also herald the coming of the messiah.
Shul
(Yiddish) Synagogue.
Siddur
Prayerbook.Lit., the order of prayers.
Simchas
Simchat Bat
Lit. "joy of a daughter" – a contemporary naming ceremony for a new baby girl. Also called Brit Bat, Zeved Habat.
Simchat Chochmah
Lit., "joy of wisdom" – a new ceremony, usually celebrated on the occasion of a significant birthday –50, 60 or 65. Aspects of the ceremony can include the taking of a new name, songs, words of Torah and prayer.
Simchat Torah
Lit., "the joy of Torah" – holiday at the end of Sukkot in which Jews dance with the Torah late into the night. The yearly reading cycle of the Torah is completed, and a new cycle is begun. Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah mark the end of the holiday season. In some congregations, the Torah scroll is unrolled in its entirety, and selected verses are read or sections noted.
Sinai
According to the Torah, God, in the presence of the Jewish people, gave Moses the Torah on Mt. Sinai.
Siyum
A celebration at the conclusion of a unit of study, for instance completing a tractate of mishna or talmud.
Sukkah
Sukkot
Festival of Booths, celebrated starting the 15th of Tishrei. Jews build booths, symbolic of the temporary shelters of the Israelites in the desert. Traditionally, Jews eat and sleep in the sukkah for the duration of the holiday (7 days in Israel and 8 outside of Israel). The lulav (palm frond), willow, myrtle, and etrog are waved together.