Tradition & Innovation

Glossary beginning with S


The person given the honor of holding the child through the brit milah (ritual circumcision). This is the highest honor at a brit and is usually given to a grandfather or uncle or someone very close to the family.


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, and hospitable. 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.


Lit. Order.

The festive meal conducted on Passover night, in a specific order with specific rituals to symbolize aspects of the Exodus from Egypt. It is conducted following the haggadah, a book for this purpose. The mystics of Sefat also created a seder for Tu B'shvat, the new year of the trees.


(Plural of sefirah)In Kabbalah, the multiple faces or attributes of God. There are considered to be ten “attributes” – channels of Divine energy – via which God interacts with creation.

Synonyms: s'firot
(pl of sefirah) In Kabbalah, the 10 “attributes” – channels of Divine energy – via which God interacts with creation.

Services held early in the morning throughout the month of Elul, leading up to Rosh Hashanah, during which Jews begin the process of asking forgiveness for our sins.

Synonyms: s'lichot, slichot

Jews of Spanish descent; sometimes used to describe Jews of North-African and Middle-Eastern descent. The term also describes the customs and practices of these Jews, often in comparison to those of Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews.

Synonyms: Sephardi, S'fardi

Lit. 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.


A Jewish legal contract, such as a get or ketubah.

Synonyms: Shtar

Shabbat is the Sabbath day, the Day of Rest, and is observed from Friday night through Saturday night. Is set aside from the rest of the week both in honor of the fact that God rested on the seventh day after creating the world. On Shabbat, many Jews observe prohibitions from various activities designated as work. Shabbat is traditionally observed with festive meals, wine, challah, prayers, the reading and studying of Torah, conjugal relations, family time, and time with friends.


The morning prayer service. Traditionally, Jews pray three times a day -- morning (shacharit), afternoon (mincha), and evening (ma'ariv).

Synonyms: shaharit

Literally refers to the fallen leaves of deciduous trees; metaphorically refers to sloughing off of sins during the High Holiday period of atonement.

Synonyms: Salekhet

Shavuot is the holiday fifty days after Passover and commemorates when the Israelite liberation from Egypt culminates with the giving of the Torah. Traditionally, Jews study in an all-night study session, eat dairy products (one interpretation is that the Torah is like milk to us), and read both the Ten Commandments and the Book of Ruth.

Synonyms: Shavuos

The feminine name of God, expounded upon in the rabbinic era and then by the Kabbalists in extensive literature on the feminine attributes of the divine. 

Synonyms: Shekhina, Shekhinah, Shechina

Lit. Thirty

The first thirty days after someone dies. 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.

Synonyms: Shloshim

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. It is traditionally said during all major services and when waking and going to sleep.

Shemini Atzeret

The holiday at the end of Sukkot, during which are recited prayers for rain. Rain figures prominently as God's blessing in the arid land of Israel.

Synonyms: Sh'mini Atzeret
Shemoneh Esreh

Lit. Eighteen

A name for the Amidah, the standing, silent prayer which consists of eighteen blessings.

Sheva Berakhot

Seven blessings with which the bride and groom are blessed at their wedding. Also refers to the seven days of celebration following the wedding, during 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.

Synonyms: Sheva Brachot, Sheva Brakhot, Sheva Berakhot

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.


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, covering mirrors, sitting lower than other visitors, and the lighting of a special memorial candle which burns for seven days.

Synonyms: shivah
Shiva Asar b'Tammuz

The Fast of Tammuz, which falls on the 17th day of the Jewish month 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.


A lesson, usually about Talmud.

Synonyms: Shiur

A ram's horn that is blown on the High Holidays to "wake us up" and call Jews to repentance. It is also said that its blast will herald the coming of the messiah.


Synagogue (Yiddish)


Lit. Order of prayers.

The prayer book.

Synonyms: Sidur
Simchat Bat

Lit. "Joy of a daughter"

A contemporary naming ceremony for a new baby girl. Also called Brit Bat, Zeved Habat.

Synonyms: Simchas Bat, Brit Bat
Simchat Chochmah

Lit. "Joy of Wisdom"

A new ceremony, usually celebrated on the occasion of a significant birthday –fifty, sixty or 65. Aspects of the ceremony can include the taking of a new name, songs, words of Torah and prayer.

Simchat Torah

The holiday at the end of Sukkot during 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.

Synonyms: Simchas Torah

A happy occasion. Usually describes a celebration for a life cycle event (birth, wedding, etc.).

Synonyms: Simkha, Simkhah, Simchah, Simchas

According to the Torah, God, in the presence of the Jewish people, gave Moses the Torah on Mount Sinai (Har Sinai).

Synonyms: Har Sinai

A celebration at the conclusion of a unit of study, such as completing a tractate of Mishna or Talmud.

Synonyms: Siyyum

Lit. hut or booth

A temporary hut constructed outdoors for use during Sukkot, the autumn harvest festival. Many Jews observe the mitzvah of living in the Sukkah for the week of Sukkot, including taking their meals and sleeping in the Sukkah.


Lit. Booths or huts

Sukkot is the autumn harvest Festival of Booths, is celebrated starting the 15th of the Jewish month of Tishrei. Jews build booths (sukkot), symbolic of the temporary shelters used by the ancient Israelites when they wandered in the desert. Traditionally, Jews eat and sleep in the sukkah for the duration of the holiday (seven days in Israel and eight outside of Israel). The lulav (palm frond), willow, myrtle, and etrog fruit are also waved together.

Synonyms: Succoth, Succot, Succos

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