Terms (Judaism and Christianity) for Final
Bar Mitzvah – ‘Son of the Commandments’; the title given to a 13 year old boy
when he is initiated into adult ritual responsibilities; some branches of Judaism
also celebrate a Bat Mitzvah for girls. The teenager reads two selections from the
Hebrew Bible: one from the Pentateuch (5 books of Moses which make up the first
section of the bible) and one from the second section called the Prophets. The idea
that adulthood begins at 13 is based on an ancient concept of legal majority that has
nothing to do with attaining adult status in the modern world. The ceremony
signifies the arrival at the age of ritual and moral responsibility where, for example,
they can be called upon to read aloud from the sacred scripture at synagogue
services. It is a rite of passage to maturity.
Minyan – The quorum of ten required for a prayer service in the synagogue.
Septuagint – The Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, made in Alexandria
in Hellenistic times. The Jewish community of Alexandria in Egypt adopted Greek
culture and by the early 3rd century BCE, knowledge of Hebrew had declined to the
point that the Bible had to be translated into Greek. According to legend, the
translation was the product of 70 scholars who, although working independently, by
a miracle produced identical drafts. The edition is therefore called the Septuagint
[Latin for seventy: 70].
Tefillin – small black leather boxes containing words of scripture, tied to the
forehead and forearm by leather thongs. It is worn by men on weekdays and is
intended to fulfill literally the commandment in Deuteronomy 6 to bind the words of
Torah ‘upon the hand and as frontlets between the eyes’. Orthodox Jews use them
regularly as opposed to Reform Jews who have suspended their use almost entirely.
Gemarah – The body of Aramaic commentary attached to the Hebrew text of the
Mishnah (Hebrew summary of the oral law by Rabbi Judah), which together with it
makes up the Talmud. Gemarah is derived from a Hebrew word meaning
‘completion’. One Gemarah comes from the Jewish community in Palestine, the
other from the Jewish community in Babylonia.