So you’re new to Judaism, to exploring who you are as a Jew, and you walk into a bar. Ok maybe not. You walk into a Jewish shop or synagogue, and “them religious Jews” are speaking in a foreign language, or so it seems. It’s not easy to feel included when you don’t understand every fifth word. They seem to have an “in-speak”.
Mostly the in-speak comes from Hebrew or Yiddish and I’m sure there’s an exact dictionary meaning for the terms. This is not that. Below is the basic colloquial meaning of “Jewish religious people lingo”, i.e. what people actually mean, not what it’s meant to mean. Obviously, we Jews are spread wide and far so some of this varies in different communities. If you’re ever stuck, I’d highly recommend just asking. I know it can be very intimidating but you’ll be surprised. They’ll actually be happy to help.
If any readers can think of other terms that you ever got stuck with please add in the comments.
Frum – religious/observant Jew. Mostly only religious Jews call each other this.
Emes – truth
Shiur – a Jewish class on whatever topic, can vary with interaction level. Normally a Rabbi will just talk through a topic, but beginner classes tend to be more interactive with questions and answers.
Drasha – the speech the Rabbi gives (or someone else) during the shul (synagogue) service
Chevrusa – a partner that you learn with. Jewish learning is often done in pairs. If you ever go into a Yeshiva (jewish Torah college) you’ll see a large room with all the guys paired up, lots of books around them, screaming at each other. At least thats what it looks like. They’re not screaming at each other really…more with each other. They’re debating. That’s Judaism.
Teshuva – hard to define so succinctly but pretty much used to mean ‘repentance’, though that word sounds way too Christian for my ears. Teshuva is positive. It’s about returning to our innately holy selves. There’s a whole process to do it, but its pretty much to enable us to remove our mistakes from us, to grow from them, and to not do them again.
Shadchan – a matchmaker. Yes, these people still exist!
Sheital – a wig. Observant Jewish women cover their heads, this is one method.
Tichel – a scarf, or the like, another method to cover a woman’s head.
Benching or bench or bencher – “lets bench” or “get the benches” or “are we benching” all refers saying a prayer after you eat a meal, which is defined as having bread within the meal.
Halacha – Jewish law
Chutzpah – Often used when someone is being brash or cheeky. They have “chutzpah” or are “chutzpadik”
Tsoris – Troubles, i.e. someone being heavily sick, has va shalom (God forbid)
Mensch – A good righteous person, normally referring to good moral standards
Here’s a great resources on this, including common greetings and other great basic definitions