Glossary of Terms

Alfred Dreyfus

Alfred Dreyfus (1859-1935) was a Jewish French military officer from the region of Alsace imprisoned in 1895 for sharing French military secrets with Germany, then a rival nation with whom France had suffered through the Franco-Prussian War. Though evidence emerged in coming years to show that someone else had committed the crime, the military suppressed this evidence and a scandal erupted that brought out the full ugliness of French anti-Semitism in the late 19th century. The “Dreyfus Affair” split French society between pro- and anti-“Dreyfusards,” and ultimately resulted in Read more about Alfred Dreyfus

Circumcision

The surgical removal of the foreskin covering the head of the penis. In Judaism, this is a ritual practice traditionally undertaken eight days after birth.

Destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE

After the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BCE, the Jews of the Kingdom of Judea went into exile. In 538 BCE during the reign of Cyrus the Great, the Jews returned to Jerusalem and were able to build the Second Temple on the site of the original one that had been destroyed. Secular accounts place the completion of the Second Temple in approximately 516 BCE but some Jewish sources date the completion much later in 350 BCE. Herod the Great rebuilt the Temple in 20-18 BCE. The Jews led a revolt and occupied Jerusalem in 66 CE initiating the first Roman- Read more about Destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE

Gentile

A term referencing one who is not Jewish. 

Jew

Historically, the term derives from the last Israelite tribe of Judah and is applied to descendants of that tribe following the Babylonian exile in 587 BCE. More inclusively, a Jew is a descendent of the Biblical figures Abraham and Sarah and one who identifies as Jewish. Jesus was born and lived his entire life as a Jew. Some of his followers eventually established a distinct religious identity as Christians several years after his death. 

Judaism in Brazil

Brazil’s Jewish community is the oldest in the Americas, with the first American synagogue founded in Recife in 1636 during the brief period of religiously tolerant pre-Portuguese Dutch rule. Brazil’s earliest Jews arrived in the 16th century, conversos or “hidden Jews” fleeing the Portuguese Catholic Inquisition. They ran thriving businesses, importing and exporting goods, including slaves. Upon the assertion of Portuguese Catholic power, this original community fled to the West Indies, New Amsterdam (now New York), and to Europe. A second wave of migration occurred Read more about Judaism in Brazil

Judaism in Egypt

Contributed by Ben Marcus, Harvard Divinity School

Jews have lived in Egypt since the Hellenistic period and over that long history have seen various periods of growth and decline determined in large part by bouts of tolerance and persecution. In the era following the conquest of Alexander the Great in the fourth century BCE; between the Arab conquest in 640 CE and the rise of the Mamluk rulers in 1301; following their expulsion from Spain and subsequent resettlement in Egypt in 1492 and the Napoleonic conquest in 1798; and then again from the start of British rule in the 1880s Read more about Judaism in Egypt

Judaism in France

France has the largest Jewish population in Western Europe, at between 500,000 and 600,000 members. France also has a large population of Sephardic or Arab Jews, a result of a massive influx of Algerian Jews—who had been granted full French citizenship during the French colonization of Algeria—and substantial communities of other North Africans from Morocco and Egypt.

The Jewish community has been a small but important part of French society since prior to the French Revolution. Jews, seeking greater political Read more about Judaism in France

Judaism in Myanmar

Burma was once home to a thriving Jewish diaspora community, which at one point numbered over two thousand, and which was part of a much larger regional community stretching from India to China. The integration of Burma into the British Empire meant that it was governed by a common international law, the Pax Britannica, which facilitated regulated trade between members of the tightly knit and widespread Jewish community linked by family, language, and faith.

The Musmeah Yeshua, Rangoon’s synagogue built in 1893, was the center of Jewish life in Myanmar until the mid-century. Read more about Judaism in Myanmar

Judaism in Nigeria

Roughly 3,000 Nigerian Igbos practice Rabbinic Judaism, and there are around twenty Nigerian synagogues. Long referred to as the “Jews of Nigeria” (though for their flexibility and business acumen), many in the wider Igbo tribe identify themselves as descendants of a Lost Tribe of Israel, one of ten tribes that constituted the Kingdom of Israel that scattered following the Kingdom’s destruction at the hands of Assyrians in 721 BCE.

Read more about Judaism in Nigeria

Judaism in Qatar

Judaism is an officially recognized religion by the state of Qatar, though no data is available on the size of Qatar’s Jewish non-citizen population. While the government officially protects the three Abrahamic faiths, for example, by issuing fines for derogatory speech, it has yet to punish newspapers and other publications in Qatar that run offensive images referring to Jews or to Israel. No reports of religious discrimination, either from the government or Qatari populace, were recorded in 2011 and 2012.

In 2005, Jewish leaders attended the Third Annual Interfaith Forum for the Read more about Judaism in Qatar

Judaism in Syria

Syria has had well-established Jewish communities since at least the Roman period. These have included a community of Arab Jews, referred to as Musta’arabi or Mizrahi, from the Roman period, Sephardic Jews who settled in Syria following their forced migration from Spain in 1492, and Jewish merchants from Europe. The largest centers of Jewish life were in Aleppo, Damascus, and in the largely Kurdish town of Qamishli. The Aleppo Codex, the oldest manuscript of the Bible completed in in the year 920, was housed in Aleppo from the 15th century until 1947. A portion of the codex Read more about Judaism in Syria

Judaism in Turkey

There are estimated to be around 20,000 Jews in Turkey today, concentrated in Istanbul and Izmir. Judaism was present in the Ottoman Empire at its earliest foundations in the 14th century, particularly among the Greek-speaking Romaniots, who were descended from Jews living under the Byzantine Empire in Greece and Anatolia that had been unable to freely practice Judaism and so welcomed the Ottomans, and Jewish communities existed throughout the Levant, taken by the Ottomans in 1516. European Jews arrived during the 14th century, drawn by Ottoman policies that permitted Jewish and Christian Read more about Judaism in Turkey

Passover

A Jewish festival commemorating the exodus from Egypt and the end of Jewish enslavement by the Egyptians. In the Exodus account in the Hebrew Bible (Exodus 12), the Angel of Death “passed over” the Hebrews in the last of the great plagues.  

Prophet

A Hebrew word meaning “called by God”. There are several prophets in the Hebrew Bible who are interpreted by most Jews, Christians, and Muslims as speaking the word of God to the people. Examples include Abraham, Moses, and David.

Sabbath

“Repose” in Hebrew. In Judaism, the Sabbath is the last day of the week (beginning Friday at sundown until Saturday at sundown) and traditionally observed as a day to refrain from work while focusing on prayer, study, and family. For Christians, the Sabbath marks the first day of the week (Sunday) and is also traditionally observed as a time for prayer and spiritual renewal. 

Shavu’ot

A Jewish festival commemorating the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai.

The Crémieux Decree

The Crémieux Decree was passed in Algeria in October 1870 granting French citizenship to Algerian Jews but not to Muslims, effectively dividing indigenous Algerians with a potent political wedge. The Decree transformed the structure of the Algerian Jewish community, which had prior been autonomous and self-governed by Jewish religious law. As French citizens, Algerian Jews were subject to secular French laws, which prompted some dissent among the Jewish community. French colonists and colonial leaders in Algeria did not themselves accept the Jews as fellow citizens, and expressed a Read more about The Crémieux Decree