Tradition & Innovation

Glossary beginning with K


Lit. Tearing.

An article of clothing is customarily torn by mourners prior to the funeral and worn throughout the week of shiva. Sometimes a black ribbon is used instead of an article of clothing.


The tradition of Jewish mystical interpretation of sacred texts. The foundational kabbalistic text is the Zohar

Synonyms: kabbala, kabala, quabala, kabalah
Kabbalat Shabbat

Lit. Receiving Shabbat

The Friday-night service instituted by the mystics in S'fat in the 16th century. It includes selections from Psalms and the song Lecha Dodi.


The Aramaic memorial prayer for the dead. Mourners recite this prayer at every service, every day, in the presence of a minyan (prayer quorum) over the course of a year (for a parent) or thirty days (for a sibling or offspring). The prayer actually makes no mention of the dead, but rather prays for the sanctification and magnification of God's name.

Synonyms: kadish

Lit. Bride.

Synonyms: Kalla

An atonement ritual done prior to Yom Kippur. Among certain hassidim, a live chicken (who metaphorically has had transferred to it the family's sins) is swung around the head of its owner before being slaughtered . Today, some Jews swing a bag of money in a alternative kapparot ritual and give the money to charity as a sign of atonement.


Jewish dietary laws. There are many specific regulations, but they cluster around three primary ideas: certain food are forbidden (shellfish, pork, etc.); mixing meat and milk is prohibited; animals must be slaughtered in a specific way which minimizes pain to the animal and all blood must be drained from the animal before it can be cooked and eaten.


Lit. Intention

Refers both to one’s intention when performing a mitzvah or when focusing for prayer. Kavanah also refers to specific readings to help focus one's attention prior to performing an act.

Synonyms: kavannah, kavvana, kavana

Honor, as in kavod av v’em, honoring one’s parents, kavod ha’met, respect for the dead, kavod hatorah, the honor of the Torah.


Lit. Holiness

Synonyms: Kedushah

The Jewish wedding contract. Traditionally, the ketubah protected the wife in marriage by spelling out the husband's obligations to her and guaranteeing her a financial settlement in case of divorce. Throughout the ages, ketubot (plural) have been illuminated and calligraphed, becoming significant as Jewish art. Today, all manner of egalitarian ketubot are written. Some dispense with the financial and legal aspects, focusing more on the emotional and spiritual sides of the relationship. Others maintain the rabbis' concern with the practical, but define mutual obligations for each spouse.

Synonyms: Ketuba
The prayer recited over wine on Shabbat, holidays, and other joyous occasions.
Kiddush Ha-Shem

The Jewish concept or commandment to sanctify (make holy) God’s name. 

Synonyms: Kiddush Hashem

The first part of the traditional wedding service in which the groom acquires the bride by giving her a small token, usually a ring, and declaring that she is betrothed to him according to Mosaic law. Today, most non-Orthodox couples have made this ceremony egalitarian, exchanging rings and empowering the bride to speak too. Some, disliking the property aspects of the ceremony, have dispensed with it altogether, substituting a brit shutafut – a partnership covenant.


Lit. Acquisition

In a traditional wedding, the bride is "acquired" by the groom. The kinyan is effected by the giving of a small object, usually a ring. Under traditional Jewish law, a bride cannot acquire a groom -- therefore, this act cannot be made mutual. Liberal Jews have found various ways to work around this dilemma although the Orthodox community, for the most part, does not accept these solutions.

A small cap, traditionally worn by men, symbolizing humility before God. Although women traditionally covered their heads with a scarf or hat as a sign of modesty, today, some women wear kippot as well.
A white robe in which one is buried. Also worn at Passover, on Yom Kippur, and at one's wedding as a symbol of rebirth.
Kol Nidrei

A prayer  recited Yom Kippur evening, widely known for its mournful, haunting melody.

Synonyms: Kol Nidrey

Fit to use or consume under Jewish ritual law. "Kosher" often refers to the food which it is permissible to eat according to Jewish dietary law, but can also mean the suitableness of a Torah scross or mezuzah for proper ritual use. For more on dietary laws, see kashrut.


The Western Wall, which was a retaining wall of the Second Temple, is all that visibly remains of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. It has long been a holy site for Jews. Since 1967, when the Israeli army recaptured the Old City, including the Western Wall, a large plaza has been created where Jews can congregate and pray. The Wall has also been the subject of controversy, including for women from liberal Judaism, who have been successfully barred from reading from the Torah or donning a tallit at the wall.

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