Tradition & Innovation

Glossary beginning with P


LIt. Portion or chapter.

The weekly parashah (parashat ha'shavua) is that portion of the Torah read weekly in synagogue. The entire Torah is divided into the number of weeks that occur over the course of a year. It is not not precisely 52 weeks because the Hebrew calendar is lunar, so some weeks have holidays with special readings, and some years are leap years.

Synonyms: Parsha, Parshah, Parashah

The curtain covering the ark (aron kodesh).

Synonyms: Parokhet
Passover (Hebrew: Pesakh)

Passover is a major Jewish holiday that commemorates the Jewish people's liberation from slavery and Exodus from Egypt. Its Hebrew name is Pesakh. Its name derives from the tenth plague, in which God "passed over" the homes of the Jewish firstborn, slaying only the Egyptian firstborn. Passover is celebrated for a week, and many diaspora Jews celebrate for eight days. The holiday begins at home at a seder meal and ritual the first (and sometimes second) night. Jews tell the story of the Exodus using a text called the haggadah, and eat specific food (matzah, maror, haroset, etc).

Synonyms: Passover, Pesach
Pidyon Haben

The ceremony a month after birth, through which a firstborn son is “redeemed” from Temple service. When the Temple stood in Jerusalem, the eldest son of the family was expected to serve in it. If his family did not want to give him for service, he was redeemed monetarily. Today, when there is no Temple, a symbolic gift of coins is given to a Cohen in order to symbolize the child’s “redemption.” Some families now perform this ceremony for firstborn daughters as well.

Synonyms: Pidyon Ha-Ben
Piku'ach Nefesh

Lit. Saving a life.

This is one of the most important of the mitzvot. All laws of Judaism (except the prohibitions against murder, adultery, and idolatry) must be suspended in order to save a life.

Synonyms: Pikuach Nefesh
Pirkei Avot

Lit. Ethics of the Fathers

A tractate of the Mishna filled with pithy sayings of rabbinic sages.


A Jewish liturgical or sacred poem.


An arbiter of Jewish law.

Synonyms: Poseck

Puah, like Shifra, is one of the Hebrew midwives mentioned in Exodus 1 who defies Pharaoh's orders to kill the boy babies. This first act of defiance was instrumental in leading to the Israelite exodus from Egypt. Puah is often identified in the midrash with Miriam, Moses' older sister.

Synonyms: Pu'ah, Pooah

Lit. "Lots."

A carnival holiday celebrated on the 14th of the Jewish month of Adar, commemorating the Jewish victory over the Persians as told in the Book of Esther. Purim is celebrated by reading the megilla (Book of Esther), exchanging gifts, giving money to the poor, and holding a festive meal. At the megilla reading, merrymakers are dressed in costumes, people drink, and noisemakers (graggers) are sounded whenever the villain Haman's name is mentioned.


Charity (tzedakah) box [Yiddish].

Synonyms: pishke, pischke, puschke
P’sak din

Legal judgment.

Synonyms: Pesak Din

The plain or simple meaning of a text; the face value of a text, as opposed to the drash (interpretation) of it.

Synonyms: Pshat
P’sukei d’Zimra

Lit. Verses of song.

The psalms recited in the early part of shacharit (the morning prayer service).

Synonyms: Pesukei DeZimra

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