Tradition & Innovation

Glossary beginning with Y


Lit. Hand.

The pointer used when reading the Torah, usually shaped like a tiny hand at its point.


A female character in the Book of Judges who is instrumental in the Israelites' obtaining the victory that Deborah had prophesied. When she encountered the enemy king Sisera, Yael invites him into her tent. She feeds him milk to make him drowsy and, when he fell asleep, she murders him by driving a tent peg through his temple.

Synonyms: Jael, Ya-el

A name for God, as in "halleluyah" – praise God. Some people prefer this name for God as a non-gendered option. 


(Yiddish) The anniversary of a death, usually marked by the lighting of a 24-hour yahrzeit candle and the recitation of Kaddish, the memorial prayer. For U.S. Jews, the unveiling of the headstone usually takes place on or around the first yahrzeit.

Synonyms: yarzeit, yahrtzeit, yartzeit

Yiddish for kippah (Hebrew), the small cap traditionally worn by Jewish men and now also by some women. It is worn to show respect to God. Some cover their heads all the time; some only do so during prayer and Torah study.

Yehi Ratzon

Lit. "May it be Your Will ..."

The opening of many petitionary prayers.

Synonyms: Y'hi Ratzon, Y'hi Ratson, Yehi Ratson

School of traditional Jewish study. Although historically only for men, today there are some yeshivot (plural) that are for women, and there are progressive yeshivot which are coed.

Synonyms: Yeshivah, Yeshivot
Yetzer Hara

Lit. The evil inclination

This aspect of every human being which leads to sin. It is not entirely one sided, however. In the Talmud, the rabbis ask why God created the yetzer hara and conclude that it is necessary so that people propagate and build, as it motivates ambition and sexual desire.

Synonyms: Yetzer Ha-ra, Yetzer Harah, Yetser Hara, Yetser Harah
Yetzer Hatov

Lit. The inclination for good.

That part of human beings which leads us to do good and act righteously in the world.

Yom Hashoah [v'HaGivurah]

Holocaust Memorial Day, also known as Heroes and Martyrs Remembrance Day, commemorated on the 27th of the Jewish month of Nissan.

Yom Ha’atzma'ut

Israel Independence Day, celebrated with parties and parades on the 5th of the Jewish month of Iyar; preceeded by Israel Memorial Day.

Synonyms: Yom Haatzmaut, Yom Ha'atzmaut, Yom H'atzmaut
Yom Kippur – The Day of Atonement

The holiest day of the Jewish year and the culmination of a season of self-reflection. Jews fast, abstain from other worldly pleasures, and gather in prayers that last throughout the day. Following Ne'ilah, the final prayers, during which Jews envision the Gates of Repentance closing, the shofar is sounded in one long blast to conclude the holy day. It is customary to begin building one's sukkah as soon as the day ends.

Synonyms: Yom Kippur, Yom Kipur
Yom Tov

A festival or holiday. Most of the restrictions that apply on Shabbat also apply on a yom tov, with the exception of the prohibitions against cooking and carrying.

Yom Yerushalayim

Lit. Jerusalem Day

This Israeli national holiday commemorates the unification of Jerusalem under Israeli control after the Six Day War in 1967. It is celebrated on the 28th of the Jewish month of Iyar.

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