Judaism For Dummies, 2nd Edition
Book image
Explore Book Buy On Amazon
Understanding Judaism begins with looking at significant historical events that shaped the Jewish culture and learning the Hebrew alphabet, Jewish blessings, and Jewish words and phrases.

Getting to know the Hebrew Alphabet

Getting a grasp on recognizing and pronouncing Hebrew words begins with the alphabet. Get to know the Hebrew alphabet — the names of the letters and how to say them.


A brief time-line of Jewish history

Understanding Judaism begins by checking out the historical events that have shaped the Jewish culture. Here’s a brief time-line of major events in Jewish history.

Date Event
c. 1800 BCE Abraham and Sarah begin the Journey to Judaism
c. 1250 BCE Moses leads Hebrews out of Egyptian bondage
c. 1000 BCE King David unites and grows the Kingdom
c. 950 BCE King Solomon builds First Temple in Jerusalem
722 BCE Assyrians destroy Northern Israelite Kingdom, disperse ten
586 BCE Babylonians overthrow Southern Kingdom, destroy first Temple,
take Judeans to Babylonia
428 BCE Second Temple dedicated by Ezra and Nehemiah
164 BCE Hasmonean revolt against Greek rule (celebrated by
70 Second Temple destroyed by Romans
135 Bar Kochba rebellion
c. 200 Mishnah codified
c. 500 Babylonian Talmud codified
1492 Jews expelled from Spain
1880 Mass emigrations to America begin
1938 Kristallnakht begins Holocaust
1948 State of Israel declared
1972 First American woman rabbi ordained

Celebrate with basic Jewish blessings

Jewish blessings are reminders to appreciate and celebrate the goodness in the ordinary, and special, moments in life. Here are some basic Jewish blessings to know:

Celebrating being present for something new

Barukh Atah Adonai, Eloheynu Melekh ha-olam, sheh-heh-khi-yanu v’key’manu v’hee-gee-anu laz’man ha-zeh.

Blessed are You, Eternal One our God, Universal Ruling Presence, Who keeps us in Life always, Who supports the unfolding of our uniqueness, and Who brings us to this very moment for blessing.

Blessing over wine or grape juice

Barukh Atah Adonai, Eloheynu Melekh ha-olam, boray p’ree ha-gafen.

Blessed are You, Eternal One our God, Universal Ruling Presence, Who creates the fruit of the vine.

Blessing over bread (beginning a meal)

Barukh Atah Adonai, Eloheynu Melekh ha-olam, ha-motzee lekhem min ha-aretz.

Blessed are You, Eternal One our God, Universal Ruling Presence, Who brings forth bread from the earth.

When lighting candles for a holiday

Barukh Atah Adonai, Eloheynu Melekh ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu l’hadlik ner shel Shabbat (or shel yom tov).

Blessed are You, Eternal One our God, Universal Ruling Presence, Who sanctifies us with mitzvot [paths of holiness] and gives us the mitzvah of kindling Shabbat (or Festival) lights.

Jewish vocabulary: Helpful words and phrases

Learning and using these common Jewish words and phrases will help you through situations like meals and toasts, wishing people well, greetings, and casual conversation.

  • Chutzpah. Brazen arrogance, guts, presumption, or gall. Usually a positive trait.

  • Kippah. That little hat that Jewish men (and sometimes women) wear on their heads. Also called a yarmulke.

  • Kosher. Correct, proper, or okay. Usually refers to food that conforms to the kashrut laws. Opposite is trayf.

  • L’chayim. Literally “To life!” Said like “Cheers!” when drinking a toast.

  • Mazel Tov. Good luck! Usually said at the end of a wedding or when responding to good news.

  • Shalom. Hello, goodbye, or peace.

  • Tikkun olam. The healing of the world; a central theme in Jewish teachings. Can refer to world peace, social justice, or the mystical repair of the universe.

  • Torah. The first five books of the Hebrew Bible, hand-written on a scroll of parchment. Also refers to the Jewish Way, including laws and customs from written and oral law.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Rabbi Ted Falcon, PhD, one of the pioneers of contemporary Jewish and interfaith spirituality, is a writer, teacher, and spiritual counselor in private practice. David Blatner is an award-winning author of 15 books, including Spectrums: Our Mind-Boggling Universe From Infinitesimal to Infinity.

This article can be found in the category: