Aron haKodesh

“Holy Ark”. The Ark is generally placed on the eastern side of the Synagogue, that is on the side towards Jerusalem. It contains the Torah scrolls, with their ornamental dressings.

Atarah or Kéter

It is the crown in silver, rarely in wood, used as an ornament for the Sefer Torah. It symbolizes the regality of the divine law. The oldest atarot (plural of atarah) date to the XVII century. In Piedmont, the majority are in silver with dedications or bible verses embossed or chiseled on the ring base or in another location; they are often embellished with images from Jewish symbolism.



“Son of the commandment”. Upon reaching the age of thirteen, boys are required to keep the laws that all Jewish men must fulfil. From then on they are counted in the minyan, the quorum of adult men necessary for public prayer. This term is also used to indicate the ritual celebration in which for the first time the boy is called up for the public reading of the Torah. The female equivalent is the bat-mitzvah. This ceremony is held when a girl turns twelve years of age and has only become a ritual celebration in recent generations.


“Fragrances”. Fragrant spices used during the ritual separating of Shabbat or other holidays from the rest of the week (Havdalah). According to ancient tradition, the sabbatical soul leaves the body at the end of the Shabbat, its lack is painful to the point of provoking faintness that the aromatic herbs should prevent or alleviate. The most commonly used bessamim holders are shaped like Gothic bell towers, sometimes of Oriental inspiration, and are made of embossed or cast silver, often in filigree.

Bet haKeneset

“Synagogue”. House of gathering, prayer and study. The handwritten Torah scrolls are kept in the Synagogue, in the Aron haKodesh.

Bet haMikdash

The Temple in Jerusalem that was the center of ancient Jewish worship. It was built by King Salomon (in about 1000 BCE), destroyed a first time by the Babylonians in 586 BCE, then rebuilt and destroyed once again in 70 CE by the Romans.



The bread eaten on the Shabbat and holidays; it is covered with a cloth before the blessing is recited. Two braided loaves are served at each festive meal, to commemorate the double portion of manna that fell in the desert on Friday or the day before the holiday.


The Festival of Lights, which commemorates the rededication of the altar in the Temple in Jerusalem after the victory of the Maccabees over Antiochus IV of Syria, in 164 BCE. In the Temple there was only one small bottle of pure oil bearing the seal of the High Priest; according to tradition, it took eight days to prepare the pure oil (obtained from the first drops that emerged from the pressed olives). There was only enough oil for the lamp to burn for one day, yet miraculously it burned for the eight days needed to prepare the new purified oil. The festival is celebrated between the end of November and the end of December, it lasts eight days during which the eight lights of the ritual lamp (hanukkiah) are lit, one more each day.


The lamp with eight branches plus the shamash, the servant light, which must never be the same as the others, but always placed higher or lower, or in an otherwise misaligned position. It is lit during the holiday of Hanukkah.



“Story telling”. The anthology of biblical and post-biblical passages, poetry, psalms and prayer rituals recited at Seder, the Passover ceremony that takes place in a joyous familiar atmosphere and centers around the traditional evening meal. The text includes comments, translations and artistic illustrations.


“Distinction, separation”. This is the name of the brief ceremony, held at nightfall, that marks the end of the Shabbat and other holidays.



“Tradition received”. This name refers to a set of mystical and theosophical teachings, based on audacious interpretations of some chapters in the Bible, that have been passed down through history. Kabbalah flourished in the Middle Ages, especially in Southern France and Spain. An understanding of the mystical philosophy of the Kabbalah requires a certain amount of training and is thus a privilege that few scholars enjoy.


“Suitable”. This term refers to all that which conforms to the traditional laws governing the Jewish way of life. In particular it refers to the strict set of rules regarding the preparation of food and beverages.


Marriage contract written in Aramaic using Hebrew letters given by the groom to the bride on their wedding day, which is then given to the wife’s family for safekeeping. The ketubah, which is often richly decorated, outlines the husband’s obligations and guarantees support for the wife in case of her husband’s death, or payment in the event of divorce.


Literally “sanctification”, “blessing of the wine”. It is the ceremony during which prayers and blessings are recited over a glass of wine to sanctify the Shabbat and holidays. The basis of reciting the kiddush is to differentiate between sacred time, proclaiming its holiness, and profane time.


Small round skullcap traditionally worn by Jews as a sign of respect in the presence of God. Jews always pray with their heads covered for this reason.


“Atonement”. A holy day of fasting and prayer for the forgiveness of individual and collective sins. It falls in autumn and marks the end of the ten-day period of repentance that began at New Year. Jews are not allowed to eat or drink anything from sundown until the first stars appear in the sky the following day.


The Western Wall of the ancient Sanctuary of Jerusalem, mistakenly called the Wailing Wall, is the most sacred location of Judaism, where Jews meet in meditation and prayer and in whose crevices are inserted notes with plans and prayers. Today, the Wall is all that remains of the location of the First and Second Temples, the latter definitively destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE.


Maghen David

“Shield of David”. This is the name of the six-pointed star, or hexagram, formed by two overlapping triangles, also known as the “Star of David”. It has become the symbol of Judaism and of the State of Israel.




“Azzimah”. Flat, unleavened, salt-free bread eaten by Jews during the Passover holiday, when they are not allowed to eat leavened products. Matzah is also known as “the bread of affliction”, meaning the bread eaten by the poor and by slaves. It recalls the slavery of the Jews in Egypt and the hasty nature of their exodus, during which the bread, which they had previously prepared, did not have time to rise.


Literally, a “roll”. It is the name used for the five books of the Hagiography (Ruth, the Song of Songs, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Ester) because they are read from scrolls written separately by the scribes. The Meghillah does not have the same sacredness as the Sefer Torah, which is why it was often illustrated during Medieval times.


“Mantle”. The cover that is wrapped around the Torah. Sephardic Jews, especially in North Africa, traditionally use a large wooden case, called tik, instead.


The traditional seven-branched lamp. Mentioned in the Torah, it was used in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, as depicted in the relief on the Arch of Titus in Rome. Nowadays it is a purely symbolic object that is part of the emblem of the State of Israel.


A case containing a parchment, prepared by a scribe, bearing two paragraphs from the Shemah (Deuteronomy 6, 4-9; 11, 13-21), one of the main Jewish prayers. The mezuzah is affixed on the right side of the doorway to the home. It is arranged slightly diagonally with the top leaning inwards, to bless the home and show that it is protected by God. The mezuzah is the literal fulfilment of the commandment to inscribe the words of Gd on the “doorposts of your house” (Deuteronomy 6, 9). It is not a good-luck charm.


Literally “gathering”, intended as a collection of water. The current usage of mikveh indicates the bath for ritual immersion. The word mikveh is found the first time in Genesis 1, 10: “God called the dry land earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas”.

Milah or Brit Milah

“Circumcision” or “Covenant of Circumcision”. According to Jewish law every male must be circumcised when he is eight days old. This ritual is considered so important it can even be performed on the Shabbat (a holiday subject to special rules, many of which are restrictive). The person who performs the circumcision is called the mohel.


Commandment. The mitzvot (plural of mitzvah) are the 613 commandments that Jews are required to observe.


Ner Tamid

It is the eternal light, hung in the synagogue in front of the sacred cabinet (Aron haKodesh) containing the Sefer Torah. In the past, it was fuelled by olive oil in compliance with that stipulated in the Bible (Exodus 27, 20-21), but today is commonly transformed into an electric light. It symbolically recalls the function of the ancient, seven-armed candelabra (Menorah) that burned perpetually in the Temple of Jerusalem, reason for which it was originally positioned in a niche in the western wall of the synagogue, in the same position of the Menorah in the Temple.



The ornamental curtain, usually made of a rich material, placed in front of the Aron haKodesh.


Jewish Passover. One of the three pilgrim festivals that falls in spring and commemorates the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt and their liberation from bondage. The festival lasts seven days (eight days for Diaspora Jews) during which time Jews must not keep or eat any leavened products. Unleavened bread (matzah) is eaten instead of normal bread. The first two evenings, the Seder, the ritual dinner where the Haggadah is read, which tells the story of the exit of the Jews from Egypt, is celebrated.


“Lots”. The festival of Purim commemorates the time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved from persecution thanks to the intervention of Queen Esther. It is a joyous occasion, on which Jews exchange gifts, give charity to the poor and dress up in costumes. The Megillah of Esther is read at the synagogue.



Literally “pomegranate” (rimmonim, plural), but in this sense meaning terminal or tip. It is an ornament for the Sefer Torah that makes up the top part; it is attached to the top of the rods that hold the scroll itself. It can have different forms according to its provenance, often inspired by the pomegranate, giving it the name “rimmón”. It generally has an architectural shape, with the design reproducing lavishly decorated cones or imaginative, multi-floored buildings. There are often small bells hung on small chains.

Rosh haShanah

“Jewish New Year”. It is celebrated in autumn, at the beginning of the month of Tishri. The celebration of Rosh haShanah is characterized by the blowing of the shofar, a ram’s horn. The tradition recalls both the creation of the world and the day of judgement of every creature.



“Order”. The name refers to the order of the ritual sand of the meal on the evening of Passover, during which Jews tell stories and comment on the Exodus from Egypt and the values of freedom, recite blessings, prayers, psalms and sing special songs.

Sefer Torah

“Book of the Law”. This is the name of the parchment scroll that contains the first five books of the Bible, or Pentateuch (Torah). It must be hand-written by an adult male Jewish scribe, on parchment produced from the hide of a kosher animal, using a special ink and quill pen and following the established Mesoretic rules. It is kept in the Aron HaKodesh, wrapped in the meil, the mantle that, according to the Sephardic tradition, could be replaced by a wooden case (tik). It is adorned with the crown (atarah or keter) to symbolise the sovereignty of the divine law and finials (rimmonim).


Literally “ceasing from work”. According to Jewish tradition, Shabbat has a clear connection with the creation of the universe. On the seventh day God rested from the work of creation and for this reason Jews also refrain from any productive activity on this day. The commandment to observe and remember the Shabbat is expressly mentioned in the Torah, which frequently presents Shabbat as an eternal sign of the pact between the Lord and the people of Israel. On this day, Jews suspend any habitual activity and consecrate the day to the Lord. Shabbat begins at sunset on Friday evening and ends the following evening with the appearance of the first stars in the sky.


Literally “almighty”. It is a divine name, not an attribute, by which God is called in some passages in the Bible. The object is an ornament that may be placed at the bedside, in the car, on a gondola or anywhere else, as a reminder of God. It is frequently hollow so that it can house a small parchment with verses from the Bible.


“Weeks”. One of the three pilgrim festivals that falls fifty days (“Pentecost”) after the first day of the Jewish Passover. It celebrates the giving of the Torah, the receiving of the ten Commandments and the grain harvest.


“Hear”. This is the best known of Jewish prayer. It starts with the words “Hear, O Israel, The Lord is our God. The Lord is one”. This prayer consists of three passages from the Torah. It is recited in the morning, in the evening and before going to bed at night.


Literally meaning a “devastating storm”. The term is used in the Torah, for example, in Isaiah 47, 11, to indicate the extermination of the Jewish people during the Second World War. It is preferred compared to the word “Holocaust” since it does not recall, like the latter, the idea of an inevitable sacrifice.


An ancient instrument made from a hollowed-out ram’s horn, to commemorate the ram that Abraham sacrificed instead of his son Isaac. The shofar is sounded a total of one hundred times during Rosh haShanah prayer services. It is also blown, though with fewer sounds, to mark the end of Kippur and to remind Jews of their commitment to God. In Israel it is also used for other solemn civic celebrations.


During Sukkot (festival of Tabernacles) Jews move from their houses into a sukkah (plural sukkot), a temporary hut or booth with a flimsy roof of branches or leaves, through which those inside can see the sky. People eat in the sukkah, and more orthodox Jews also sleep there. The sukkah is a reminder of the fragile huts in which the Jewish people dwelt while wandering in the desert during the Exodus. God protected them against the elements and this reminds Jews that it is not the bricks or mortar of their houses that provide protection, but God himself. To celebrate the holiday, the branches of four plants are shaken together: palm (lulav), citron (etrog), myrtle (hadas) and willow (aravah) are shaken together in the directions of the four cardinal points, as well as upwards and downwards, accompanied by hymns and psalms in thanks to God, whose divinity makes all things possible.



“Shawl”. In Italian-Hebrew this name is pronounced talled. A square or rectangular shawl with four fringes (tzitzit) attached to its four corners, worn by men during morning prayers and on certain holidays. The tallit is usually made of wool, silk or cotton, with blue, black or purple stripes as a reminder of the cord of blue that was once part of the fringes. The tradition of wearing the tallit is to fulfil a Biblical commandment: “They shall make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments… to remember all the commandments of the Lord, so as to do them”.


A rich compendium of rabbinical works, formed by the Mishnah and the Gemara. Compiled in the early Middle Ages, it consists of two versions, the Babylonian Talmud and the Palestinian (or Jerusalem) Talmud. The contents are an alternating mixture of Jewish law and homiletic interpretations. Rabbinical training includes an in- depth study of the Talmud. Regarded with irrational hatred by detractors of the work, it has been repeatedly condemned to be burnt.


“Breastplate”. An ornamental silver medallion that is hung from the tips of the Sefer Torah by means of a chain. It consists of the plate and sometimes also the plaque.


“Phylacteries”. Two leather boxes with leather straps. Men bind one of these boxes to their forehead and the other to their left arm during morning prayer on weekdays. Both boxes contain small parchments inscribed with verses from the Torah bearing the commandment.

Tevah or Bimah

“Pulpit”. The platform from which the Torah is read. The Tevah and the Aron HaKodesh are the main structural elements of the synagogue. Tevah is the term used by Sephardic Jews, while Ashkenazic Jews use the word Bimah.


“Teaching”, “Law”. This term specifically refers to the Pentateuch, which consists of the first five books of the Bible. These books are traditionally referred to as the written Torah, to distinguish them from the oral Torah, which consists of the traditions and words of the Masters. The oral Torah was also eventually committed to writing, giving rise to the text of the Mishnah. The five books that make up the Pentateuch are: Bereshit (Genesis), Shemot (Exodus), Vayikra (Leviticus), Bamidbar (Numbers), Devarim (Deuteronomy).



Literally “hand”. It is a pointer, the end of which is shaped like a closed fist with the index finger outstretched. It is used to hold the sign during the reading of the Sèfer Torah, whose handwritten scroll is not to be touched with the bare hand. Always true to a unique pattern, the object differs in decorative choices that express the taste of different times and places. It is mostly made of silver, but the use of other materials such as wood, horn, coral, and ivory is not uncommon.