Romaniote Memories: A Jewish Journey from Ioannina, Greece to Manhattan: Photographs by Vincent Giordano

Glossary of Terms & Concepts

AkedahHebrew name for the story of the Binding of Isaac (Hebrew: עֲקֵידַת יִצְחַק‎, Akedát Yitzhák) in Genesis 22 in which God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son.  The story is commonly referred to as “The Sacrifice of Isaac,” especially in Christian sources.  The episode is an essential one in Jewish history, and in establishing Jewish identity.  It is the context for the establishment of the Covenant between God and Abraham.  The Akedah is frequently represented in Jewish and Christian art.

apse – In architecture, a semi-circular recess in the wall, or extension form the wall, usually from a basilica.

ark: Commonly used name for Aron Ha Kodesh.

Ark of the Covenant (Aron ha-Birit).

Aron Ha Kodesh (Ark, Ehal): Cabinet in which the Torah scrolls are kept in a synagogue. Originally freestanding against the eastern wall of the synagogue, often placed in a niche or apse. Generally approached by steps and covered with an embroidered curtain.

Ashkenazi: Jewish cultural milieu including Western, Central, and Eastern Europe.

axial plan - In architecture, a plan in which the parts of a building are organized longitudinally, or along a given axis.

balustrade: In architecture, a rail, usually about three feet high, supported by a series of posts (balusters), generally as along the outside edge of a stairway or gallery.

Bet olam: the house of eternity (Eccl. 12:5), cemetery.

bimah (bema): Platform in the synagogue on which the Torah is placed for reading. The platform supporting a table is often of square or polygonal shape, and usually is approached by steps on two sides. A railing used for security and beauty encloses it. The bimah usually is placed on the main (east-west) axis, in the center of the synagogue in Ashkenazi orthodox synagogues, at the east end in Ashkenazi Reform synagogues, and opposite the ark in Romaniote, Sephardi, Italian, and Comtadin rite synagogues. In Ioannina, the bimah is located against the west wall opposite the ehal. In New York, at Kehila Kedosha Janina, it is located near the entrance (south wall), but not underneath the gallery.

column: a pillar used to support an entablature.

Decalogue (Tablets of the Law): Stone tablets given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai on which were inscribed the Ten Commandments. In recent centuries, an artistic representation was frequently featured in the synagogue.

dome: In architecture, a vaulted roof having a circular, polygonal, or elliptical base and a generally hemispherical or semispherical shape.

Ehal (also Heikha) These are names used in Greek tradition for the Holy Ark, or Aron-ha-Kodesh, the cabinet in which the Torah scrolls are kept in a synagogue. Originally freestanding against the eastern wall of the synagogue, often placed in a niche or apse. Generally approached by steps and covered with an embroidered curtain.

Etz Hayim (pl. Azei hayim): Hebrew for "Tree of Life:" the roller for a Torah scroll.

Ezrat nashim: Separate, often raised, women’s section in the synagogue, also called women’s gallery.

halakha (Halaka): the laws, rules and regulations which govern every phase of Jewish life and human relations, not only religious but also domestic, social, and political.

hakafot: The processional throughout the synagogue, led by one holding the Torah scroll, generally prior to reading the Torah.  It takes on special significance on Simchat Torah.

Hazan (also Hazzan, Chazan): trained religious leader who conducts the prayer service in the synagogue; a cantor.

Kehila: Community, congregation.

Keter Torah: Crown of the Torah placed on the top of Torah staves. First mentioned around 1000, the crown was originally used only for special holidays (Rejoicing of law) or occasions (weddings). Most of the earliest surviving crowns are from 18th century. In Italy, these were cylindrical and richly ornamented with shell forms, fruits, blossoms, and scrolled cartouches enclosing traditional symbols. In Germany they were sometimes modeled after royal crowns. The most elaborate Torah crowns come from Eastern Europe, especially from Poland, were used to have double or even triple-tiered constructions. Modern Torah crowns employ traditional forms but generally tend to discard superfluous ornamentation.

matzevah / pl: matzevot: gravestone

mechitzah: divider separating men’s and women’s sections of synagogue, but also sometimes used to refer to the women’s section of the synagogue, as in Ioannina.

me'il: Protective mantle for the Torah scroll.

memorial lamp: Oil lamps, often in bronze, hung in a synagogue and lit in memory of deceased congregant on the anniversary of his or her death.

mikvah (pl: mikvot): (Ritual bath) Facility employing fresh-flowing water, used for monthly cleansing ritual for women, and used for analogous rituals by men. Generally, not used by Jews who follow Reform tendencies. Ritual baths were usually located near or even below the synagogue or community center.

minchah service: afternoon service at synagogue.

minhag (pl: minhagim): Jewish religious customs, different locales follow their own local minhagim or rites.

minyan: Ten adults required for the reciting of prayers limited to community recitation.

parochet (Torah curtain): A curtain hung inside of Holy Ark in Sephardi congregations and in front of the Holy Ark in Ashkenazi synagogues. Often, they are exquisitely embroidered textiles that may carry the names of their donors, their birthplace, the names of their wives and the dates and the occasions of their gifts. Different curtains were used for different specific occasions (wedding, High Holy Days, etc.).

portal: In architecture, an ornamental gateway or door.

portico: In architecture, a covered walk enclosed by columns.

post and lintel - In architecture, the simplest and oldest way of constructing an opening. Two vertical structural members called posts were used to support a horizontal member called a lintel or beam, creating a covered space.

Romaniotes: Greek speaking Jews of the Byzantine Empire and the communities which continue their traditions. In Greece, the Romaniotes preceded the Sephardi communities and the communities co-existed. Over time, through intermarriage of families and joining of communities the traditions of the two groups have often merged.

Rosh Hashanah: The Hebrew: רֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה‎), literally meaning "head [of] the year", indicating Jewish New Year. The Jewish New Year festival is held on the first (and in traditional Judaism, the second) day of Tishri (in September). It is marked by the blowing of the shofar, and begins the ten days of penitence culminating in Yom Kippur.

Sephardi: Ladino-speaking Jews originally from the Iberian Peninsula, who migrated throughout the world, but especially to the Ottoman Empire, after their expulsion from Spain in 1492. (Seferad = Spain).

Shabbat: The Sabbath, which begins at sundown on Friday and continues until nightfall on Saturday (Ashkenazi pronunciation Shabbos)

Shaharit: morning service.

Shavuoth: Pentecost, the first-fruits festival, marking the giving of the Law.

Sefer Torah (pl: Sifrei Torah): The Torah scroll, handwritten text of the Pentateuch or Five Books of Moses, on parchment, following strict procedures

Selichot: The term translates as “forgiveness,” and these prayers emphasis merciful attributes of God.  In many ways, the selichot service prayers mirror those of Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement), the climax of the High Holiday which the selichot services begin. Different traditions in Judaism recite the selichot service at different times, but in every case, worshippers implore God’s forgiveness for personal and communal sins committed in the year just ending.

Sukkah: Leafy hut or "tabernacle" used on Sukkoth

Sukkot: Seven-day Feast of Booths, originally a harvest festival. The celebration takes place at home, in a booth decorated with branches, fruits, and flowers. A booth of this sort may be erected also in a synagogue courtyard or on a synagogue terrace.

Tevah: A reader’s desk. Fomr where the torah scrolls are read. In Romaniote synagogues in Greece a tevah is usually located in forn of the ehal and is used during the week. In some synagogues the bimah is also fitted with a tevah.

tik (tiq): Wood or metal case for the Torah scroll

Torah: Written Law, the Pentateuch. Handwritten on parchment scrolls, it is kept in the synagogue ark. More generally, the term is often used to encompass all Jewish teaching and law.

Torah Crown (Keter Torah) Adornment for the staves of a Torah scroll in the shape of a crown.

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