Handbook of Judaic Terms

Aron Kodesh (Hebrew “holy ark”): Cabinet or recess in a synagogue wall to keep handwritten scrolls of the Torah. In Eastern Europe, it was arranged as a rule at the eastern wall of the praying room.

Beit midrash, beth hamidrash (Hebrew “house of learning”): Religious educational institution where anyone wishing could study the Talmud and other religious literature in his free hours and on Saturday. It differs from a yeshiva in that it has no principal. As a rule, it was located close to the synagogue.

Beth din: Rabbinical court of law hearing private cases (marriage and divorce) and community-wide matters of theological nature, and guided by Halakha in its activities.

Bimah (Hebrew “platform,” “pulpit”): Fenced platform for reading a scroll of the Torah. In synagogues of Ashkenazi Jews it was generally arranged in the center of the praying room.

Booths: ref. Sukkoth

Chacham (Hebrew “wizard”): In the Biblical period, the term for a scholar and wizard, and later, an expert in the Torah; the notion was similar to the title of rabbi in Sephardic and Oriental communities.

Cheder (Hebrew “room”): Traditional Jewish private elementary religious school for boys, whose course included study of the Torah, comments on the Torah, and some rabbinical texts.

Chevra Kadisha (Hebrew “Holy Brotherhood”): Jewish charitable organization providing burial of the deceased and maintenance of cemeteries; also, common name for traditional Jewish charitable societies.

Chupa: Wedding ceremony, during which the groom and bride are standing under the chupa, a canopy of fabric attached to four poles. The chupa symbolizes the groom’s home into which he brings his bride.

Gacham (Hebrew “chacham”, in the pronunciation of the Crimean Karaites "gacham"): “scholar”, “wizard”.  From 1837, the title was used to denote the chairman of the Taurida and Odessa Karaite Religious Board. In official correspondence, the Gacham was styled as “Head Wizard” and “Head of the Court House.”

Gazzan (Hebrew “hazzan;” “gazzan” as pronounced by Crimean Karaites): Karaite cleric who performed all rites related to Divine Service in Synagogues and Houses of Prayer. Gazzan was an elective position (from 1837); he was paid a salary by the community, and reported to the Gacham.

Halakha: Traditional law, entirety of laws and prescriptions of Judaism contained in the Torah, Talmud, and religious literature.

Hanukkah (Hebrew “consecration”): Feast established in memory of the victory of the Jews led by Maccabee chiefs over Syrian Greek invaders of Judea (164 BC), as a result of which, the Temple in Jerusalem was re-conquered and re-consecrated.

Hanukkiya, Hanukkah menorah: Lampstand for nine candles (one of the candles is singled out and called “shamash,” or servant) to be lit during the eight days of the feast Hanukkah. On each of the feast’s eight days, a next candle is lit on the menorah.

Hasidism: Mystic religious version of Judaism founded by Israel Baal Shem Tov (the Besht) in the middle of the 18th century and widespread in Eastern Europe.

Hazzan or cantor: Man conducting a synagogue service. He was selected from community members, he had to know the liturgy in detail, have a pleasant and strong voice and appropriate appearance, be of immaculate behavior, and be married.

Kahal (Hebrew “kahal,” community): Jewish community in Poland in the 15th – 18th centuries and in the Russian Empire in 1772-1844; also, administration of a community, its supreme body of legislative and executive power representing it both before the superior bodies of the Jewish autonomy and before local and State authorities. K. numbered up to twenty, and in larger communities even more members reelected every year.

Kenesa (from Hebrew “kanas” – to collect, cognate to the word Knesset in the sense of “assembly”): Designation of a house of prayer with Eastern European, Crimean, and Western Karaites.

Kinesoi Gumbaz: Dome Synagogue of  Bukharian Jews.

Klezmers (Hebrew “musical instrument”): Jewish folk musicians who played in local or travelling ensembles at weddings, festive open-air parties, fairs.

Kloyz: Small house of prayer assembling parishioners by trade or by branch of Judaism. Often, it occupied an ordinary house.

Levites: Men of the lineage of Levi, one of the 12 Tribes of Israel. Levites servants in the Temple: cantors, musicians, guards etc.

Mahallai Yahudien: Jewish quarter in Samarkand.

Melamed: Teacher in a cheder.

Mikvah, mikveh (Hebrew “a collection”): Bath for ritual immersions, after which a person or object become pure. The mikvah is filled with a certain quantity of rainwater or water from a natural source, after which, water without defining its source and method of supply may be added. Purification by immersion in the mikvah is prescribed to men and women to observe purity of family life, during conversion of non-Hebrews to Judaism, for spiritual exaltation on the eve of certain events: before prayer, Sabbath, feasts etc.

Minyan (Hebrew “count”): Quorum of 10 men of legal age necessary for a public divine service and several other religious ceremonies.

Mizrah (Hebrew “east”): Conditional name of the direction toward the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, to be faced by the worshipper during a prayer. The same name is given to the synagogue wall facing Jerusalem, and the decorative plaque, pictured or cut out of paper, marking the eastern wall in homes.

Pale of Settlement: Territory in the Russian Empire that included 15 western and southwestern provinces, outside which free residence of Jews, except for a few categories, was forbidden. It was established in the late 19th century and abolished during the World War I.

Parochet: Curtain in a synagogue separating the box for keeping the Torah scrolls (Aron kodesh) from the rest of the synagogue. Parochets were made from velvet, silk, or sateen, and decorated with appliqué patterns and embroidery.

Payot (peies as pronounced by the Ashkenazim): In everyday speech, this term denotes the edge of hair growing on the temples. Long side-locks have become a distinctive feature of religious Jews from some communities.

Pinkas:  Register book of Jewish communities, various societies and brotherhoods, where meeting minutes were entered, lists of officials, communities’ internal taxes, and events related to the life and history of a community or brotherhood.

Rabbi: Title conferred after completion of Jewish religious higher education in a yeshiva, and entitling to head a community and be a member of a rabbinical court of law.

Rabbinical court of law: ref. Beth din.

Shamash (Hebrew “caretaker;” “shames” in Yiddish): Assistant in a synagogue in charge of administrative, maintenance and supply duties.

Shtetl (Polish “miasteczko,” small town; Yiddish “shtetl”): Settlement, small town in Eastern Europe, usually with a marketplace, around which the economic life of the Jews making a large part of the shtetl population was concentrated. Associated with the notion of shtetl is the idea of a peculiar nature of the outlook, culture, and everyday life of the traditional Eastern European Jewry.

Sukkoth (Hebrew “booths,” “huts”): Autumn feast in memory of the booths where the Jews lived in the desert after their exodus from Egypt. For the seven days of the feast, the family moved to a “sukka” through whose roof the sky and the stars can be seen.

Synagogue (Greek “assembly”): After the destruction of the Temple, the main institution of Judaism, a building or space for public sacred service, the center of religious and public life of a Jewish community.

Talith or tales (Yiddish): Jewish praying attire, a rectangular shawl made in a special way, with tzitzit threads attached to its corners. As a rule, it is made from a white wool, cotton or silk fabric with several woven azure, dark blue, black-and-blue, or black stripes. There are two main versions of the Jewish praying shawl: “talith gadol,” i.e. large talith to be put on for prayer, and “talith katan,” small talith (rectangle with tassels on its corners, with an opening for the head and not stitched together), which religious Jews wear under their clothing throughout the day.

Talmud (Hebrew “learning”): Code of Jewish laws completed by the 5th century AD and containing legal and religious norms of Judaism, oral tradition, and information from various subject areas. The Talmud comprises the Mishnah (basic part) and the Gemara (comment on the Mishnah text).

Talmud Torah (Hebrew “Torah study”): Community’s free religious school for boys, primarily for poor ones and orphans.

Tavern: Drinking establishment or inn with the sale of alcoholic beverages.

Tefillin: Small boxes of kosher animal leather painted black, containing fragments of the Torah written on parchment; one of the boxes is tied on the forehead, and the other on the forearm.

The Ninth of Av: Day of national sorrow, mourning, and tragedy with the Jews. On that day, in different historical epochs, two Temples (First and Second) were destroyed, and great persecutions of the Jews and their murders were committed.

Tichel or Mitpahat: Large kerchief tied in a special way and worn by married orthodox Jewesses.

Torah (Hebrew “Teaching”): Main sacred text of Judaism, Mosaic law, the first five books of the Bible containing the narration about the creation of the world and man, destiny of the Jewish people from the most ancient times, and the code of laws received by the Jews through Divine Revelation.

Tzadik: Righteous man; man living a righteous life. In Hasidic communities, the spiritual leader.

Tzitzit: Threads braided in a special way, to be attached to the corners of a square-shaped garment. Tzitzit are always tied on the corners of a talith.

Tzniut: Modesty in a woman’s dress, conversation, and behavior, and her humility.

Wayside inn: House comprising accommodation rooms, an inn for travelers, and horse stables.

Women’s gallery (Hebrew “ezrat nashim,” women’s area): Space separating women from men during a synagogue service. In Eastern Europe up to the 18th century, the women’s gallery was arranged in an attachment to the synagogue’s building, as a rule from the north, and it had a separate entrance and communicated with the praying room through windows. From the mid-19th century, the gallery was attached to the western side of the synagogue, and later moved to the choir loft in the praying room.

Yeshiva (Hebrew “session,” “sitting”): Traditional Jewish higher religious educational institution. Detailed study of Jewish texts, and primarily study of the Talmud, was guided by a respected teacher.

Yom Kippur (literally “day of forgiveness” – Day of Atonement, Judgment Day): The most important fest, the day of fasting, repentance, and absolution, celebrated on the tenth day of the first month (tishrei) of the Jewish calendar.


Handbook of Photographic Processes

Photo Processes of the Late 19th and Early 20th Century in the Jewish Culture Collection of the RME


Photo process is a technique for making prints on photosensitive materials. Various bases comprised in the backing are used for photo materials: metal, glass, paper, and plastic. Photography is widely used in manufacturing and research, for official documents, and for leisure.


Daguerreotype, 1839–1860s

Daguerreotype is an early photo process based on photo sensitivity of silver iodide. The base was a copper plate, to which a thin coat of silver was applied. It was one of the world’s first photo technology used for two decades and superseded in the second half of the 19th century by cheaper and print-friendlier processes. A daguerreotype consists of amalgam formed in the amalgamation of silver with mercury, therefore it was often called “mirror with memory.” When viewed, a daguerreotype may look both like a positive and a negative, which depends on the plate inclination toward the light source.


Salt paper prints, 1840s–1860s

Salt paper is a positive print obtained by visible printing. If we treat paper with sodium chloride solution and then with silver nitrate, and expose it to light through a negative when it is dried up, we will get a positive print. A print on salt paper is single-layer; typical for it is lack of sharp image details and smooth transitions from light to shade. The color gamut varies from pale yellow to brown. Later, when the albumen print technique was invented, the surface of salted prints was sometimes covered with a thin coat of albumen in order to simulate the new trendy technique.


Albumen print, 1850s–1900s

Albumen print is a photo process where albumen obtained from egg-whites is used to retain photo sensitizers on paper. Albumen print has two layers: a paper backing and binder. Such prints were made on thin paper, therefore they, as a rule, were mounted on an overmat (without an overmat, sheets tend twist up due to strong tension from the emulsion side). To add decorative effect, and to protect them against mechanical impacts, the prints were sometimes coated with varnish, gelatin, or collodion.


Collodion prints, 1885s–1930s

The collodion process suggests the use of a viscous liquid obtained by dissolving cellulose nitrate in a mixture of alcohol and ether. A collodion print is a three-layer one and consists of a paper backing, baryta layer, and binder. The moist collodion process was invented first. To make negatives in the most collodion process, glass plates were used, to which a photosensitive layer was applied. With the development of new technologies, the collodion process was transferred from a glass plate to paper. As a rule, collodion prints were toned with gold or platinum, which made them more resistant to yellowing and virtually non-withering. Collodion prints have an exceptional image definition.


Gelatin silver printing with chemical development (DOP). Since 1885

A gelatin silver print is obtained as a result of a process where a monochrome image is developed with chemicals on photo paper coated with photosensitive gelatin emulsion. It is a three-layer print, i.e. a paper backing, baryta layer, and gelatin emulsion. Chronologically, gelatin prints are the last ones of the most common classical print techniques; for protection, and for decorative effect, they were often coated with varnish. Scuff is almost never found on gelatin silver prints.


Handbook of Photo Collections

REM photo collection index has a card format. It contains cards of those collections, photographs from which were included in the catalogue. This card index and other directories have been kept in the library of the Ethnographic Department since the first photographs were deposited there in 1902. They were accompanied by collection (registration) lists indicating the fund creator / photographer, time of shooting/receipt, themc and belonging of the collection to a certain ethnic group. In 1912, a specialized storage was organized in the museum – a photo library. This card index is still being updated in the Department.



Режим работы Музея в праздничные дни

11 и 12 июня с 10.00 до 18.00, касса  до 17.00

We use cookies (cookies with data about past visits to the site) to personalize the services and user experience.
By continuing to browse this site, you agree to the use of cookies and accept the terms.