To increase our religious literacy, here are some words commonly heard around the Brandeis campus. Many of the definitions are contested—please use this list to start, rather than end, a conversation!
• Agnostic: An agnostic is a person who believes that the existence of God, gods, or deities cannot be known. Agnostics do not have complete faith or complete disbelief in God, gods, or deities.
• Ash Wednesday: Ash Wednesday is the first day of fasting marking the beginning of Lent in preparation for Easter for Protestants and Catholics. Some observe Ash Wednesday by attending church and are marked with ashes on their forehead to symbolize death and repentance.
• Atheist: An atheist is a person who does not believe in God, gods, or deities.
• Chapel’s Field: Chapel’s Field is a large expanse of land on the center of the Brandeis campus. At the far end of the field, the Jewish (Berlin), Protestant (Harlan), and Catholic (Bethlehem) Chapels are situated around Chapel’s Pond. The three Brandeis chapels are architecturally known because none casts a shadow over the other. Many campus events take place on Chapel’s Field, including the Springfest concerts and Holi celebrations. For more information visit the Sacred Spaces page.
• Christmas/Advent: Christmas, occurring on December 25 annually, is the festival celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, the Christian Messiah. Christmas is the cumulative holiday of the season of Advent, the month celebrating the coming and nativity of Jesus. Christmas is a Brandeis holiday where school is not in session.
• Communion: A common participation in the service of Christian worship at which bread and wine are consecrated and shared, and through which Christians remember the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
• Convocation: The word “convocation” literally means “a calling together of individuals to an assembly.” At Brandeis, Convocation: New Beginnings is a nondenominational ceremony to welcome new students to Brandeis as part of the New Student Orientation in the fall. Convocation brings students and their families together with faculty and staff to celebrate the beginning of their Brandeis journey.
• Dharmic Prayer Space: The Dharmic Prayer Space is located on the third floor of the Shapiro Campus Center. The space serves as a prayer center for students of the Hindu, Jain, and Sikh faiths. It is also appropriate for Buddhist practitioners. The Dharmic Prayer Space can be reserved for religious observance, but when the room is not reserved, it is open to all students.
• Diwali: Diwali is a Hindu festival celebrating light and the symbolism of the victory of good over evil and knowledge over ignorance. Diwali is part of a five-day period of festival celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains. Diwali usually occurs between October and November, but its specific date is determined by the Lunar calendar.
• Easter: Easter is a Christian holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ after he was crucified (see Good Friday). Easter, which occurs on a Sunday, marks the culmination of Lent. Easter is a Brandeis holiday where school is not in session.
• Eid-al-Adha: Eid-al-Adha, or the “Festival of the Sacrifice,” is a Muslim holiday commemorating Ibrahim’s (Abraham) willingness to sacrifice his son to God. Eid-al-Adha is one of the holiest days in the Muslim calendar. Muslims observe Eid-Al-Adha by attending mosque. Eid-al-Adha also marks the culmination of the annual Muslim pilgrimage, or Hajj, to Mecca, the holiest city in Islam and the birthplace of the prophet Muhammad.
• Eid-al-Fitr: Eid-al-Fitr, one of the holiest days in the Muslim calendar, is a festival of breaking the fast of Ramadan. This joyous holiday is celebrated with feasts, prayer, family gatherings, and celebrations. Eid-al-Fitr can last from one to three days.
• Eruv: An eruv is a ritual enclosure, usually a wire, that circles an urban or residential area to symbolically extend the domain of Jewish households to a larger public area. On the Jewish Sabbath, Orthodox Jews are not able to carry heavy objects outside their home. The eruv extends the concept of home, allowing Jews to carry heavy objects outside of their physical house and within their community, as denoted by the eruv. Brandeis has an eruv circling the campus.
• Eucharist: The bread used in the Communion service through which Christians remember Jesus’ sacrifice of his body and life, even unto death. Some Christians believe that the bread used in communion mystically becomes the body of Christ once consecrated.
• Good Friday: Good Friday, occurring during the Holy Week before Easter, is a Christian holiday marking the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Protestants and Catholics often attend church service on Good Friday. Good Friday is a Brandeis holiday where school is not in session.
• Halal: The word “halal” means “permissible” in Arabic and refers to behaviors that are allowed within Muslim law. However, “halal” is more colloquially used to describe foods that are permissible by the Quran, the holy book of Islam. In order to be halal, meat must be slaughtered in a specific, holy method. Pork and alcoholic beverages are not halal and may never be consumed by Muslims, under the rules in the Quran.
• Hanukkah: Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple, and is celebrated over eight days and nights, usually falling in December. Jews celebrate Hanukkah by lighting a Hanukkiah, or menorah.
• Hillel: Hillel is a Jewish campus organization that strives to create a community of Jewish students on college campuses. At Brandeis, Hillel serves as an umbrella organization for many of the Jewish, student-run clubs.
• Holi: Holi is the Hindu Festival of Colors. Celebrated close to the vernal equinox, the two-day Holi festivities include throwing colored powder over participants dressed in white.
• IMES: IMES stands for Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, an interdisciplinary academic program with a curriculum sponsored by the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies in conjunction with faculty from other departments. Students can major or minor in IMES.
• Jum’ah Prayer: The Jum’ah Prayer is a Muslim holy congregational prayer held every Friday after 12 p.m. In Arabic, the word for Friday is Yawm al-Jum’ah in Arabic, meaning the Day of Assembly. The Jum’ah Prayer serves as one of the five daily prayers for Muslims, however, it is different from the other daily prayers because the prayer leader reads a two-part sermon as part of the Jum’ah Prayer. Jum’ah offers a time for communal gathering and personal reflection. Many Muslims take time off from school or work in order to attend this prayer weekly. At Brandeis, the service is held on Fridays in the Muslim Prayer Room in Usdan Student Center.
• High Holy Days: A term often used to describe the holidays falling during the Hebrew month of Tishrei (often overlapping with September and October), the High Holy Days/Holidays include Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Shmini Atzeret/Simchat Torah:
Rosh Hashanah: Rosh Hashanah, or “Head of the Year,” is the Jewish New Year, starting at sunset and continuing for two days. On Rosh Hashanah, Jews attend religious services and celebratory meals. Rosh Hashanah also marks the beginning of the Ten Days of Repentance, which conclude on Yom Kippur. Brandeis does not hold classes during Rosh Hashanah.
Yom Kippur: Following Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur is also known as the Day of Atonement. Jews observe Yom Kippur with a 25 hour fast (this does not include children, or those unable to fast for health/safety reasons) and religious services. Brandeis does not hold classes on Yom Kippur.
Sukkot: Beginning five days after Yom Kippur, Sukkot is named after the huts the Israelites lived in during their exodus from Egypt, which Jews today build to and dwell in to commemorate this time. Sukkot is also a harvest holiday and the beginning of the season of prayers for rain. Important ritual objects on sukkot include the lulav (a bundle of different types of branches) and an etrog (a species of citrus fruit commonly found in the Middle East). Brandeis does not hold classes on the first two days of Sukkot.
Shemini Atzeret: Shemini Atzeret, or “The Eighth Day of Assembly,” is the eighth day of Sukkot and marks the beginning of Simchat Torah. Brandeis does not hold classes on Shmini Atzeret/ the first day of Simchat Torah.
Simchat Torah: Simchat Torah, or “Rejoicing with the Torah,” marks the completion of one Torah reading cycle and the beginning of a new one.
• Khatib: A Muslim person who delivers a sermon as part of Eid or Jum’ah prayers.
• Kosher: Foods that are kosher are acceptable under the Jewish dietary laws of kashrut. Animals whose meat is kosher must chew their cud, have split hooves, and must be slaughtered following specific guidelines. Dairy and meat may not be consumed together. Pork, birds of prey, and shellfish are not kosher and may not be consumed by Jews observing kashrut. The laws of kashrut also include instructions for food preparation, holiday dietary changes, and other food-related regulations. Brandeis offers several kosher dining options, including an entire kosher section of Sherman Dining Hall, Louis’ Deli, and select kosher a la carte options at the Hoot Market Convenience Store. All Kosher dining at Brandeis is under the supervision of KVH Kosher.
• Kippah: Also known as a yarmulke, a Kippah is a skullcap traditionally worn by Jewish men.
• Lent: Lent, the period beginning with Ash Wednesday and culminating with Easter Sunday, symbolizes the forty days Jesus spent fasting in the desert before his crucifiction and subsequent resurrection. Historically, Lent was observed by fasting, but modern Christians observe Lent by giving up a luxury (such as coffee, sugar, watching TV) for forty days to repent, show penance, and represent self-denial.
• Lunar New Year: The Lunar New Year is celebrated by many different cultures and marks the beginning of a year under the Lunar calendar.
• Muslim Prayer Room: The Muslim Prayer Room is located in the basement of Usdan Student Center. Secured via card access, Muslim students are welcome to pray and congregate in this space. Many Muslim students will pray up to five times a day in this space. The Prayer Room also serves as a resource center for Muslim students, housing the Muslim Student Association.
• NEJS: NEJS stands for Near Eastern and Judaic Studies, a multidisciplinary department committed to innovative research and teaching in a broad range of fields including Bible and Ancient Near East, Jewish Studies, Israel Studies, Islamic and Middle East Studies, and Hebrew, Yiddish, Arabic, and other Near Eastern languages. Students can major or minor in NEJS.
• Passover: An eight-day celebration, Passover marks the liberation of the children of Israel from bondage and their subsequent exodus from Egypt. A Passover seder - a meal following a specific ritual order retelling the story of the exodus, and including prayers, songs, and special food - is one of the most commonly observed Jewish practices. In addition to attending seders, many Jews observe Passover by refraining from eating or benefitting from chametz, bread or wheat/grain products, for the duration of the holiday. Brandeis does not hold classes during Passover.
• Peace Room: The Brandeis Peace Room, located in the Chaplaincy wing of Usdan Student Center, is a Brandeis community project providing a network and physical space dedicated to empowering individuals on a path toward nonviolence, peacemaking and dialogue. The center serves as a space where students, faculty and staff can examine issues of peace and justice personally, locally, nationally and globally.
• Purim: Purim commemorates the survival of the Jews of Persia in the 5th Century BCE following a plot that would have annihilated the population. Jews celebrate Purim by reading from the Book of Esther, giving tzedakah or charity, exchanging gifts, and attending festive meals.
• Ramadan: Ramadan is a month of fasting to remember the revealing of the Quran to the prophet Mohammad. One of the five pillars of Islam calls upon Muslims to fast from food and drink between sunrise and sunset during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim calendar. The culmination of Ramadan is celebrated with Eid-al-Fitr.
• Religious Studies: The Religious Studies academic program at Brandeis is designed to deepen each student’s understanding of religion and its manifestations through required interdepartmental exploration: surveying systematic approaches to the field and completing courses in at least two different religious traditions. Students can minor in Religious Studies.
• Rosh Hashanah: Rosh Hashanah, or “Head of the Year,” is the Jewish New Year and one of the High Holy Days in Judaism. It begins the ten-day period known as the Days of Awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. On Rosh Hashanah, Jews attend religious services to begin the repentance period of the Days of Awe, in which Jews believe God can write one’s name in either the Book of Life. Rosh Hashanah is a Brandeis holiday where school is not in session
• Shomer negiah: Directly translated as “observant of touch”, a person who is shomer negiah does not touch members of the opposite sex, outside their immediate family, until marriage. This is a practice taken on by some Orthodox Jews.
• Shabbat: Shabbat is the Jewish day of rest, observed weekly from sunset Friday night through sunset Saturday night. Jews observe Shabbat in different ways, some refrain completely from work, use of technology, or transportation; some attend prayer services and festive meals with family and friends.
• Shemini Atzeret: Shemini Atzeret, or “The Eighth Day of Assembly,” is the eighth day of Sukkot and marks the beginning of Simchat Torah. Shemini Atzeret is a Brandeis holiday where school is not in session.
• Shavuot: Coming 50 days after Passover, Shavuot marks the end of the grain harvest, as well as the anniversary of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Shavuot is also one of the shalosh regalim, the three pilgrimage festivals which include Shavuot, Sukkot, and Passover. Jews celebrate Shavuot by staying up late into the night learning Torah and eating (sweet) dairy foods.
• Simchat Torah: Simchat Torah, or “Rejoicing with the Torah,” is a Jewish holiday where the Torah (holy book of Judaism) readings are completed and a new cycle begins where the Torah is read from the beginning.
Torah: A Torah scroll, written in Hebrew and made by a highly skilled scribe, and is comprised of the Five Books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). Jews read from a Torah scroll in synagogues on Shabbat and holidays.
• Wudu: Wudu, meaning ablution, is the set of ritual washing of parts of the body to prepare for Muslim prayer. Many mosques or Muslim prayer spaces have wudu taps or areas where Muslims can wash before prayer.
• Yom Kippur: Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the second High Holy Day in Judaism. It concludes the Days of Awe period with repentance. Jews observe Yom Kippur by fasting from food and drink for 25 hours and attending synagogue to repent for their sins from the previous year to ask for forgiveness from God before he closes the Book of Life. Yom Kippur is a Brandeis holiday where school is not in session.