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.

Break the Fast: The Breaking of the Fast ceremony celebrates the culmination of Yom Kippur.

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, or the Festival of Lights, is a Jewish holiday observed for eight days and nights. Hanukkah celebrates the miracle where, after the Second holy Temple was destroyed in Jerusalem, Maccabee soldiers found one day’s worth of oil, but it burned for eight days and nights. 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 space in Usdan Student Center.

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. Animal meat that is kosher must chew their cud, have split hooves, and must be slaughtered in a specific, holy method. Dairy and meats may not be consumed together. Pork products and birds of prey 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 Rabbi Chayim Zirkind. 

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.

Louis’ Deli: Louis’ Deli is a completely kosher dining deli run through Sodexo dining services at Brandeis. As part of the Brandeis meal plan, students can order kosher sandwiches, soups, and other foods at Louis’. All Kosher dining at Brandeis is under the supervision of Rabbi Chayim Zirkind.

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: Passover is a week-long Jewish holiday remembering when the Jews were freed from slavery in Egypt. Jews observe Passover by excluding leavened bread products from their diet and through special dinner services known as Seders. Passover is a Brandeis holiday where school is not in session.

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 is a celebration recognizing Jews’ triumph over Haman, an evil leader planning to murder the Jewish population. Jews celebrate Purim through reading the story of Haman, drinking wine, and wearing costumes.

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: Shomer negiah literally means “observant of touch” in Hebrew. A person who is shomer negiah does not touch members of the opposite sex, outside their immediate family, until marriage. This practice is in accordance with Jewish law and is typically observed by Orthodox Jews. Some students are shomer negiah and the term may be used in conversations at Brandeis.

Shabbat: Shabbat is the Jewish Sabbath, observed weekly from sundown on Friday to sundown of Saturday. Shabbat is a day of rest in which Jews are asked not to work and to spend time in prayer and 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.

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.

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.