Observant Student FAQs

FAQs About Orthodox Life on Campus

Do I need a mezuzah in my room if I'm living with non-Jews?

You should attach a mezuzah without a bracha. You can also pick up a mezuzah at Harvard Hillel.

Is there a minyan I can daven with during the week? What if I'm saying Kaddish?

Starting after Labor Day, the Orthodox minyan at Hillel meets at 7:15 a.m. Monday–Friday (7:00 a.m. when Hallel and Mussaf are said) and 8:30 a.m. on Sundays. Mincha varies in time and can meet at Hillel and/or at the Law School. Men and women are invited to say Kaddish and the Orthodox minyan will go out of its way to accommodate members saying Kaddish.

You can sign up for minyan and check its status here.

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I'd like to lein, how do I arrange to do that?

There is a google sign up sheet for leining. Just add your name!

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What learning options are available?

There are many opportunities to learn at Harvard Hillel. You can explore links at this page.

If you have interest in finding a chevruta, please contact the Orthodox Hillel rabbi. Additionally, all the Harvard Hillel rabbis are available to study one-on-one.

The broader Cambridge community offers exciting shiurim at Harvard Hillel every other Sunday night, to which all students are invited free of charge. You can find out more information about these opportunities here.

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What's the difference between the Orthodox Student Minyan (OSM) and the Orthodox minyan?

OSM is the social group for Orthodox undergraduates on campus; despite the word "minyan" in its title, it involves no actual prayer. The Orthodox minyan is the prayer/religious space that meets within the Harvard Hillel building for undergrads, grad students, and community members.

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How can I keep updated on events and happenings?

There are several mailing lists and Facebook groups you can join:

OSM-open (the OSM forum): https://lists.hcs.harvard.edu/mailman/listinfo/osm-open

Hillel-undergrad (the Hillel forum): https://lists.hcs.harvard.edu/mailman/listinfo/hillel-undergrad

Harvard Hillel 2018 (the Hillel Facebook group): https://www.facebook.com/groups/653099298096890/

Or-daven (daily minyan announcements): https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/or-daven

Or-minyan (general minyan announcements): https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/or-minyan

Or-minyan-misc (the community forum): https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/or-minyan-misc

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Where can I find a mikvah to tovel dishes?

Most of the year, the Charles River can be used as a mikvah. During the winter and spring, speak with the Orthodox Hillel rabbi before using the Charles to tovel. Additionally, there is a kelim mikvah at the Young Israel of Brookline.

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When are kosher meals served at Harvard Hillel?

A delicious kosher dinner is served Sunday through Thursday during the academic school year from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. and is available to all students on Harvard's undergraduate meal plan. In addition, weekly Friday Shabbat dinners and Saturday Shabbat lunches are also served. (Shabbat lunch is 12:00 to 2:00; check website calendar for Friday Shabbat meal times.)

Where can I find kosher food in the houses?

Every Harvard dining hall has a Kosher Corner, which includes frozen meals, cold cuts, cheeses, tuna fish, etc., as well as a kosher microwave and toaster oven. Make sure to double-check the hechsher on everything in the fridge. The Kosher Corner at Annenberg is always stocked with food, but in other Houses it is only stocked upon request. If you are eating in another dining hall, make sure to inform the dining staff that you will be eating there throughout the year and to keep it stocked.

The combination for all kosher locks is 248, the number of positive commandments in the Torah. It is essential to lock the lock after each use to ensure the kosher status is maintained.. It is recommended that you kasher the microwave and toaster oven before using them. Some of the cold, packaged food (such as cereal, peanut butter, bread, etc.) in the non-kosher areas of the dining halls is also kosher, as are many of the raw vegetables in the salad bar (the lettuce is triple-washed). Ask the dining staff to see the original packaging to check for certification. (There are enough people who ask for other dietary purposes that they normally don't look at you funny if you ask.)

How can I eat in Annenberg?

There's a kosher microwave, toaster oven, and fridge in the far left corner of the serving area. It is recommended to kasher both before using them for the first time, and to lock them (the combination for the lock, and for every other kosher lock in other dining halls, is 248). Make sure to double-check the hechscher on everything in the fridge, as the Annenberg staff has been known to confuse the word "halal" with "Hillel" and trademark symbols with hechscherim. You can ask David Seley, the Annenberg coordinator, to stock whatever kosher items you want.

Are there any lunch options at Harvard Hillel?

Yes. Flyby is a bagged lunch made by Hillel (includes a sandwich of your choice, bag of chips, fruit, beverage, and dessert) that you can order the night before you want it (at dinner at Hillel, the check-in person will have order forms). You can pick up your bagged lunch from Hillel or Annenberg. Practically speaking, there's usually a lot of food left over from events during the week that can be eaten for lunch, or kosher lunch events at Hillel.

Are there any kosher restaurants in the area?

The only kosher establishment in Harvard Square is the ice cream store, JP Licks, which also has oatmeal and a limited supply of bagels and croissants. Everything in JP Licks is certified kosher by the Vaad of New England (KVH). There are also plenty of CVS's, supermarkets, and convenience stores in Harvard Square and Cambridge where you can buy kosher products. Brookline, which is about a half-hour bus ride or 45-minute walk, has a number of kosher restaurants.

Shabbat and Yom Tov

What meals are available on Yom Tov and Chol HaMoed?

During Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot (including Chol HaMoed), Shemini Atzeret, Simchat Torah, and Passover (including Chol HaMoed), the Hillel dining hall is open daily for lunch from 12:00 to 2:00 p.m.

How can I light Shabbat and Yom Tov candles?

Hillel provides tea lights and matches before Shabbat and Yom Tov. For the second day of Yom Tov, the kitchen staff is used to students coming in to get fire from the pilot light. It is against Harvard rules to light candles in your room. This is a serious safety concern and violation of this policy would also be damaging to the reputation of the Jewish community on campus.

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Is my ID card muktzah?

There are different opinions on this question. Ask the Orthodox Hillel rabbi or your own personal rabbi for guidance.

If I don't use my ID card on Shabbat, how do I get into my dorm and other buildings?

If you live in Thayer, Matthews, Hurlbut, or any upperclass House, you can ask for a manual entry key for Shabbat. If you don't have a key or want to get into a dorm or House that isn't yours, you just have to hang around the entrance and wait for someone to go in or out.

Some of the doors with manual locks have a small light which is activated when the door is open. Is this a problem on Shabbat?

If there is no other entrance available, it is halachically permissible to use such a door. For an explanation of this halachic ruling, please consult the Orthodox Hillel rabbi.

There are automatic lights in the hallway or bathroom of my dorm/House. Is this a halachic problem on Shabbat?

This depends on the specific situation. Please consult the Orthodox Hillel rabbi for guidance.

Is there an eruv?

Yes, there's an eruv that covers basically anywhere you want to go on Shabbat, except for crossing the Charles (to Brookline and Brighton). For more info, see www.nceruv.org.

Aside from dinner and lunch, is there other food available at Hillel over Shabbat?

The Orthodox minyan at Hillel provides a kiddush after Shacharit. Seudat Shlishit is held by the Orthodox minyan at Hillel between Mincha and Maariv, and on motzai Shabbat, Hillel provides a catered dinner for undergrads.

How should I dress on Shabbat?

However you feel comfortable.

Can I have non-Harvard people over for Shabbat?

Totally! Visiting prefrosh can get their Shabbat meals for free at Hillel. Speak with a member of the Hillel staff. Otherwise, guests have to pay for meals at Hillel. Chabad is free for everyone. Nobody in your dorm will mind a guest, especially a prefrosh.

How do I navigate classes and obligations during Yom Tov?

Everyone at Harvard will be extremely accommodating if you ask for help. Notify your professors and TFs at the beginning of the semester exactly which classes you will be missing. If there are problem sets or papers due on or around a Yom Tov, discuss your options with your professor and TFs as early as possible. Don’t approach a professor with a sense of entitlement; explain your situation and express that you will do all that is necessary to keep up with coursework.

Campus Living

Are my roommates going to judge me for being observant?

People come from so many different backgrounds and cultures that most students don't question others' traditions much. You might want to explain sometimes—after all, imagine how confusing it might be to walk in on your roommate whispering in a different language while wearing leather boxes on his head—but as a general rule, people are pretty accommodating and nice.

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Will people on campus judge me for wearing a yarmulke, dressing modestly, or otherwise dressing in an overtly Jewish manner?

No. You should feel comfortable wearing your Jewish garb with pride. People, in general, really don't care how you dress or what you do. They might ask questions about it, but usually out of curiosity.

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