Rabbi Elizabeth S. Wood

Rabbi Elizabeth S. Wood
Celebrating Havdallah

Friday, September 24, 2010

Independent Minyan vs. Future of Judaism

Over the last several years I've noticed a new trend cropping up throughout the various cities I've lived in - Independent Minyanim. A minyan in traditional Judaism is a quorum of 10 men needed to recite certain Jewish prayers. In more progressive Judaism, 10 men and/or women can be counted to fulfill this obligation.

Independent Minyanim are sort of like an alternative to belonging to a synagogue, temple, or affiliated congregation. While each one looks different and serves different segments of the Jewish population (for various reasons) each one has something in common - by their very definition they are apart from congregational life. Some minyanim meet daily, weekly, monthly, or only a few times a year. Some are organized, participatory, and even have consistent locations for meeting. Others are come-and-go as you please. There may be meals/food associated with these meetings, or these minyanim might even plan and schedule other group outings or events that have nothing to do with prayer.

In my opinion, independent minyanim seem sort of like an offshoot of the chavurah movement that came about during the last half of the 20th sentury where groups within synagogue life were forming smaller groups for various activities - even prayer.

My concern is what impact these independent minyanim are going to have on the future of Judaism in America. As a rabbi, I'm in a tricky situation. Most of my rabbinical school friends and even colleagues often prefer going to or facilitating these minyanim. They claim that no congregation gives them the spiritual sustenance that they need, and so they seek out alternative groups. But, isn't it our job to be creating these kinds of experiences within the congregations that we work in? Others, like laypeople that I know of, don't want to belong to a congregation (cost, not important to belong, don't see value, etc) but still want to be Jewish and pray - and they like the ease of these minyanim.

Tonight I have some friends who are hosting an independent minyan in Queens. I'd like to go check it out - for curiousity's sake. But, I have to work tonight. Tonight we're having our Tot Shabbat, our L'dor V'dor dinner, and a Family service. It's my job, as the rabbi in our congregation, to work with kids at every age to engage, participate and experience the joy of Shabbat. And, to me, that's a huge part of the future of Judaism, as well.

But, as the congregational world grows smaller and smaller and minyanim take more ground, I sense a real shift that's going to change the face of Jewish America and our organizational structure. So I ask you, is this trend going to be healthy for the future of Judaism? Do we embrace it and learn from it, or do reject it and try to refocus our aims and structure within the synagogue? You tell me....


Phyllis Sommer said...

I just finished reading "empowered judaism" by elie kaunfer....i recommend it for more of this discussion....

Batya said...

Is this the modern basement shtebel? Some MO suburban neighborhoods have private minyanim, even with a Sefer Torah, because they can no longer walk so far to shul.