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December 18, 2008 - Image 38

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2008-12-18

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Wide Worshipping

Independent minyanim
are growing rapidly.


is Frightful

Ben Harris
Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Waltham, Mass.


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are so
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hen Kehillat Hadar met for
its first Shabbat morning
service on Manhattan's
Upper West Side in 2001, about 60
people showed up, some of them spill-
ing into the hallway at the apartment
of Ethan Tucker, one of the minyan's
founders. Three weeks later the number
had ballooned to more than 100.
"It was a wide range of people already
there and I didn't know half of them:'
said Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, another of
Hadar's three founders. "That's when I
actually got a sense that this was big-
ger than just a couple of friends getting
Seven years later, Hadar now attracts
200 worshipers on a typical Shabbat and
has a mailing list of about 2,500. More
significantly, it has been joined by some
55 so-called independent minyanim
across the country.
The Jewish institutional world is
beginning to take notice.
Last week, representatives of dozens
of the minyanim met with academ-
ics and communal professionals at
Brandeis University for the second
independent minyanim conference.
The meeting discussed the manifold
ways these communities pose both a
challenge and an opportunity for estab-
lished Jewish organizations.
"I think ultimately there will be a nec-
essary transformation in what American
Judaism and what the institutions of
American Jewish life look like in the 21st
century:' said conference participant
Felicia Herman, the executive director of
Natan, a foundation that supports several
emergent Jewish communities, including
independent minyanim.
"This is part of that reinvention:'
Herman said. "We're helping to build a
new infrastructure, but we have no idea
what it's going to look like'
Though the minyanim by nature are
independent of the mainstream insti-
tutions of Jewish religious life, their
rapid growth has made them difficult
to ignore. Typically they are lay-led
communities with spirited prayer and
an ability to attract the elusive cohort
of 20- and 30-something Jews that the

organized community has
struggled to engage.
There appears to be wide-
spread agreement that the
At a Nov.10 minyanim conference at Brandeis
minyanim provide an avenue University, participants take a moment for prayer.
of engagement for what soci-
ologists increasingly describe
as a new developmental stage: the post-
dean of the Hebrew College rabbinical
college and pre-marriage period, when
school and a longtime member of a
many young Jews often fall off the com- Boston-area minyan, joked that by exist-
munal radar.
ing communal standards, she probably
Hadar's original Shabbat morn-
would be counted as an unaffiliated Jew.
ing prayer community has spawned
The minyanim also pose significant
Mechon Hadar, an institute creating the
challenges to the rabbinate. Most of
first egalitarian yeshiva in the United
the communities are led by extremely
States to train a corps of leaders for the
knowledgeable lay leaders who conduct
minyanim, which require highly edu-
services and deliver Torah commentar-
cated participants for their rabbi-less
ies, as well as carry out many of the
functions typically performed by rabbis.
And while both Kaunfer and Tucker
Even those minyanim that might want
have recently received major grants from a rabbi may find themselves rubbing up
Jewish foundations, there has been some against institutions that limit the range
hesitation to fund minyanim that cater
of positions their rabbis can assume.
to a population that is highly educated
"Independence is not compatible with
and already relatively well-connected to
the protectionist guild system that has a
Jewish life.
stranglehold on the American rabbinate,
"We felt in the beginning that our
and I would say on rabbinic creativity:'
added value in the field was focusing on said Tucker, the Hadar co-founder.
unaffiliated Jews:' Herman said. "That's
Though Tucker, speaking in a session
changing over time and we've become
on minyanim and rabbinic authority,
much more willing to consider organi-
argued for changes to rabbinic roles and
zations that are developing Jewish lead-
training, he and several others at the con-
ers and that are just giving all kinds of
ference agreed that no long-term minyan
Jews creative new expressions for their
model was viable without some rabbinic
Jewish identity"
In this respect, as in many others, the
minyanim have looked for inspiration to
Most minyanim cluster around a point
the havurah movement, which saw the
on the ideological spectrum between
rise of similar lay-led and self-governed
Orthodox and Conservative Judaism,
communities in the 1960s and 1970s.
finding a number of innovative ways
Rabbi Arthur Green, the rector of the
to balance an egalitarian impulse with
Hebrew College rabbinical school and
an otherwise traditional prayer service.
one of the founders of Havurat Shalom in
Most members define themselves as
Boston in the late 1960s, said during the
nondenominational, according to survey
closing plenary that a rabbi would have
results presented at the conference.
helped havurot avoid another pitfall that
They also seem to reject a "consumer- threatens the independent minyanim
ist" model of Judaism, where members
— the tendency toward cliquishness.
pay dues to synagogues in exchange for
Green recalled how Havurat Shalom
services provided, in favor of a more
had twice rejected a candidate for
participatory experience.
membership who had all the qualifica-
But in creating communities with
tions, but was deemed to be a somewhat
no rabbinic leadership, and where
obnoxious personality who would not
participants are unlikely to affiliate in
get on well with other members.
traditional ways — through synagogue
"Though some of the independent
membership, for instance, or by donat-
communities are organized around
ing to federations — the minyanim
a paid rabbinic leader, most are not,
pose particular challenges to existing
which makes a knowledgeable lay com-
communal structures.
munity integral to the continued growth
Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld, the
of the minyanim. E_1

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