24 enero 2009


I hope that the following comments will be helpful in the discussion about minyanim.

The word “minyan” refers to the quorum of ten Jews over the age of 13 who constitute the minimal number of people needed to have a complete service. Certain prayers can only be recited with such a quorum because they require communal affirmation. According to halakha (Jewish law), a minyan is required for many parts (D'varim SheB'Kedusha "holy utterances") of the communal prayer service, including Barechu, various forms of the Kaddish (including the Kaddish Yatom, the mourner’s Kaddish Kaddish), the Kedusha in the Amidah, repetition of the Amidah, the Priestly Blessing, and the Torah and Haftarah readings, prayers that affirm divine sanctity. Judaism cannot exist in isolation – community is everything - and a minyan represents the whole community.


What is so magical about the number ten? Its origin is in the story in the book of Numbers where ten spies come back with a negative report about the Promised Land, causing a commotion that leads to the Israelites having to wander in the Wilderness for 40 years. In the story, only two spies, Joshua and Caleb, are optimistic about their chances. According to traditional Jewish law, the smallest congregation which is permitted to hold public worship is one made up of ten men over the age of majority (13 years). The rule comes from the Mishnah (Megillah 4:3): "They do not recite over the Shema Yisrael (Hear, O Israel), nor pass before the Ark, nor lift their hands, nor read from the Law, nor conclude with the Prophets, nor arrange the standing and sitting, nor say the benedictions of the mourners or the consolation of the mourners, nor the benedictions of the bridegrooms, nor use God's name in preparing for grace after meals, with less than ten." The Babylonian Talmud, in commenting on this section of the Mishnah, finds the Biblical authority for ten men constituting a congregation in the words (from Numbers 14:27): "How long shall I bear with this evil congregation which murmur against me?" which refers to the twelve scouts who were sent to spy out the land of Canaan, two of whom were considered faithful, and ten "this [evil] congregation." The ten pessimists then testify before the Israelite community or “edah.” (The Hebrew word for “community” is “edah” from which comes from the word in Hebrew for “witness.”

The Rabbis later deduced that the minimal definition of what it takes to have a community, a group that bears witness to God, is this number ten. It is ironic that it was a frightened, pessimistic, somewhat faithless group of ten spies that led to this definition! As a Jewish folk saying puts it, nine revered rabbis do not make up a minyan, but ten cobblers do!


…Jewish law and custom required Jews over the age of majority (both women and men) to pray three times a day. Although prayer alone has always been considered acceptable, prayer with a quorum of ten adults (a minyan) is considered prayer with the community, and this is the most highly recommended form of prayer. Originally, all male Jews over 13, unless they had openly severed their connection with their community by converting to another religion, were counted in the minyan. (Shulkhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim, 55, 12). Traditional codes of Jewish law do not forbid women from counting in a minyan, and a small number of classical rabbinic responsa mention this as a theoretical possibility. However, until recently it does not appear that this was ever a normative practice of the Jewish community.
(adapted from Rabbi Joshua Hammerman)


Women being counted in the minyan on a regular basis is a relatively new development in Jewish law and praxis. The Reform Movement is egalitarian in all its practices; therefore, both women and men are counted toward the minyan in our worship as well as in all other forms of communal observance.


Contrary to popular belief, strategies and accommodations for times when fewer than 10 are present to pray did not originate with the Reform Movement! In fact, there is considerable Rabbinic discussion and debate about how to handle this situation – discussion going back well over a thousand years. Some commentators permitted one minor to count toward a minyan, others up to four minors. In some cases, a minor was acceptable as long as he grasped a chumash or Torah scroll during worship. Still others believed that it was never acceptable to count a minor. Jewish communities have always been autonomous with local ritual practice determined by local leaders and local custom. There is no universally accepted “law” regarding counting a Torah scroll, the Divine Presence or “the people Israel” toward a minyan of ten. Thus, the statement, "We're Reform. We don't need a minyan," is historically and theologically inaccurate.

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