Jewish Journal

Morning Minyan Mortality Measure

by Pini Herman

June 23, 2011 | 12:33 am

Just until the tenth person comes.

Sometimes a demographer doesn’t need a fancy survey to feel that the Jewish population is shifting.  The Jewish vitality of an area can often be judged if it’s morning minyans, prayer quorums, live. 

People die and mourning family members, as they recover, look for a minyan to say Kaddish.  Kaddish can traditionally only be recited within a quorum of ten Jews.. Males, if Orthodox, and all genders if Conservative or Reform.

You can see a perhaps dying Minyan from the street.  Someone in a tallit, a prayer shawl,  may be standing outside on the sidewalk intently sizing up the the Jewish and availability characteristics of passersby.  If they can snag a Jewish person before the eight or less others have to leave, then they’ve constituted a minyan.  The communal sigh of relief when the tenth person enters isn’t audible, but still palpable when the prayer leader continues the stalled service. 

This is especially critical on Monday and Thursday mornings (traditional village market days with lots of buying and selling Jews about) when Torah reading takes place, only in the presence of ten Jews.

The morning minyans in an Jewish area develop their own ecology.  In areas of robust Jewish population, the “shulI I wouldn’t set foot in”  often has the same starting time of a nearby mirror minyan, competing for the loyalty of the minyan goers.

When minyan goers thin out in Jewish areas,  start times become staggered. Cooperation and symbiosis may kick in.  If an acceptable nearby minyan isn’t formed, the earlier unsuccessful minyan, members can fulfill their minyan needs at a later minyan, that they also help complete.  Some later starting minyans send a member or two to an earlier nearby minyan with the understanding that early minyan members will go sit through a second morning service if needed.

In areas with declining Jewish populations, without cooperation, cordiality and mutual support, minyans may die out more quickly. Rabbis who won’t be seen on the dais with other rabbis may soon find themselves with failed minyans.

Then, there are “minyan factories.” In areas of really dense Jewish and Orthodox presence,  such as near the diamond districts of New York and Tel Aviv,  a few places with continuously forming minyans around the clock fill the needs the Jews for morning, afternoon and evening services.  If you find a minyan factory in LA, let me know.

Pini Herman serves as President of the Movable Minyan a lay-lead independent congregation in the 3rd Street area.

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Bruce Phillips is Professor of Sociology and Jewish Communal Studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles. He has conducted Jewish population...

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