Judaism is not a spectator sport

Subtitle: Why I love independant minyanim

Have you ever been praying and felt totally disconnected from the person at the front of the room and subsequently just totally checked out?  I have and I hate it. I like to feel like I’m actively engaged in the whole process.  That my presence in the services counts for something making it worth my showing up to communal prayer despite the whole not obligated to it thing.  I can daven (pray) at home and get as much from it as going to most places I have available for communal prayer.

However, there is one place I can go where I always feel like I count.  Not literally counting in a minyan, but that my presence is valued and valuable.  And not only me personally, but every person who is in the room for any given service. Without fail, I feel this way every time I show up for an independent minyan. Whether I know everyone or no one, I know that my presence is appreciated and I can get a little bit more out of the experience.

Judaism is a religion of action, and in an independent minyan, everyone has to act.  Be it leading services, leyning, giving the d’var torah, helping with set-up or singing along with the davening – you are that much more involved in the act of that service.  Every voice is heard, literally and figuratively.  Every person has something to contribute, and the community is enhanced by each person’s unique background.  Without clergy directing the experience, it becomes deeply personal and reflective of all of those backgrounds and unique skills.

I am so grateful to have been a part of multiple independent minyanim in my past and look forward to hopefully being a part of more as our journey continues changing our physical location.  I know wherever I land, if I can find an independent minyan, I’ll be at home and engaged in my davening. I’m no sure I can ask for anything more.


11 thoughts on “Judaism is not a spectator sport

  1. Your line “Without clergy directing the experience, it becomes deeply personal and reflective of all of those backgrounds and unique skills.” reads as if you mean that when a clergy IS directly the experience that it cannot be deeply personal and reflective.

    As a wife of a clergy-member, I ask you how you plan to jive your feelings and admirations of independent minyanim with your husband’s path to becoming a clergy himself. If anything, I think spouses of clergy should champion the congregants of clergy-led minyanim for their own strength. While clergy are not a required element in a minyan and my own husband is often only a davener and not a leader, I do believe that clergy-led minyanim (or congregations) can create equally personal and reflective experiences.

    • I do not mean it to sound that it CANNOT be deeply personal and reflective, just that I tend to find it much less so. Prayer is very personal, as is everything in Judaism and I feel much more connected to the lay minyanim I have been a part of. They have all have had rabbis who influence and are part of the experience, but not the sole source of direction. I think this is where the distinction lies for me – I need a more communal experience to feel connection.

      Luckily for me, my husband understands this about me and knows it is something with which I will always struggle. Also, luckily for me my husband does not have the desire to be a pulpit-Rabbi so I will hopefully have the opportunity to bounce around a bit and be involved in multiple spaces.

      I agree that it is essential that clergy-spouses champion the strengths of the communities they serve and to help them find their own inner strength, and should my husband wind up in a setting where that is my best use – I will absolutely do so. However, for the next six or so years that he is still on the path, I’ll keep my soul happy with some independent minyanim when I can.

  2. *sigh* I’m no militant feminist, and I do feel that Judaism values me as a woman, but my appetite for any kind of communal prayer has pretty much died over the years, in large part because I *don’t* count. So I may daven b’ychidut, but I never go to shul anymore unless I have to. It just doesn’t feel worth the bother and distraction anymore.

  3. unfortunately sometimes in the O community independent minyan breaks away in order to tamper with halachic and/or societal norms such as egalitarian minyanim….

  4. So, what are the defining factors in your ‘independent minyan’?

    Is it the lack of an authority figure?
    Is it small size, and that’s what gives everyone the feeling that their presence is really important?
    Is it ‘independence’, as in not belonging to a larger umbrella body?
    Is it the active involvement or participation of a multiple individuals?

    What factor or factors are the ones that make the positive experience you aren’t finding in the ‘not independent’ places? (Among other things, I’m confused by the notion ‘independent’.) Is there something going on that is innovative, radical, controversial?

    • I think it is many, if not all, of those things Rav Scher.
      For me, the independence of it being free from denominational Judaism is one of the primary things. The one which I have become a part of in my current neighborhood has people of a wide variety of practices and ideologies – but with a common thread of wanting a traditional space in which to pray with their peers and without any pretense of what it “should” be.
      As independent organizations, these minyanim can be more reflective of the community which they represent. (ie the trichitza at the one I am a part of, which I posted about previously) The minyan doesn’t have to be anything to make an umbrella organization and happy and relies upon its members to lead – both in davening and in giving direction.
      There is definitely some innovation in the reclaiming of ones own spiritual and worship experience, but I wouldn’t say it is radical or controversial (except to some of the umbrella orgs which are unhappy but I do not want to discuss the politics on that side).

      • You know, I often think that is much of what it was like before someone started all this denominational craziness. A town had a synagogue (or two or three…). Everyone went the same place, but they remained individuals in terms of their personal practices and beliefs. Some folks kept Shabbat as Shabbat only. Some went to their businesses after davening, or to the soccer pitch. The community institution remained a halachic institution (I don’t think the trichitza would fly…), but the rav and the members had to know that everyone had to be seen as individuals and individual families finding their place in Judaism and the community according to their past history, present needs, and considerations for their future.

        In many of the old Sefardi communities it was like that, I think. They didn’t have ‘movements’ in the Asiatic and North African communities. Some were more influenced by French or the British presences, some less. But the Ashkenazi world was poisoned by the invention of movements and also there was more of a sense of culture class between those advocating secular education and pursuits, and those more fearful for the future of our holy tradition.

        I see that our Sefardi and Teimani friends (in Israel) seem to have less compartmented extended families than our Ashkenazi friends. With our Ashkenazi friends, the relatives who don’t keep Shabbat the same way (as an example) don’t come to visit on Shabbat. Maybe not even really welcome. Among our Sefardi friends, the wide range of relatives come for Shabbat lunch or in the afternoon, even if they were at a nightclub Friday night, or went to a soccer game Shabbat day.

        I think this desire and effort for continued inclusiveness is because the Sefardi world didn’t have a threat of institutionalized reform. No one was actually trying to rewrite Judaism wholesale.

        Personally, I fear that denominational politics has so poisoned us already, that we may no longer be able to completely escape the effects. But I certainly sympathize with some of what you’re saying.

      • I suspect this may also be the reason so few Sfardim hate Judaism. They are not “anti-“, unlike so many Ashkenazim. The strategy of the latter, while intending to keep the machaneh tahor, has largely succeeded in keeping it small and filled with hostility.

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