- Taxonomy of Jewish pluralism
- Hilchot Pluralism, Part I
- Hilchot Pluralism, Part II
- Hilchot Pluralism, Part III
- Hilchot Pluralism, Part IV
Like Parts III and IV, Part V (or should that be Part not-V?) will address issues of communal prayer.
Certain parts of the prayer service (most notably, barechu, kedushah, kaddish, and Torah reading; see Mishnah Megillah 4:3) require a minyan of 10 members of some set M. In the absence of a minyan, those parts are omitted. This is agreed upon by pretty much all Jews (who are praying in the first place). The disagreement is about the composition of M.
The major split is between two schools of thought:
- M1) M includes all Jews over age 13
- M2) M includes all male Jews over age 13
This post deals only with approaches to the binary question of "Is there a minyan in this room right now?", separating it from the question of "Now that there is a minyan, who can do stuff?". In communities above a certain size, this binary question rarely has a practical impact, because a minyan is always present (by anyone's definition). However, in communities where people don't show up on time, this question can mean the difference between stalling and proceeding, and in smaller communities, it can determine whether Torah is read at all.
In most Jewish communities, there is no internal disagreement on this question. The community generally agrees on either M1 or M2 above. Sometimes there are questions about the border cases, but this is generally framed as an issue of communal standards rather than an issue of pluralism. The pluralism question arises when people who adhere to M1 and people who adhere to M2 want to pray together in a Stage 3 setting where both of these identities are respected.
Some communities, for a variety of reasons, require the presence of 10 men and 10 women for a minyan. This ensures that a minyan is present by the M2 definition (and, it goes without saying, by the M1 definition, which may or may not be a consideration in these communities), while ensuring that both men and women have indispensable roles. As I said about other practices in Part III, "[t]hese minyanim are meeting a real need for a particular set of people ... but they're not providing a permanent solution that will make it possible for everyone to pray together in Stage-3 harmony. And again, they're not claiming to." This policy is problematic for people who are looking for (many understandings of) an egalitarian community, because roles are still assigned based on gender, even if this is applied symmetrically to both genders. Also, the way this policy is usually implemented, these minyanim wait (if necessary) for 10 men and 10 women before starting the parts of the service that require a minyan. It is assumed that 10 and 10 will eventually show up. But what happens if they never do? (I'm asking because I don't know.) If only 10 men and 7 women show up, will these minyanim really forgo reading Torah (etc.)? If the answer is yes, then this is problematic for people who count by M1 and for people who count by M2, since they all agree that a minyan is present, yet they are skipping something that many would consider an obligation on the community when a minyan is present. If the answer is no, then the policy isn't even truly symmetric. (UPDATE: This isn't just hypothetical; here's one real-life account.) To quote again from Part III, "[t]hat's not to say that these minyanim don't have an important place among all the other types of minyanim. But they are not a Stage-3 solution that includes people who seek to be in a community that is fully egalitarian."
There is (at least) one solution at the communal level that can encompass a multiplicity of individual identities: define a minyan communally as "10 consenting adults", i.e. 10 people who count each other as a minyan. Does anyone know the origin of this practice? (You haven't let me down on the history of the trichitza or the two-table system.)
Jews In The Woods's fall 2006 mid-Atlantic gathering devised an ingenious method of implementing this definition: before each point in the service where a minyan is required, call "minyan check". At this point, raise your hand if you believe that a minyan is present in the room that includes you. Count the hands. If the number is greater than or equal to 10, proceed as if there is a minyan. If not, proceed as if there is not a minyan. Thus, the presence or absence of a minyan is determined on the spot by the grassroots, rather than by a contentious policy.
(A variation has been suggested in which you raise your hand if you believe that a minyan is present in the room, whether or not it includes you. I have not yet been able to understand this one. It seems to me that any cases in which this method yields a different result from the other one involve some kind of logical contradiction.)
The minyan check method accords with the principles established in Part II: no one is compelled to violate his/her own core values, and no one is prevented from carrying out his/her own practices.
Let's look at two thought experiments to illustrate this:
1. Bilhah believes a minyan is present, Zilpah believes a minyan is not present, and the count is less than 10. In this case, the parts of the service requiring a minyan are skipped. Bilhah may be unhappy about this, because she believes a minyan is present, but she has no right to count Zilpah or anyone else toward the minyan without their consent. The minyan is formed by voluntary participation, and there aren't 10 people who are willing to constitute themselves as a minyan, so no minyan can be formed. Bilhah misses the opportunity to say certain prayers with a minyan, but she would miss that opportunity anyway if Zilpah et al. weren't there.
2. Bilhah believes a minyan is present, Zilpah believes a minyan is not present, and the count is greater than or equal to 10. In this case, the service proceeds as though there is a minyan. Zilpah may be unhappy about this, because she believes no minyan is present, but she has no right to prevent Bilhah and 9+ others from constituting themselves as a minyan and praying accordingly. If she doesn't want to take part in these parts of the service, she can leave the room or close her ears at those times, and she would still be missing no more than if everyone agreed with her that a minyan was absent.
Bilhah (in case 1) or Zilpah (in case 2) might prefer that the community take a pause and wait until a minyan (of consenting adults) is present by her definition. Sorry, but that's not a right that anyone is entitled to. If you (as a participant or a communal leader) want to be sure that a minyan (by your definition) is present for a certain part of the service, then make sure 10 people whom you count and who count themselves as a minyan show up on time; don't expect everyone to wait.
There are a few practical complications with the minyan check method, but nothing that sinks it entirely. First of all, each of the parts of the service that require a minyan also require a shaliach/shelichat tzibbur -- a prayer leader, but literally "a representative of the community". The sha"tz should be chosen from within the minyan. But in practice, the sha"tz is generally chosen in advance, before the composition of the minyan is known. So it's possible that the minyan check will yield a positive result, but the designated sha"tz doesn't consider him/herself part of this minyan, and therefore can't serve as sha"tz. In this case, the community can appoint a new sha"tz to pinch-hit for these parts. (The original sha"tz isn't missing out on anything, since s/he wouldn't have led those parts anyway, given that composition of people.) Ok, that's easy enough to do on the fly for barechu and kaddish, but what do you do about Torah reading when the people who prepared the parsha don't believe that a minyan is present? That presents a larger practical challenge.
Another possible complication is that, if all logical possibilities are considered, a positive result from the minyan check does not necessarily mean that there is any set of 10 people all of whom count themselves and each other as a minyan (the desired result). However, in practice, the set of minyan-definitions that people actually hold isn't all that complicated. The Venn diagram would be made up almost entirely (if not entirely) of concentric circles. For example, I don't think there is anyone on earth who doesn't count women in a minyan, but counts men who have had Reform conversions. (Yes, as ZT points out, there are people (like lame-duck Sen. George Allen) who are considered Jewish by Orthodox standards and not by Reform/Reconstructionist standards, because they have Jewish mothers but don't have Jewish identities. However, in practice, anyone in this situation with enough of a Jewish identity to be present in this pluralistic Jewish community and to honestly raise his/her hand during the minyan check would be considered Jewish enough by all standards.) If all minyan-definitions are concentric, then there are no weird paradoxes.
A third issue is imperfect information when it comes to some of the less obvious (i.e., non-gender-related) questions of personal status. However, this is not a complication specific to the minyan check system; it can be dealt with (or not dealt with) in exactly the way it would if the community had a single minyan definition.
Coming in Part VI: The limits of pluralism. In what circumstances is there no pluralistic solution?