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Independent minyanim: a growing Generation Y phenomenon

Empowered Judaism: What Independent Minyanim Can Teach Us About Building Vibrant Jewish Communities by Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, Jewish Lights Publishing, ISBN 978-1-58023-412-2, ©2010, $18.99, p. 161 + appendices.

 By Fred Reiss, Ed.D.

Fred Reiss

WINCHESTER, California–The word minyan in Jewish ritual corresponds to the idea of a quorum. Minyan means having at least ten men assembled together to form a prayer community. Traditionally, a minyan gathered in the community’s synagogue. Today this is no longer the case. American life has spawned a plethora of Jewish movements, and the idea of independent minyanim (plural of minyan) is one of them. The Independent Minyanim movement, whose members overwhelming come from Generation Y, emerged from that generation’s need for spirituality interacting with their lifestyle.

Generation Y, the Millennial Generation, is known for its frequent use of communications and digital technology, as well as for their mobile lifestyle and delaying some of the rites of passage into adulthood. Independent minyanim allow people who temporarily move into a community to attend prayer services, network with their peers, and remain financially uncommitted to a religious institution.

Empowered Judaism by Rabbi Elie Kaunfer describes the Independent Minyan movement on two levels. The first is the story of Kehilat Hadar, an independent minyan, founded in New York City by the author and two of his friends in 2001. Kaunfer points out that Kehilat Hadar rapidly took hold because of New York’s young Jewish urban culture and the newly available e-mail—no need for phone trees anymore. Success continued because of the minyan’s shared vision, and its ability to energize attendees.  The second part of the book is a more general discussion of the issues faced by both existing and start-up independent minyanim.

Independent minyanim are one example of what empowered Jews can do. Independent minyanim do not give a trained spiritual leader the “power of their pulpit.” Instead, volunteer leaders make the decisions within the framework of the minyan and lay volunteers conduct the service. Because much of a Jewish community’s accomplishments comes from fostering and sustaining volunteers, an important strength of Empowered Judaism comes in the description of how independent minyanim organize and guide all-volunteer groups that grow and thrive. This includes both a group’s leadership as well as the rank-and-file members.

Empowered Judaism explains how Kehilat Hadar tackled “thorny” day-to-day issues involving its volunteers. For example, Kehilat Hadar, is built on a traditional prayer service. What should be done when a person asked to conduct a service announced that she wanted to recite a special prayer for Gay Pride Day, which coincided with the day she would be leading services? Other practical issues include: on what basis are prayer leaders chosen? Where does the community get a Torah to use for Sabbath morning and holiday services? How does the community pay rent for a building when the minyan gets too large for the free apartment? Empowered Judaism answers all these and more using Kehilat Hadar and other independent minyanim.

Kaunfer wants to know how the Jewish community can foster more empowered Jews. He is not necessarily interested in creating more independent minyanim, but rather how to make Jews proactive on behalf of Judaism. Empowered Judaism clearly shows that the peripatetic Millennium Generation is capable of self-organization. We will soon see to see how, as they age, settle down, start families, and so forth, they will use digital technologies to teach their children about Judaism and create vibrant children’s services, maintain a cohesive Jewish community that is able to sustain religious life-cycle events, and support multi-generational communities. Empowered Judaism is as much a primer on independent minyanim as it is a source for information about significant questions facing traditional congregations.


Reiss is a retired public and Hebrew school teacher and administrator. He is the author of The Standard Guide to the Jewish and Civil CalendarsAncient Secrets of Creation: Sepher Yetzira, the Book that Started Kabbalah, Revealed; and Reclaiming the Messiah.

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