You receive e-mails from the synagogue asking you to come and participate in the morning or evening minyan. If your first inclination is to ask, “What’s a minyan?,” know that you are not alone in your puzzlement. (I cannot stress enough – if you have questions, please feel free to ask me! As they say, there are no stupid questions…)
A MINYAN (as defined by the Conservative movement) is a quorum of ten people above the age of bar or bat mitzvah, i.e. men aged thirteen or older and women aged twelve or older, who join together in prayer. While it is permissible to pray on one’s own, it is preferable to pray with a minyan because there are pieces of the service that can only be performed within this framework, such as kaddish and kedushah.
The concept of ten people unified as a minyan comes from the Talmud, one of the earliest Rabbinic law texts, composed roughly between the second and fifth centuries C.E. In Tractate Megillah, page 23b, the Rabbis explain that these “holy” parts of the service, like kaddish and kedushah, cannot be recited with fewer than ten qualified individuals. Why? Because in the book of Bemidbar, when Moses sends twelve spies into the land of Canaan, ten of the spies come back unified in their negativity against the Children of Israel entering the land. According to the Rabbis, Numbers 14:27, in which the reference to this “wicked congregation” appears, is talking about a congregation. Therefore, according to the Rabbis, it is ten individuals unified who constitute a “congregation,” and thus in order to pray in a congregation, a group must have ten individuals. Another suggestion comes from Tractate Berachot, which tells a story in which God shows up to a service in the shul and discovers that there are fewer than ten. God is immediately angry – it is as if no one has shown up!
At Temple Emanu-El, we generally hold minyanim (the plural of minyan) on weekday mornings at 7:00 A.M. and on Sundays at 8:00 AM for Shaharit, the morning service. We also hold minyanim at 5:45 every weekday evening for Minha, the afternoon service, and Ma’ariv, the evening service. If the schedule is changed, it will be marked in your Temple calendar. It is important that we have at least ten people present at each minyan so that our fellow congregants can say kaddish for their loved ones who have passed on. Please join us when you can – once a week, once a month, twice a month – to ensure that we have a minyan for those who need one.
More “Shul 101: Ask the Ritual Director” columns will be coming out to our congregational family on a weekly basis by e-mail. If you have questions that you’d like to be addressed, please send them along to Hinda Eisen, firstname.lastname@example.org.