Leadership Roles: Religious and Spiritual Authority

By: Benjamin Maron

When starting a new havurah or minyan, salve or getting involved in Havurah Judaism for the first time, link many of us are asked by our peers – both synagogue members and unaffiliated Jews alike – how these communities can function without a professional leader, usually a rabbi, in charge.

There are several ways to explain this model, the most common being that with enough knowledge, resources, and support, any of us can lead a community in prayer, any of us can offer a thought-provoking d’var Torah (word of Torah) or text study, any of us can contribute to life-cycle events. In a paper [PDF] presented to a conference of rabbis, Mitch Chefitz framed the history of rabbis’ roles in Jewish communities as learners and teachers of the tradition through study of Talmud and later the Shulchan Aruch, the rise of mysticism, the broadening of religious authority, and the transition of communities led largely by rabbis to other forms of leadership. The paper also addresses the significant changes in religious and spiritual authority from changes such as the proliferation of siddurim (prayer books), the formations of “communities that are sustained by niggunim [songs without words],” JDate, and “Jewish leaders … being tacitly ordained from below rather than from above.” How does this apply to us in the Havurah world? What can we learn about how our members are resources for community leadership? What is, and what should be, our model of religious and spiritual authority? Where might we need leadership, knowledge, or resources not available within our communities, and where might we find people or information to guide us?

Read the paper “Religious and Spiritual Authority in the New Jewish Paradigm” [PDF] in full… and feel free to share thoughts, and any answers to the concluding questions, in the comments.

Benjamin Maron attended his first NHC Summer Institute as an Everett Fellow in 2006. He is on the NHC Board of Directors. He is chairing the 2010 Chesapeake Retreat.

December 28, 2009   1 Comment

Havurah Guide

By: Benjamin Maron

Using the Havurah of South Florida as a model, store Mitch Chefitz published the Havurah Guide [PDF] in 1990. Twenty years later, the contents are still useful for those looking to start a havurah or minyan or wanting to find suggestions for improving an existing minyan or havurah.

The Havurah Guide provides a comprehensive introduction. Many topics are covered, from how a havurah or miyan could be run to guidelines for fostering a Jewish fellowship; from the role of text study and how to nurture learning to which holidays and life-cycle events can be observed; from how to incorporate social action to other resources for further programming.

While this is a case study of a specific havurah, we can all learn from each other’s communities across the country (and around the world). If you use part of this Havurah Guide, please let us know in the comments. If your havurah or minyan has practices that would complement this resource, please share them!

Benjamin Maron attended his first NHC Summer Institute as an Everett Fellow in 2006. He is on the NHC Board of Directors. He is chairing the 2010 Chesapeake Retreat.

December 28, 2009   4 Comments

Further Reading: Havurot and Minyanim in the News

By: Benjamin Maron

The following is an incomplete, pharm and ever-growing, collection of articles about independent Jewish communities, havurot, and minyanim.

  • At a recent conference, there was a panel discussion on what role (if any) rabbis should have in an independent minyan or havurah, and a look at their impact.
  • JTA gives a general overview of independent minyanim.
  • Independent minyanim have become “the new darlings of the Jewish philanthropic establishment,” but the flow of money carries its own risks.
  • Joshua Avedon, looking at the new minyanim with regard to the non-Orthodox synagogues, warns: “If the mainstream Jewish community doesn’t get hip to what is driving the new start-ups soon, a whole parallel universe of Jewish communal life might just rise up and make the old structures irrelevant.”
  • Will the traditional, egalitarian, lay-led minyan become the wave of the future? Or will “those who create these community minyanim become a self-selected elite?”
  • A look at the “partnership minyan,” and some follow-up discussion: 1 [PDF], 2 [PDF], 3 [PDF], 4 [PDF], and 5.
  • A look at some havurot which have lasted for more than 20 years.
  • A specially commissioned Torah scroll is used by the Mesilat Yesharim Minyan which meets daily aboard a commuter train on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv line.
  • As her minyan struggles with what the Prayer for the State of Israel should consist of, Sarah Margles observes, “the question became – How do we pray together even if we don’t pray the same?”
  • In a roundtable discussion, Elie Kaunfer (Kehilat Hadar), Rachel Milner-Gillers (Minyan Tehillah), Beth Tritter (DC Minyan), Sarah Lefton (Mission Minyan), Yehuda Kurtzer (Washington Square Minyan), and Ben Dreyfus (Kol Zimrah), discuss why their minyanim were started, how they do or do not characterize their minyanim and their religious services, setting forth policies (or not) on membership and leadership, and more.
  • Ilana Kurshan, a long-time organizer of an independent minyan, talks of taking up the task  again in Jerusalem: “my whole life becomes oriented towards Shabbat – which is indeed just what the rabbis mandate.”
  • Riv-Ellen Prell’s “Independent Minyanim and Prayer Groups of the 1970s: Historical and Sociological Perspectives” looks at the challenges these posed to the denominations structure of mainstream Judaism, and the dual focus on both prayer and the creation of alternative organizations within American Jewish life.
  • In “What Independent Minyanim Teach Us About the Next Generation of Jewish Communities,” Ethan Tucker looks at how such communities can accomplish critical goals: providing “a Jewish life of compelling and of excellent quality,” with a discourse “serious, honest, adaptable, deep and transparent” and the ability to empower, both at the individual and communal levels.
  • A self-described Jew, “who lived fully in the 1960s and have been searching for that lost Garden ever since,” finds himself, at age 67, making the “rounds of alternative synagogues, minyanim and havurot in Los Angeles, to see whether any spoke to me.” He finds a remarkably diverse group.
  • David Suissa describes the very unconventional “The Happy Minyan,” which has now found a home of its own in a neighborhood with several other Orthodox shuls.
  • The New York Times looks at non-synagogue based minyanim and havurot, including DC Minyan and Tikkun Leil Shabbat.
  • Another look at lay-led independent communities.
  • A synagogue agreed to create what becomes known as “The Library Minyan,” which eventually eclipsed the main sanctuary in attendance, drawing in some very well known Conservative Jews. But as it “gained a reputation as an intellectual sanctuary … some shul-shoppers have expressed concerns about the ‘cliquish’ feeling of the minyan. … For some, what once was spiritual innovation has now become rote.”
  • A havurah “community of learning, spirituality, experimentation, and political progressivism” reaches its 36th year, and is still going strong.
  • Shawn Landres analyzes the challenge to traditional shuls from “rabbi-led emergent communities and independent minyanimin” by borrowing language from different computer operating systems.
  • The Aquarian Minyan, the oldest Renewal congregation in the Bay Area, is not a rabbi-centered community, but now has a new “rabbi-chaver,” or “teacher among peers.”
  • The Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU has a large collection of articles on the subject of havurot.
  • This article, which appeared in CAJE Jewish Education News, discusses the NHC and the founding of Kol Zimrah.
  • DC-area minyanim in the Washington Post.
  • Hadassah Magazine on independent Jewish communities.
  • Independany minyanim in the Forward.
  • JTA on the use of the Internet by minyanim/havurot.
  • JTA article from 2006 about independent Jewish communities (the 1999 date at the top is an error).
  • Another JTA article from 2006 (not 1999), covering the NHC Summer Institute and the Havurah Movement.
  • For the 20th anniversary of their minyan, Dorshei Derekh of Germantown Jewish Centre in Philadelphia researched and created a Wikipedia entry.

For extra reading, you might also want to check out the following works in print (try your local library or bookstore):

Benjamin Maron attended his first NHC Summer Institute as an Everett Fellow in 2006. He is on the NHC Board of Directors. He is chairing the 2010 Chesapeake Retreat.

December 26, 2009   5 Comments

Policies and Guidelines

By: Benjamin Maron

Many havurot and minyanim have their policies or guidelines available on their websites, viagra dosage as handouts available at services, patient or as documents that are sent to new members of their email lists.

Looking through them, one can get a feel for the variety of models that our communities use for governance, membership, services, and more. Feel free to peruse the following examples, discuss them in the comments below, and make use of them as guidelines for your own community.

Benjamin Maron attended his first NHC Summer Institute as an Everett Fellow in 2006. He is on the NHC Board of Directors. He is chairing the 2010 Chesapeake Retreat.

December 26, 2009   3 Comments

An Example of Minyan/Havurah Governance

By: Adina Rosenbaum
This article was inspired by a workshop offered at the 2009 NHC Summer Institute on havurah governance.

For a community to function, approved there has to be some group of people empowered to make decisions. Different communities use different governance structures, illness varying in the number of people involved in leadership, sale the authority they have, the amount they interact with the larger community, and the way they reach decisions among themselves. Below is one possible model for havurah or minyan governance, based on the governance structure of Tikkun Leil Shabbat (TLS), a havurah in Washington, DC that meets every third Friday night.

TLS has a coordinating committee of 13-15 members. Although having a smaller committee may be more efficient, having a 13-15 member team distributes the work so that members of the committee do not burn out, and allows participation of people with different skills and from different parts of the community in the group. At the same time, it keeps the committee small enough for its members to know each other well, for meetings to be manageable, and for everyone to be able to fit in an apartment living room (very important for urban communities). The committee members are responsible both for engaging in long-term planning and envisioning and for taking on tasks each time the havurah meets, such as setting up, cleaning up, greeting people, or leading singing. (TLS has a Google spreadsheet with the roles that need to be filled each time it meets that both members of the coordinating committee and others in the community use to sign up for those roles.)

Every year or so, the coordinating committee’s members choose to rotate off or stay on the committee, and any openings are filled through a short application process. Except for a few people who are in charge of specific logistical tasks, such as making sure the spreadsheet gets filled out or sending out e-mails about upcoming gatherings, all members of the committee are equal. The committee meets every few months, with committee members taking turns facilitating the meetings, and makes decisions at meetings based on consensus. Consensus-based decision-making generally results in issues being discussed at length, which can be time-consuming, but it helps ensure that all members of the committee’s voices are heard and that all members leave the meeting with some sense of ownership over the group’s decisions.

In addition, the committee has a bunch of standing subcommittees (including a holiday committee, a finance committee, and a davening committee) and creates other temporary subcommittees as needed. Temporary subcommittees have been created, for example, to think through TLS’s co-sponsorship policy, to create a historical archive of meeting minutes and policy decisions, and to do an initial read-through of applications. Figuring out what to delegate to subcommittees requires balancing the desire for the committee as a whole to maintain control over the direction and functioning of the havurah/minyan, with the recognition that some discussions are hard to have in large groups and that it is not a good use of everyone’s time for everyone to have to discuss every issue. The subcommittees are authorized to make some decisions, mostly related to the minyan/havurah’s day-to-day functioning, on their own. The Davening Committee, for example, can find people to lead services without having to check in with the full committee. Often, though, the subcommittee is authorized just to come up with a suggestion that must be brought back to the full committee before it can be implemented.

Because decisions can’t always wait until the next full committee meeting, the TLS coordinating committee has a system for making decisions that must be made quickly over email. When someone comes across an issue that needs immediate attention, that person decides the importance of the issue (with some input from others on the committee). If the issue is of minimal importance, the person whose attention it came to makes a decision on it, then emails the full committee to explain what happened, the choices that were made, and the values that informed those choices. If the issue is of great importance, the person to whose attention it came sends an email to the whole committee explaining the issue, setting out a question that needs answering, and providing a time-frame within which responses must be provided. After the stated time-frame, the person will make a decision based on the responses and send an email to the committee explaining the decision and stating that the decision will be implemented unless there is overwhelming opposition. This decision-making procedure allows decisions to be made quickly, without in-person meetings, but still provides multiple opportunities for members of the committee to weigh in and have their voices heard.

Adina Rosenbaum attended her first NHC Summer Institute as an Everett Fellow in 2007.

December 26, 2009   1 Comment