Posts Tagged ‘minyan’


Got Shabbat? Share Your Story!

Posted on: June 5th, 2013 by Hayim Herring No Comments


Got Shabbat? Share Your Story!


I’ve always felt that Shabbat enabled me to take a vacation every week without ever having to pack. True, I have to make the bed and there’s no room service (but thanks to my wife, the food is superior to anything that I can find elsewhere!). But on Shabbat, I have a chance to mentally decompress from work, socially reconnect with friends and spiritually recharge through study and prayer.


Over the years, the most challenging part of Shabbat for me has been finding a consistently meaningful prayer community. Part of the reason has to do with my own relationship to prayer, while part of it has to do with the reality that services often don’t catalyze that feeling of transcendence that I seek. And I know that I’m not alone in having this reaction.


But the good news is that things have changed and are continuing to evolve! The variety of spiritually rich Shabbat communities in reinvented established synagogues, start up minyanim and newly formed congregations have blossomed. New kinds of liturgy, fresh music, meditation, soulful chanting and greater participation are helping to reawaken Shabbat services in some locations.


I’m writing an article for Contact Magazine about the creative landscape of Shabbat celebration. So please let me know how Shabbat is celebrated in your congregation or minyan, or other community that you’ve been to and enjoyed. What contemporary approaches does your community bring to this age-old experience? How much instrumentation is in your services? Is there anything new that you’re doing liturgically? And what is it that you would like to experience on Shabbat that is currently missing?


Please share your experiences and forward this link to one other person, requesting that he or she responds. You have a chance to share, learn and maybe make a difference for your Shabbat. In addition to responses posted on my blog, I’ll let you know when my article appears. Thanks for your insights!





Look Past the Label

Posted on: February 8th, 2011 by Hayim Herring No Comments

Photo by olaf.herfurth*

For many years, sociologists and Jewish pundits have been predicting the rise of Jews who defy denominational labels. And, they are here to stay! Often, the independent minyanim types tend to become the focus of study and observation. But they aren’t the only ones out there.

There’s another group of people who deserve equal attention. They are serious about their Judaism and they’re equally serious about not fitting into a box that someone else has defined for them. Unlike independent minyanim’ers, it isn’t that they necessarily reject denominations. It’s just that no single denomination can contain their eclecticism.

A friend of mine referred me to a recent post by Nina Badzin, entitled The Rise of Reformadox Judaism. It’s a well-written, edgy piece that precisely captures this other group, which I sense is much larger numerically than the indie minyan crowd. (Full-disclosure-I know the author.)

I encourage you to read this post and the many comments that follow. As you do, you might want to think about some of the following questions: if you’re involved in a denominational synagogue, how do you keep someone like author engaged in your community? What appeal does membership have to someone like the author? And ultimately, what are the possible pros and cons to the Jewish community in general as we see more Ninas claim their place?

Rabbi Hayim Herring

*Photo olaf.herfurth via wikimediacommons

Spirituality and Pornography: Hard to Define

Posted on: April 13th, 2009 by Hayim Herring No Comments

One of the primary goals of the synagogue or minyan (prayer quorum), is to create a spiritual community. Pardon the comparison, but in thinking about how to define the term spiritual, I remember the words of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart who said of pornography, “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced [by it] but I know it when I see it.” Words like spiritual and spirituality are vague words as well, but while challenging to define, you know them when you feel them.

However, I think that we have to hold ourselves accountable to some precision in defining these words. Otherwise, spirituality risks becoming a trite term – the opposite of what it’s supposed to be. So here is my attempt to simplify a complex subject. Spirituality has two components.  The first one is separation and the second is elevation. Or to understand the term as a mathematical equation: spirituality = awareness (or separating out one moment from another) + positive action (or elevating our choices). 

Although not all choices are equally consequential, every moment of our lives presents us with choices. Living life spiritually means having a constant awareness of the mundane and the extraordinary; that is, we separate ourselves from animals, which act by instinct, because of the awareness we bring to our choices and then intentionally choosing the more elevated path for each choice before us. We use this ability to discipline our baser instincts so that the phrase, “I’m only human,” isn’t an excuse for mediocre behavior but a stimulus for us to strive to do that which is good, beautiful, wise, compassionate, just and caring.

Living spiritually is not something that comes naturally to most people, and needs cultivation and practice from the time of childhood.  And, living a spiritual life requires the reinforcement of a community of people who share similar aspirations. In the ideal world, over time, rabbis should become experts at cultivating a community of spiritual individuals.  That takes a tremendous amount of personal practice and periodic time away from the congregation.  It requires the ability to discern what is ultimately important and to keep in perspective what feels critical at the moment.  It also takes a congregation which values the rabbi’s ability to cultivate spirituality.

In this post, all I want to do is try to simply define what I mean by spirituality.  In the next post, I’ll comment on some of the challenges in developing a spiritual community. But please comment on this definition and help bring clarity to a vague but essential issue for rabbis and congregations.

Thank you!

Rabbi Hayim Herring

Image from  alicepopkorn

A Minyan, a Megillah, and a Megabyte

Posted on: March 9th, 2009 by Hayim Herring No Comments

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post entitled Retooling Rabbis.  One of the respondents was Rabbi Dr. Moshe Dror.  He asked the following two questions:
How would you train rabbis to function in a virtual congregation and in a cyberspace quest for spirituality? I want to give him a shoutout for raising two intriguing questions, and also respond. Your questions really point us to a future which has been relatively unexplored.  We can glimpse how some churches are rethinking spirituality in web 2.0 environments:
Virtual Church
Air Jesus
The Cathedral
The Jewish world has its counterparts, too.  For many years already, there have been Jewish prayer groups, virtual Passover Seders, Jewish learning opportunities and other ways to meet virtually. One of the most exciting developments is occurring in the website Second Life, where several virtual synagogues already exist (please see some earlier posts on the CO-STAR blog on this topic: here and here. And, I believe that there is already one online semikha (rabbinical ordination program).
For a variety of reasons, synagogues and seminaries are slow to respond to technological changes. But amkha, the “non-professionals” who are knowledgeable and creative, may drive the outcomes of these kinds of questions. Will virtual megillah (Story of Queen Esther and Mordechai) readings compete with real-time ones in the future? For example, if you have several friends join you in your home for a megillah reading that is webcast from Jerusalem, can you fulfill your legal requirement to hear it read that way? And what about gathering for a minyan (prayer quorum of 10 men if you’re Orthodox, 10 people if you’re not)? Will we see the emergence of virtual minyanim because of the convenience and flexibility which they offer, especially as the possibilities for making them interactive increase? What about downloadable prayer books that you can customize for your personal theological mood?
The tools and the environment are ripe for these kinds of experimentations. They are happening and will only increase. My question to you: given that you will have to respond to them, what is your position on these issues? Will you try to adapt as many as you can for the synagogue or try to limit them? What are the pros and cons of working in this kind of environment?
Rabbi Hayim Herring