Friday, September 15, 2006

Is it a havurah or a minyan? Part II: some more history

As a followup to my posting early this week on havurah v. minyan i received a fascinating e-mail from an early havurah pioneer who continues to be a jewish leader. Some of the language is jargony so i have added a few bracketed explanations and added html links to some wikipedia articles on the characters.

The term "havurah" came into modern currency through a JRF [Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation] convention in 1960 and a booklet on havurot with articles by Jacob Neusner [powerhouse jewish academic, formerly of Brown] on the early rabbinic havurot and by Ira Eisenstein [founder of RRC] on possible contemporary efforts to create new ones. All the havurot prior to 1968 were Reconstructionist. [Harold] Schulweis's synagogue havurot and Havurat Shalom both started in 1968.
This note on the earliest usage of the terminology is fascinating. Neusner and Eisenstein are both well-known heavy hitters. Neusner wrote over 900 books while cementing Judaic Studies as an academically sound discipline and Ira started a movement, founded RRC, and was married to the first bat mitzvah in the history of the world.

I have always taught that havurot by definition have fixed memberships and that their activities are generally open to their own members but not necessarily non-members. Their activities can include any combination of prayer, celebration, socializing, social action, life-cycle observance, etc. Minyanim by definition have prayer as central activity--but not necessarily their only activity.
This conforms more-or-less with my musing earlier with the caveat that it adds a new dimension, degree of openess of membership. In the early days of havurat shalom it was quite hard to attain membership. Many other groups were similarly discriminating. Perhaps this has given rise to the notion that the movement is elitist.

Minyanim have much more fluid membership--usually in part because of the inclination not to close worship, and more importantly because they usually don't have to deal with the size constraints of living rooms. Havurot tend to have an expectation that work will be divided evenly among all members; that is not the case with minyanim.
This last nuance, that minyanim have a central core who take primary responsability for the work whereas havurot divide equally and rotate, or plan to is an important aspect, and quite clarifying with regard to creating a system that can quickly identify whether a group is a minyan or havurah.

BZ pointed out below that many contemporary folks fail to apprecaite the extent to which their independent prayer groups are an extention of the havurah movement of the 1960s and the extent to which they are dependent on work done by those pioneers. Whether Kol Hakfar is a minyan or a havurah it is largely dependent on the brilliant innovations of folks like the strassfelds, art green, zalman schachter-shalomi, david teutsch, and countless others who created a lot of the ideas and models which helped folks see the simple possibility of living room davening. Minyanim and Havurot are variations on a theme, slightly different structutes for egalitarian, lay-led community (i think i will soon rant on why independent jewish community is a poor frame).

1 Comments:

At 9/17/2006 , Blogger Judith said...

"many contemporary folks fail to apprecaite the extent to which their independent prayer groups are an extention of the havurah movement of the 1960s and the extent to which they are dependent on work done by those pioneers."

That's a nice change. I said a few years ago that indie minyan's were this generation's havurot and everyone indignantly told me that was not so, they were DIFFERENT, because young people hate to be reminded that others have done before what they are doing now. But I'm glad they are acknowledging the lineage, then they can use the accumulated wisdom instead of reinventing the wheeel.

 

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