Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Is it a havurah or a minyan?

There has been a lot of press lately about our emerging independent minyan/havurah movement. I plan to address some articles later this week. For now I wanted to weigh in on a small piece of terminology. What is a minyan? What is a chavurah? havurah? chavura? havura?

I have long been curious about the distinction and whether it is (or could be) meaningful. My interest led me to conversations with folks from Minyan Dorshei Derekh in Philadelphia (grew out of the Germantown Minyan), Havurat Shalom in Boston (formerly Yeshivat Shalom), and Minyan M'at in New York (formed mostly by New York Havurah members). The folks I have spoken with makeup a skewed sample, but are all interesting folks with roots in the indy yid scene. There was some diversity in opinion, but in general:

Minyanim focus on prayer and are often larger. You don't necessarily know all the folks who show up to davven. These groups occasionally have educational programing but not necessarily.

Havurot, which take their name from rabbinic fellowships mentioned in Talmud Tractate Pesachim, sometimes have regular meetings for davening but don't necessarily. They necessarily have non-explicitly religious programing such as meals, social events, retreats, and even sometimes have residential members. You often will know most of the people in the room in a havurah. The term itself refers to fellowship, and the communal connections are an important focus of the organization. Fostering relationships is a primary goal. Because of this goal, they are necessarily on the small side, sometimes by happenstance, sometimes as the result of complicated (in some cases elitist) policies governing inclusion.

There is another kind of group that often uses the term havurah, which is usually found in synagogues. These havurot are sets of families in synagogues that are grouped together to help create intimacy in large, often suburban, synagogues.

Both minyanim and havurot are lay-led and feature rotating facilitation.

Though many orthodox groups are lay-led and feature social occasions, few call themselves havurot though they may meet the definition.

In the early days of the havurah movement, there was a significant tie-in with the burgeoning reconstructionist movement to the extent that the Federation of Reconstructionist Congregations and Havurot and the National Havurah Committee where run out of the same office for a while in the early-mid 80s. Many havurot continue to be affiliated with that movement including Dorshei Derekh and Kol Halev (formerly the Cleveland Havurah). Others continue to use Reconstructionist prayer books such as Fabrangen in DC.

There is also a very major tie-in with the conservative movement. Many early havurah pioneers had attended conservative institutions. Art Green, for instance, an early visionary at Havurat Shalom had been ordained at JTS. Many others, including Green had been active in Camp Ramah. Against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, there was some sort of ideological purge there (i am hoping to learn more), which led to people like Zalman going to teach other places. A lot of those folks helped build less dogmatic institutions.

Zalman went on to create the Renewal movement. That movement often uses language of havurah but lacks the lay-leadership focus that typifies the other folks who use the term. That said, there continues to be common interests and much collaboration.

There is a significant overlap between the the use of minyan and havurah and what they include and in many cases both labels seem applicable. That said, in most cases both terms can't be applied if one is using them precisely. In general if most people in a given space are friends, it is lay-led, and a good chunk of their programing is not services, i think the term havurah is most appropriate. If a group is lay-led, meets mostly for services, and involves a lower threshold of interpersonal connection and in-touchness with eachother's lives, than i think minyan is more appropriate. I have been a member of several minyanim and havurot, sometimes even simultaneously. Both have a lot to offer and though they are somewhat different, both are very valuable and I hope that the distinction i have drawn doesn't appear to be a value judgement or prioritization.


At 9/13/2006 , Anonymous Desh said...

I think it's worth noting that TLS, KZ, and Hadar all refrain from using either of these words in their official names (though perhaps not their official descriptions).

At 9/13/2006 , Blogger BZ said...

I don't think the minyan/havurah distinction is so meaningful. Clearly there are havurot that are not minyanim (e.g. if they don't daven) and there are minyanim that are not havurot (e.g. if they're not lay-led), but I think the terms are interchangeable when it comes to the lay-led prayer communities that we participate in.

Some of the independent minyanim shun the term "havurah" out of a misunderstanding of what it means.

See, for example, this article from 2004:
“I feel we have nothing to do with the Havurah movement,” says Zachary Thacher, founder of the Kol HaKfar minyan in Greenwich Village. “The Havurah movement was a post-60s kind of thing. We’re trying to be traditional.”

I've been to Kol haKfar. It's a small lay-led group that davens in people's living rooms. It's a havurah by any reasonable definition. Their davening happens to be "trad egal" in style, but havurot have a wide range of davening styles. But people think that "havurah" definitionally implies hippies with rainbow kipot hugging and talking about their feelings. They don't realize that there's no contradiction between "havurah" and "traditional" (nor is there a contradiction between "havurah" and "non-traditional") - the structure of a community is orthogonal to its ideology and practice.

At 9/15/2006 , Blogger Ruby K said...

and what's wrong with rainbow kippot?!

On a serious note, ZT, interesting post.

At 9/18/2006 , Blogger ZT said...

desh, you make an interesting point. Hadar has a name that offers little insight into its offerings. If all you knew was the name, you would be hard-pressed to determine whether it was trad egal, fruity, frum, etc. KZ and TLS both have names based upon which many would be unable to make inferences about the content.
this seems to be a trend, choosing names which speak to some aspect of the values but that aren't explicit or aimed at making clear what happens in the groups davvening, events, etc.

bz, i picked up your comment in the next installment.

ruby-k, nothing is wrong with rainbow kippot. i tend to be in the white kippah camp myself but, hey, there can be love between our peoples.


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