Okay, so not that this is really news to anyone here, but apparently others in the Jewish world are starting to take notice that younger Jews are not so interested in denuded singles services and wine and cheese parties. I note the recent flurry of articles like this one appearing today on JTA in which the author was appraently made recently aware of a phenomenon that has been going on for quite some time now: indie minyans. This week Tikkun Leil Shabbat in DC gets notice – a couple of years back it was shtibl minyan and IKAR in Los Angeles.
Every year we get a few more articles noticing this “brand new” phenomenon. Recently the gaze seems to be upon the fact that many of the attendees are Conservative Jews, rabbinical students and rabbis. Why this seem to be so shocking is a bit bemusing to me: the fact that young Conservative Jews aren’t getting what they want from synagogues is not news.
Why Rabbi Epstein, quoted in the article, “Right now they don’t need religious schools or life-cycle events, but at a particular point they will turn to a religious institution to provide these things,” predicts Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. “If we face the challenge appropriately and retool some of what we do, I believe many of these people may join Conservative synagogues, or these minyanim may become Conservative institutions,” believes that these groups are going to affiliate with an institution later is also not clear to me – simply because they want life cycle events? Well, these minyans are full of rabbis – and more to come.
I don’t believe that they will have any trouble finding rabbis to marry them – and since no other life cycle event is really monitored by the state in just that way, nor do most life cycle events require a rabbi, I don’t see why they’ll need to join an institution later – especially if they send their kids to day school.
If they need halachic opinions, there are tons of rabbis whom they can consult. Here’s the interesting rub – if more and more of us who are looking for genuine community in a flexible setting, if we have a commitment to study and tefila (prayer) in a serious way, and where we get it are independant minyanim, then a conundrum comes: we will still need rabbis, but we don’t want to pay them – that’s what this seems to come down to. If we have no rabbis, and no instutions with mikvaot to sustain, prayerbooks to borrow, torah scrolls to use, buildings to borrow rooms in, then these minyans can’t survive long term either. On the other side, I also think that the development of these minyans belies the seemingly widespread moaning about the Conservative movement. Instead of all this navel gazing, Conservative Jews are going out and being Jewish – and I note that many of these minyans, even while they don’t claim to be either Conservative or halachic, have in my opinion a far greater percentage of people who take shabbat, kashrut and social justce laws much more seriously, and who study and take study seriously as well.
I am interested to see what will happen: will these indie minyanim figure out ways to support the community, and not just their own individual davenning needs? When rabbis go out to jobs like teaching and organizations (which I think would be a real and positive benefit – if they can actually pay back loans on those salaries, or else have the loans for seminary become more manageable) and join minyanim like these as members, rather than authority figures, what will Judaism start looking like. I think that these are exciting questions, and await further developments.