(Crossposted to Mah Rabu.)
On April 28, 2001 (Shabbat Tazria-Metzora), about 60 people crowded into an apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan to participate in a new egalitarian Shabbat morning minyan. This minyan would be named Kehilat Hadar several months later, and it has grown dramatically in both size and influence, becoming a household name around the world and inspiring many spinoffs and imitations. So today we congratulate Kehilat Hadar on reaching its 10th anniversary. (The community celebrated its anniversary several weeks ago, on Shabbat Tazria.) We wish it many more years of success if it continues to meet a need, or a graceful end if it ever outlives its mission.
But today marks an even more important milestone. As of today, according to some (including Hadar founder Rabbi Elie Kaunfer), Kehilat Hadar is no longer an independent minyan.
How is this possible? Let’s look at the evidence.
The 2007 Spiritual Communities Study, sponsored by the S3K Synagogue Studies Institute and Mechon Hadar, restricted its sample of communities based on certain criteria. The report says “For the purposes of this report, we define a qualifying community as one with the following features:”, and among these features is “It was founded in 1996 or later.” (Other features of independent minyanim include “It exists independently of the denominational movements” and “It meets minimally once a month for worship”.) At first it seems like the 1996 cutoff (10 years before the study began) is just about defining the scope of the study and nothing more. But later parts of the report attribute more real-world significance to this categorization, such as the infamous bar graph which illustrates that “these communities … have grown in number more than five-fold”. (Of course you’re going to see huge growth after 1996 if you only include communities founded after 1996! If “synagogues” were defined as “synagogues founded after 1996”, then a graph of the “number of synagogues” in each year would also necessarily show some year x such that the “number of synagogues” increased fivefold between x and the present.) Agree with it or not, the idea here is that the period after 1996 is different in some way from the period before 1996. And because 1996 is in the past, you might think that whatever happened in or around 1996 already happened, and this historical cutoff isn’t going to change.
But you’d be wrong.
In Rabbi Elie Kaunfer’s book Empowered Judaism (published in 2010), he writes “What is an independent minyan? They are defined by the following characteristics:”, followed by a familiar list that includes “No denomination/movement affiliation” and “Meet at least once a month”. But there is one crucial difference between this list and the list in the 2007 report: instead of “founded in 1996 or later”, Kaunfer defines independent minyanim as “founded in the past ten years”. (At the time of publication, that meant founded in 2000 or later.) Since he has essentially adopted the definition from the S3K/Mechon Hadar study, he seems to understand the significance of 1996 not as a specific moment in time, but as 10 years before the study’s data collection. (For the Excel users out there, it’s the difference between E2 and $E$2.) On the next page is another version of the same bar graph, but this time it begins in 2000, and doesn’t claim to be linked to a particular sample, but is instead labeled “Total Number of Minyanim”. (This graph also features the humorous caption “Growth of independent minyanim in the United States, 2000-2009. Includes six minyanim in Israel.”)
So if we extend this dynamic definition of independent minyanim into the present time, then as of today, a community is only an “independent minyan” if it was founded after April 28, 2001. So Kehilat Hadar doesn’t make the cut.
If Kehilat Hadar, once viewed by many as the flagship independent minyan, is no longer an independent minyan, then what is it? Is it a synagogue? Is it a havurah? (Kaunfer writes that the purpose of the 10-year cutoff for independent minyanim is “distinguishing them from the havurah movement”.) Is it something else?
As Kehilat Hadar enters its second decade, it will have to figure out what it is. Either that or it can remain an independent minyan (after all, that’s what it’s good at), and we can stop pigeonholing communities based on an arbitrary chronological cutoff. We can acknowledge that independent minyanim (any way you define that) existed before 2001 (and even before 1996), and at the same time see that this takes nothing away from the significance of the work that a new generation of minyanim has been doing for the last 10.01 years. We can explore the substantive similarities and differences among independent Jewish communities, whether they were founded around the same time or decades apart.
Happy birthday, Hadar!