What IS the role of the rabbi in the independent minyan movement?
I have to admit that I’m surprised and delighted at how much conversation the JTA article has produced both on Jewschool (see “Trifecta” and “indie minyans”) and across the spectrum (rumor has it that the Shefa Network‘s email list is afire with discussion about independent minyanim). As someone interviewed in the article who is also a rabbinical student, I want to pose the question to the Jewschool community: what is the role of the person who has completed rabbinical training in all this?
I have a very good idea of my critiques of the mainstream Jewish community’s passivity and hierarchy, its funding priorities, as well as the “wine and cheese party” focus for people in their 20s and 30s (I wanted her to use my other quote in which I said, “They’re so concerned with making Jewish babies that they forget about making Jewish lives,” but I digress).
But, at the same time as I am fully engaged in building a vibrant, authentic, empowered (read: non-hierarchical) Jewish expression and community(ies), I have a little “problem”:
I am going to be a rabbi. I have actually chosen to go to many years of schooling in the Jewish tradition, and to devote my professional life to realizing change in the Jewish world and beyond. As some commentators on “indie minyans” were mentioning, a non-Orthodox rabbinical student (and many Orthodox) comes out of school today with lots of debt because of lack of funding, which makes it impossible for her or him to work for free with a little minyan or to do part-time work in community-based groups without significant other funds.
Looking at the commentators’ discussions on these two Jewschool posts, I want to summarize the multiple definitions of what these minyanim are doing and present the question. Commentators here have thrown out different constitutive definitions of these minyanim as:
being spirited with an empowered approach to organizing
being for a specific age demographic
providing Jewish religious experience without demanding high fees
small, tighter community that cares about each other
Kol Ra’ash Gadol said in “indie miynans”:
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.
Perhaps it isn’t having a building fund and membership sign-up — having the trappings of being “official” — that makes us run away.
I assert and believe (and hope?) there are ways that the current generation of rabbis-in-training who are on board with and are in fact co-creating these independent communities can actually join with good holy souls to *gasp* bring these visions into the batei knesset of American Judaism (and further). The above qualities that are to describe these minyanim need not exclusively apply to unfunded minyanim that don’t own meeting space and lack a sisterhood.
They are mistaken, those in the movements who, because they can’t hear the critique the minyanim are launching against the mainstream, are gleefully and ominously predicting the downfall of these independent minyanim once we grow a little older. But I challenge us: What are the next steps? What kind of shteiblach might we create — ones with all the qualities listed above, but in which we can mark life cycle events, raise kids, be cared for in our old age?
More to the stated topic of this post: What IS the role of the rabbi in the independent minyan movement? I truly hope that the rest of us who are creating these communities can think about ways that we rabbis-to-be and recently ordained rabbis can actually serve as resources for these communities. Because, just as one cannot learn quantum physics without a teacher, it is also extremely difficult to learn/create a spritual practice without teachers. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without important Jewish teachers who have changed my life (both with and without official titles). We are all teachers and learners.
It also happens to be true that some of us have spent 5+ years in school so that we can serve the rest of us as resources for building our Jewish lives. Please. Please! Use us as such. And help us all figure out a way that we rabbis don’t have to take a job in a large, impersonal, suburban temple in order to pay off our school loans.
Won’t you come to my small, spirited, lay-empowered, caring, justice-motivated, pluralistic store-front shteibl? Oh, and help me create it?