The Mincha Minyan

minyanby Julie Sugar

In the Jewish communal world, there is an ongoing conversation about how to activate and dazzle uninvolved or unaffiliated Jews. I think the conversation needs to be reframed; I believe that many people want to be involved, but for different reasons aren’t able to access the Jewish ritual and communal space.

Likewise, I believe that many people want to connect to Torah, to prayer, to learning, to community – all of which are present at the arguable peak of the Jewish week: 9am to noon on Saturdays. What if that timeframe isn’t enough? What if it doesn’t work for everyone? (Nothing works for everyone!)

As a young adult who wanted to become involved in Jewish ritual and communal life, at first that timeframe didn’t work for me. I grew up secular, and waking up early on Saturday mornings to go to services was far from second nature. If I woke up at 10am, I felt like I had already lost my shot: I knew that by the time I got dressed and arrived, services would be over, and I was too embarrassed and intimidated to join everyone in the social hall afterwards if I hadn’t been in the building earlier.

It took time and a lot of resolve for me to go regularly to shul – synagogue – on Saturday mornings. I wish I hadn’t needed so much resolve… and my own story makes me wonder who isn’t yet making it through the door.

Acknowledging a High Barrier of Entry

While Friday night services are often lovely, I think the heart of the Shabbat service is on Saturday. We remove the Torah from the ark; we read the weekly Torah portion; we hear a dvar Torah, or sermon; we sing and pray more than we do on Friday nights – it’s a longer service – and after services are over, we stick around, eat, and hang out more. It’s a pretty sweet set up, if you’re into that kind of thing. But it’s all over by noon.

We have a great “product”, and for many who are already fully immersed in the rhythm of Jewish ritual and communal life, the timing works. For others, though, the timing creates a high barrier of entry. Whether it’s families with young children, those new to ritual life, interfaith couples, or simply professionals exhausted from the work week – the reality is that Saturday mornings can be a tough sell.

If only there were an additional point of access: a service that has a lower barrier of entry, but that still uses the same elements of a Shabbat morning; a service which could be someone’s entire Shabbat experience, an easier stepping stone to increased involvement, or an extra cherry on top. Well, that service exists. It’s called mincha.

We Already Have an Afternoon Service

With some exceptions, if a Jewish community offers a mincha afternoon service on Shabbat, it’s an insider affair. As intimidating as entering a synagogue on a Saturday morning can be for someone new to ritual life, going on a Saturday afternoon is basically inconceivable – in part because synagogues don’t really market the mincha service to newcomers. For those more connected to ritual and communal life, the intimidation factor has less to do with familiarity with the Shabbat afternoon service and much more to do with social norms and sheer numbers: overall attendance is much lower, and while there may be eating and learning and talking between mincha and the subsequent evening service, the whole experience is not nearly as socially abuzz as in the morning.

It’s a shame for both sides of the spectrum, because mincha is a great service at a later time. It has a Torah reading, which sets it apart from Friday night services. Depending on the needs of the community, mincha can be followed by learning or eating (or both), which can then lead into the evening service and the havdallah ceremony marking the end of Shabbat. Or mincha can stand alone as a meaningful Shabbat experience.

I believe that we have a significant opportunity to approach the mincha afternoon service as an additional entry point to Jewish ritual and communal life. How that approach is implemented will naturally look different from synagogue to synagogue. Let’s make it happen.

Access Shabbat

The ‘Mincha Minyan’ will be a network of Jewish communities committed to increasing access to Jewish ritual and communal life, beginning with regularly creating and promoting robust mincha afternoon services on Shabbat.

Do you know of communities already approaching mincha in this way? Do you want to try this out in your own synagogue? Are you interested in finding communities near you that are actively offering a robust mincha service?

- Use the hashtag #minchaminyan on Twitter

- Contact me directly with comments and questions

I began exploring the idea of the ‘Mincha Minyan’ this year as a PresenTense fellow in New York and, initially, I would balk when asked what the target market is for the project. It felt like I was being asked to articulate the target market for something that is as broad as Shabbat, Torah, or socializing. Ultimately, that speaks to the strength of the ritual and communal space: different kinds of people are given the chance to come together – young and old, deeply steeped in the tradition or in a synagogue for the very first time. Each Jewish community can approach the mincha afternoon service on Shabbat according to their needs, whether it’s creating an experience similar to their Shabbat morning, or offering a different kind of service, aimed for a specific profile.

Every week, we create a “palace in time”, as Abraham Joshua Heschel famously described it. Every week, there are people who want to enter but have difficulty doing so. Let’s increase access to Shabbat by opening the doors to our own palaces – our synagogues and other Jewish communal spaces – more often, and at more hours. The mincha service is a good place to start.

Julie Sugar is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. She was a 2013 PresenTense NYC fellow, and can be found at julie.wordpress.com or on Twitter @juliesugar.

cross-posted at julie.wordpress.com

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Comments

  1. We have an awesome, informal, mincha minyan kehilah at Neve Shalom in NJ. We have been doing it for many years now. It it a great opportuniy for novice Torah readers and novice daveners to develop confidence and a really warm davening experience for people new to the community. Would love to share stories.

  2. We have a wonderful, lay led, informal, mincha minyan kehilah at Neve Shalom in Metuchen, NJ. We have been doing it for many years. It is a great opportunity for novice Torah readers and sh’lichim as well as a warm friendly environment for people new to the community.

  3. Offering a mincha experience sounds lovely, but I’m not sure that the underlying assumption that Saturday morning doesn’t work is entirely credible – or that Saturday afternoon is any better. The reality is that there are competing activities at any and every time of day, on any day of the week. It also depends on your stage in life. As a single 20something, Saturday morning was awful – it was for sleeping off your Friday night! As a married-with-young-kids 30something, Saturday late morning is only ok. My kids are up at 630, so synagogue starts too late for us! Parents of older kids run into competition with sports practices and the like.

    What it comes down to is that if people value the synagogue, they make time for it. If they don’t, they don’t. Sure, you can try to open access with more time slots, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But I don’t believe that it fundamentally changes the value proposition.

  4. There is significant precedent for this. As Jeffery Gurock points out in his work on American Orthodoxy, there was a period of time where Mincha was the big highly attended shabbat minyan in Orthodox communities because most of the congregants had to work (imagine that?!) on Saturday morning.

  5. Naomi Adland says:

    Isaac, I think you make a really interesting point about different times working best at different stages in life – to me, that’s actually a really strong argument in favor of something like this! Truthfully, I’m not the kind of person who regularly goes to synagogue more than once on any given Shabbat – but I flip back and forth between evening and morning services. While the services have different flavors, I can generally expect a warm communal experience – it would be comforting to know that I could also expect that on a Shabbat afternoon.

    I agree with you – when people value synagogue, they make time for it – but why not make it just a little bit easier for them to make that time, by giving another option?

  6. Naomi, I don’t have a principled objection to offering more time options. What I’m questioning is the underlying assumption that inconvenience causes lack of attendance, rather than indifference.

    Orthodox synagogues, even relatively small ones, offer multiple prayer times for many services. There is sufficient demand for prayer that the synagogues create multiple offerings – the driver is demand. If we take a synagogue where there isn’t that much demand and add additional service options, you may attract a few more attendees at the margins – those for whom convenience really is the main barrier. But you’re unlikely to shift the underlying reality of lack of demand for prayer services by increasing the supply. Moreover, fragmenting the services, which imposes real costs on the synagogue, may also deter some people from attending, since the social aspects of coming together as one community will be diluted.

    Again, I’m not suggesting that this idea can’t work anywhere. But I think we have to reconsider what the synagogue offers in the face of its failure to compete in the market for people’s time, attention, and priorities.

  7. Elcya Weiss says:

    For a short while this year we lived in a Jerusalem neighborhood — Ein Karem — where this idea is fulfilled in the best possible way. Shabbat afternoon, any time between Mincha and the end of Shabbat, the community shule becomes a gathering place for young and old, over a broad spectrum from religious to secular, regulars to once-in-a-while-ers. Everyone knows there will be people, song, healthy food, and good fellowship. This is one of the things we miss about Ein Karem. Maybe it’s an idea we can implement in our new home……..

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