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"[I]ndependent minyanim remain among the most exciting and successful innovations in American Jewish life. They are nurturing a new generation of Jewish leaders and worshipers and are stimulating new and sometimes controversial ideas—about Jewish prayer, Jewish community, and Jewish learning—that promise to have a long-lasting impact."
- Jonathan Sarna, Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University, quoted in Empowered Judaism, p. xiii.
Independent minyanim – lay-led prayer communities that do not claim a denominational affiliation – have made a significant impact on the constellation of contemporary American Jewish life. Since the year 2000, more than 100 independent minyanim have launched across North America. These communities, populated largely – although not exclusively – by people under age 40, have redefined the possibilities of what an engaged Jewish life could look like. Located in major urban areas, as well as an increasing number of suburbs and college campuses, independent minyanim are opening up new models of Jewish community for a generation of Jews. Mainstream synagogues and national movement organizations have looked to independent minyanim for creative new ways to engage worshipers.
Since 2006, Mechon Hadar has played a leading role in helping to support and foster this burgeoning field. Through our four national conferences, we have convened the leaders and founders of dozens of these minyanim to share best practices and challenges. In the past few years, synagogues and minyanim have traded best practices at these conferences, and the dialogue between the two groups has led to fruitful changes in both types of organizations. You can find recordings from these conferences here.
Rabbi Elie Kaunfer’s book, Empowered Judaism: What Independent Minyanim Can Teach Us about Building Vibrant Jewish Communities, now in its third printing, offers practical guidance and perspective. Used by minyan leaders as well as synagogue professionals and laity, Empowered Judaism offers a roadmap to some of the thorny questions of building engaged Jewish worship communities. Joey Weisenberg’s book, Building Singing Communities, has helped foster a new approach to song and communal engagement in minyanim and synagogues.
To find a minyan in your area, or to get an overview of the movement, an informally maintained database of minyanim - including brief descriptions of the style of each - is available here. (Don't see your minyan? Let us know.)
Mechon Hadar's leadership serves as consultants to many independent minyanim. To schedule a consultation or visit, write us.
Some of the more frequently asked questions are outlined below in strategies collected by Rachel Forster Held, a gabbai at Kehilat Hadar until 2007:
- Balancing Inclusivity and Davening Quality
- Facilitating Hospitality
- How Often to Meet and Which Services to Hold
- Whether to Have Official Membership
- Examples of Prayer Leader Guidelines
More in-depth analyses of these and other questions can be found in Chapter 3 of Empowered Judaism.
In recent years, independent minyanim have attracted the attention of academics interested in the history and sociology of the American Jewish community. Several of these works are available below.
- Spiritual Communities Study, [A Demographic Study of Independent Minyanim] by Steven M. Cohen et al., Synagogue 3000, 2007
- An Empirical Anaylsis of Independent Minyan Members, by Michelle Shain (MA Thesis)
- Partnership Minyanim in the United States: Theory and Action, by William Kaplowitz (MA Thesis)
- The Influence of Social Trends and the Creation of Innovative Minyanim, by Nicole Samuel (MA Thesis)
- Independent Minyanim and Prayer Groups of the 1970s: Historical and Sociological Perspectives, Riv-Ellen Prell, Zeek, 2007
- Two Generations of the Independent Minyan in America, Shirah Weinberg Hecht, Journal of Jewish Sociology, vol 55, nos 1 and 2, 2013 (not publicly available)
- Innovation Within Tradition: Halachic Egalitarianism and the Role of Independent Minyanim, by Katy Lora Swartz, (Honors Thesis)