Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A good minyan is like a well-written novel

As noted in previous posts (such as here), I’ve been trying to find minyanim that work for me, and for my family, in our new home. Part of the challenge is in defining what, exactly, we are seeking.

We’ve defined certain elements already, and now I’ve found a way to express another element: The minyan should be run like a good novel is written. By this I mean that the minyan should have a specific tempo, whether fast or slow or in-between, created and maintained by its ‘authors’ with plan and intent.

Some novels are tightly-written, spare in their details and never veering far from the central plot. The characters are drawn with a minimalist stroke and the underlying themes emerge only in the elements of the action.

Other novels (think Steinbeck, or Ellison) are slow to develop, with multiple strands and dense character development and a rich symbolism.

I tend to prefer the former, but if I have a settled mind and some time then I can appreciate the latter as well. There is a reason for the author’s decision; it is not random, but rather it is selected as appropriate for the story the writer wants to tell.

On the other hand, some novels are lackadaisical, the author changing speed for different parts, sometimes developing characters and other times presenting stick figures, sometimes providing detail to the point of purple prose and other times presenting just the facts, ma’am. I have a hard time with books like this.

The same is true with a minyan, for me; I like minyanim that move from A to B to C without chatter or distraction, but I can appreciate a minyan that takes time for niggun or a long amidah or divrei torah and explanations of tefillah. The pace is a choice made by the members of the minyan, or at least its leadership, as they find the way they can best daven.

I have a hard time, though, with minyanim that are like the lackadaisical novel, in which the chazan rushes through part of the davening and then sings his way slowly through the next, with pauses while the assembled mull which torah to use or who will take over at ashrei, with people coming in late and leaving early and generally seeming unsettled in the davening. To me, this type of minyan bespeaks a slovenly, lackadaisical approach to davening itself, and I have a hard time developing kavvanah in such an environment.

So far, then, I have the following list of criteria: Dedicated to the davening itself, family-friendly, convenient location, a davening-friendly women’s section, and, now, an intentionally defined pace.

The search continues.


  1. sounds like the list used by the search committee that rejected moshe rabbeinu :-)
    joel rich

  2. And don't forget: leaves enough time for your early-morning workout! ;)

  3. Joel-
    Maybe, but a mispallel can dream, right?

    I wish. I'm looking at getting a home gym at this point.

  4. Sounds like you are trying to re-create Sons of Israel.

    How close have you come?

    BTW: Real glad you mentioned about the women-friendly section. I was pretty put off by a place close to where I work that wasn't.

  5. Hi Fruma-
    Some elements, yes. We weren't perfect, but we definitely had our good points.
    (And I have been on the record for years saying that the layout for the women's section in the daily minyan at Sons must be re-done.)