Independent Minyanim and the Role of Rabbis

There was a recent JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) article about independent minyanim. Although some scholars have brushed it aside as a fringe movement, they are many non-denominational (or at least non-affiliated) prayer groups that meet in major urban areas and college towns. They attract a highly Jewishly educated and involved crowd that (at least in the earliest stages) included many friends and fellow Jewish travelers (from Ramah, Pardes, JTS, and Hillel).

This recent article has stoked the fires of the Jewish blogosphere and led to a derivative discussion about the role of the Rabbi in these communities.

The campuses in which I work (Smith and Amherst) have small, highly-educated Jewish students. In many ways, they mirror the composition of these indy-minyanim (although perhaps not in the level of Jewish education and identity). Therefore any discussion on how a rabbi functions in a non-hierarchical community is important.

It happens that this past Friday night was the first time I attended Smith Shabbat dinner at the Kosher K this year. In my brief dvar torah I mentioned that I view myself as a resource and a guide. Rabbi means teacher but for few students will I ever be a teacher in a formal class setting. I teach by guiding students, helping them solidify their Jewish identity. It is not up t0 me to determine their path but to help them move further along it. I do this by sharing events with them, opening my house to them, and by being around when they need it. I also do this through brief divrei torah at shabbat, hagim, and in public campus settings.

If you are a student, I encourage you to read about these minyanim and how rabbis play a role in these nuanced communities. Then email me and lets discuss it.

Rabbi Bruce

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