During my first week in the Land, I stood near the Kotel, the Western Wall […] I stood about a pace away from the wall, from the stones, and I felt like I did not belong, that my existence was rooted in a different experience, that I couldn’t take that extra step. But somebody tugged at my sleeve and asked me to join in a minyan. I put on a hat and I joined the minyan. I said the Mincha prayer, and I arrived.
This is something Jewish, something most particular to Judaism, about being one of a minyan. To know that the nine need a tenth, and that the one needs the nine. This may be the most meaningful thing in Judaism […] I pray that I will always be one of the collective, that my good words will join with the words murmured by the community.
Abba Kovner, “One of the Minyan”, Al Hagesher Hatzar, Sifriyat Hapoalim, 1981
Foundations for Planning
- How am I an important part of my community?
- How do I connect to my community?
- How does the idea that Jews everywhere celebrate the same holidays and pray the same prayers connect me to the Jewish community?
- How do Jewish practices reflect Jewish values?
- Why do we pray in a minyan?
- How is the importance of community expressed in prayer?
- How does personal prayer differ from communal prayer?
- How does praying as part of a minyan affect the individual worshipper? How does the individual influence the group of people praying in the minyan?
The source for the need for a minyan for prayer and ceremonies is the Mishnah, Tractate Brachot. From the verse ונקדשתי בתוך בני ישראל” [I will be sanctified among the Children of Israel]” (Leviticus 22:32), the Sages learned that God is “sanctified” specifically by...
The source for the need for a minyan for prayer and ceremonies is the Mishnah, Tractate Brachot. From the verse ונקדשתי בתוך בני ישראל” [I will be sanctified among the Children of Israel]” (Leviticus 22:32), the Sages learned that God is “sanctified” specifically by a group. The number 10 as the minimum size of a minyan was derived from the story of the spies in the book of Numbers. In that story, God refers to the 10 spies who slandered the land of Israel as an edah – a group. From there, the Sages understood that a group includes at least 10 people and that that is the minimum number of Jews needed for certain prayers and ceremonies.
The following mitzvot require a minyan: saying Kaddish, saying the Seven Blessings at a marriage ceremony, reading the Torah and saying certain blessings that are part of the prayer service.
Traditionally, only males over the age of 13 are included in a minyan. But, today, in many Jewish communities around the world, women and girls over the age of 12 are also counted as part of the minyan.
Abba Kovner – poet and writer, born in the Ukraine in 1918. During the Holocaust, he was a leader of the organization of Jewish fighters in the Vilna Ghetto and a leader of the Jewish partisans. After the war, he moved to Israel and joined a kibbutz. Abba Kovner died in 1987.
- Show the video of the singalong featuring the song “Chai” or the song “One Day”. These songs were performed by people who are not professional singers and who did not know one another, who gathered together to sing together. These activities were organized as part of an Israeli project called Koolulam.
Ask: In your opinion, what feelings are produced in a large group, which aren’t produced when three friends sing together? What is the difference?
- Divide the students into small groups. Have each group write down 10 activities: group activities on slips of paper that are one color and solo activities on slips of paper that are a different color.
Now, have the students review their categorizations: What do we do together? What do we do alone?
Mix up all of the notes from all of the groups and then choose notes at random. For each note, ask the class: Is this an activity that we do together or alone? Does a majority of the class agree with the classification of the small group (as seen by the color of paper they chose for that activity)? There will be some activities that almost everyone will agree should be done as a group or alone. But, for other activities, there may be more disagreement.
Now, call out the activity “prayer”. Is this something to be done together or alone?
Click here to view our consolidated list of suggested interactive pedagogies for classroom discussion.
- Why do you think that Judaism requires a minimum number of participants for certain activities?
- How does praying as part of a group affect the prayer experience of the individual?
- What values are expressed by the concept of minyan?
- Have you ever felt like you were a part of something larger than yourself? How might participating in a minyan lead a person to such a feeling?
- Think of situations in which praying together can be meaningful and situations in which it is actually preferable to pray alone.
- Tell about a situation in which a group of some sort (family, friends, a team, etc.) helped you and you, too, were able to contribute to the group.
- Think about a situation in which you could help somebody else feel a greater sense of belonging, that they were part of the group (or a situation in which somebody else helped you to feel that way).
Questions following the story:
- In your opinion, why do you think that the narrator felt like an outsider the first time he visited the Kotel, as a new immigrant?
- What caused him to feel like he belonged when he was included in the minyan?
- Abba Kovner said, “…the nine need a tenth, and the one needs the nine.” What can we learn from these words about the relationship between the individual and the group? What is the place of each individual in the group? What is the place of the group in the life of the individual?
- Divide the students into small groups and ask each group to write a script that describes a situation (real or imagined) that relates to question 6 from the In-Depth Discussion section. Ask some of the groups to act out their scenarios for the rest of the class.
- For older students: Ask the students to complete a short research project using the internet. Have them research other situations in Judaism and in other cultures in which a minimum number of participants must be present. What principles did this research reveal? Where, when, why and for whom is a minyan necessary?
- Learn more about the subject of minyan: Prepare a list of mitzvot and Jewish customs such as giving tzedaka (charity), saying kaddish in memory of a close relative, reading from the Torah, visiting the sick, the Passover Seder, fasting on Yom Kippur, a wedding ceremony, blessings, etc. (You can do this digitally using flip cards.)
Ask the students to guess whether or not each activity requires a minyan and to explain why. After the answers have been revealed, discuss whether the students agree with the tradition in each case.
- Many prayers are written in the plural voice. This practice also points to the importance of the communal element in prayer. Study the resource on the Amidah prayer in which this issue is explored.