Ask A Jew: Gatherings of 10

What questions do you have about Judaism? Submit them online, or fill out the form below. 

By Hyphen Parent

How come Jews can only worship in groups of 10? How is Covid-19 effecting this?

Certain prayers are only recited with a minyan (a group of at least 10 adult Jews). I’ve written previously on how a minyan ensures we’re surrounded by community when we need them most.

Traditionally, Jews pray three times a day which typically includes morning minyan services, however, the vast majority of prayers can be said alone. So during this time, many Jews are davening (praying) at home alone and skipping the prayers that require a minyan. 

Some synagogues are live streaming morning services where others can follow from the safety of their own homes and pray along. Some congregations will count that as a minyan and therefore say those prayers as long as service leaders know there are ten adult Jews watching from home. Traditional congregations generally require those adults to be in the same physical room in person to count for a minyan, so when those groups live stream, they skip any prayers that require a minyan and they don’t broadcast on Shabbat. 

The Jewish Daily Forward recently shared an article on how the traditions surrounding death and dying are changed in the wake of COVID-19.   Typically, sitting shiva (a period after death meant to comfort the immediate family) requires a minyan to say prayers of mourning. Current restrictions no longer allow for groups of people to visit for a shiva call, which changes everything. Humans of Judaism recently featured photographs from the shiva for Barbara Schechter. Seven of her 12 surviving children sat shiva in chairs 6 feet apart without any visitors and they then returned to their own homes to sit shiva alone. Without a minyan, traditional prayers of mourning can’t be said. Although, through Zoom and phone calls, they were able to be comforted by friends and family even though they couldn’t join together in person. 

One effect has nothing to do with the lack of prayers, but with the lack of community. People come to rely on seeing each other at services every morning.  Not being able to have coffee with friends after minyan has been jarring and isolating for many. Often, the people who frequent morning minyan tend to be older retired members. Since those 65 and older tend to be at a higher risk, people who can’t go to minyan are particularly worried for their morning minyan friends since they’re not able to visit and check in on them in person. Many congregations are making use of phone trees to have staff or board members call from home to see how members are doing and ensure their needs are being met. 

Photo from Siddur, a Jewish prayer book by Hyphen Parent/SpokaneFāVS

There are many prayers and rituals we can do alone, so those we can continue from our own homes. However, Judaism is a religion that relies on community, so these new restrictions are jarring to many. For those who are joining virtual minyans and continuing to pray, they are, for the first time in their lives, saying those words without others alongside them. For those who can’t say those prayers without a physical minyan, they’re reciting prayers and turning pages in their Siddur only to abruptly stop when they get to certain prayers. Prayers, like daily life, continue, but in a whole new way. Spaces that were once filled with prayers and community are suddenly silent. We are still Jews. We are still here. We’re still praying and we’re still valuing and supporting the community. Adapting to the Coronavirus means finding ways to do that which honor our health, safety, tradition, community, and Halakhah (Jewish law). 

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