Minyan: The Congregational Quorum

Only in a group of ten or more is there sufficient sanctity to recite certain public prayers.

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Rabbi Millgram wrote before it became the prevailing (but not universal) custom, as it is now, for women to be included among those whose presence constitutes a minyan in non-Orthodox synagogues. Reprinted with permission from Jewish Worship, published by the Jewish Publication Society.

Congregational worship [has traditionally been] preferred to private devotions because it enabled one to respond to the reader’s call to worship ["Bar’khu"] and to recite the Kedushah [the expanded third blessing during the reader’s repetition] of the [Amidah, or "Shmoneh Esreh"–the common core of every prayer service]. At a public service one could also hear the reading of the scriptural selections, and a mourner could recite the Kaddish. In addition, one experienced the interstimulation that comes from worship with coreligionists.

What constitutes a congregation? The answer is a minyan, a minimum of ten adult Jews (an adult Jew is any Jewish male who has passed his thirteenth birthday). The number ten was derived from the first verse of Psalm 82, which reads: "God stands in the congregation of God." The word edah (congregation) is also applied to the ten spies who, in the days of Moses, rendered a negative report on the land of Canaan. Hence it was established that a "congregation of God" consists of at least ten men.

In the geonic period the definition of the minyan was not rigid. In Massekhet Soferim (10:8), a late geonic work, we read that a minyan is required for the recitation of certain prayers–but, it is added, "our Sages in Palestine recite these prayers in the presence of seven . . . and some say even in the presence of only six." The practice of the Palestinians did not prevail, however. The rule of the Babylonian Jews was adopted everywhere, and a full quorum of ten men has been required for public prayer.

It has also been argued whether one may include in the minyan a boy under thirteen when only one person is lacking for the quorum.

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Rabbi Abraham Ezra Millgram (1900-1998) served as a congregational rabbi, a Hillel director, and from 1945 to 1961, Educational Director of the Commission on Jewish Education of the United Synagogue of America. During several decades of active retirement in Jerusalem, he published a number of books, including Jerusalem Curiosities (Jewish Publication Society) and A Short History of Jerusalem (Jason Aronson).

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