By: Elliot Heller | Opinions  | 

On Tolerance and Prayer

Our community prides itself on inclusion. From the existence the Office of Student Disabilities, to the presence of a (now sign-protected) women’s section in each of the batei midrash on campus, to the various cultural and political clubs and societies, diversity – as much as can be had in a Jewish university composed of mostly orthodox students – is encouraged.

One of the primary ways that a Jewish community expresses its diversity is through its religious practice. While the nature of halacha is to enforce uniformity, there exists, by design, much space for uniqueness and individual expression. “Just as their faces are unique, so too is their experiential knowledge” (Berachot 58b). Prayer in particular is one area in which this room for individual expression is evident. The Da’at Zekeinim lists seven different types of prayer; Rav Shimshon Dovid Pincus counts ten. There are the shucklers and the statues, the enthusiastic and the introverted, the “Glueckers,” “Kleiners,” and “Rubiners,” if you will.

It is for these reasons that I was dismayed to read of two disapproving sentiments regarding new or proposed Shabbat minyanim on campus. The first was an opinion piece printed here, criticizing the “Klein @ 9” minyan for dividing our community unnecessarily. After a lengthy and puzzling Pokémon analogy, the author claimed that the difficulty in finding baalei k’riah for both Klein and the 9:00 minyan in Rubin since Klein’s inception made keeping both minyanim unsustainable, and suggested that the ruach seekers (Pikachus?) of Klein would find the environment that they seek if they would but volunteer to be chazzan in Rubin.

Quite simply, this seems to be a gross miscalculation. The Rubin minyan is known for being brisk and to the point, rarely taking longer than an hour and a half. This isn’t a matter of circumstance - many choose to go to Rubin because of its speed. Were a Kleiner to seize the amud and lead a slower, song-filled service, it's hard to imagine that this would sit well with many of the regular minyan goers. Not to mention what the Kleiners would be giving up by disbanding – the more “heimish” environment that the Klein beit midrash provides – the reason many Friday night Carlebach minyan attendees insisted on keeping the minyan there even on weeks when it was met with overflowing crowds. If there is a leining problem, it ought to be addressed. And it can be. The Rubin gabbaim are welcome to follow their Klein counterparts’ lead and send out Y-studs to ensure their Torah reading is covered. But asking a dozens-strong, year-old minyan with a specific purpose to fold and try to crash someone else’s party sounds like a lose-lose.

The second sentiment was more troubling. While I disagree with the author of the aforementioned article, I must credit him for crafting a well-written piece based on a genuine concern. The same cannot be said of the plethora of mocking posts that greeted a post on the Facebook group “Yeshiva University: In the Know,” from someone who was looking to start an ultra-fast Shabbat morning minyan that would finish in about an hour. The posts varied slightly, but looked something like this: “looking to start an efficient shabbos morning minyan. We will finish in a half hour, skipping the k’riat hatorah, chazarat hasha"tz and musaf (who likes korbanot anyway?).”

While the posts’ authors will likely say that they were just joking, the implication of these posts (I speak of the first few – later ones were merely - and humorously - poking good fun at how the topic had become a meme) was clear – having an hour-long minyan while maintaining kavana and respect for davening is impossible, and anyone who seeks such a thing has some serious issues with tefila. A sincere request to create a space that would give some students a more meaningful tefila experience was met with scoffs and mockery.

While I would no doubt be out of place at such a minyan, it should not be inconceivable to us that some would be more comfortable in such a setting than in the current options. Some find it difficult to sit in shul for extended periods of time, and enjoy the fast, “get-your-blood-pumping” style of morning prayer. Some even find that davening a rapid shemoneh esrei actually helps with their kavana, as their focus on not skipping words forces their mind to stay focused. Others may be interested in the minyan because they are on call, for Hatzalah or a sick spouse or child. Others may simply wish to get home early (and get a good-night’s sleep) and watch their children so that their wives can go to shul.

At the end of the day, our tolerance and universalism are woefully inadequate if they extend only to those whose viewpoints we share. It behooves us to remember that tefila is not one-size-fits-all, and to think carefully about what we “memify.” In the spirit of community and acceptance, I pray we do.