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The Minyan Factory

December 22, 2010 – 12:19 pm13 Comments

By David Werdiger

I’m visiting Israel very briefly, and again find myself enamoured with the “minyan factory” known as Shtiblach Katamon. It happens to be about five minutes walk from where I’m staying, which is very convenient indeed. Let me describe how it works: it’s a big house with about six rooms and a foyer/lobby. During busy times, a man stands in the foyer – I like to call him the traffic cop. He directs people to which room a minyan is either about to start or has just started. For example, the minyanim for shacharit (morning service) run every 15 minutes like clockwork, from about 6am until 10am on weekdays. It’s the same sort of thing for mincha and maariv. On Shabbat, things start a little later, and finish a lot later, and slightly different rules for Shabbat mincha (a new minyan is allowed to start as soon as a minyan in progress has completed hagbah (the lifting and display of the Torah that occurs after the reading)). The full schedule can be found here (search for the word “Shtiblach”).

Of course this isn’t the only minyan factory around. One of the largest and best known is Zichron Moshe in Jerusalem, where a maariv can be had at all hours of the night (which is very handy for people arriving from abroad who need to say kaddish), and of course there are similar Shtiblach in the frum neighbourhoods of Bnei Brak and Boro Park.

Besides the obvious convenience (especially when suffering from jetlag), what I really love about the place is the way it unites people. At any given minyan, you will find a diverse mix of all types of Jews: Sefardi and Ashkenazi, Chassidim & Mitnagdim, kippot of every size, shape and fabric, and all different styles of peyot. The shul has no standard nusach (form of prayer) – whoever leads the service prays in his own nusach. The sorts of things that sometimes cause friction in some shuls simply don’t happen there. Everyone respects the cultural diversity of the place and each other, abides by the rules, and it just works.

Could such a thing work in Australia? Probably not. The Yeshivah shul in Melbourne already has a handful of daily shacharit minyanim (6:10, 6:15, 6:45, 7:30, 8:30), Adass has a few more than that, and we are blessed with plenty of shuls already (some might say too many, but that’s a whole other topic of discussion). David Havin publishes a minyan finder twice a year that tells you the when and where.

What is required to make a good minyan factory? The most important thing is the infrastructure: a foyer with several adjoining mini-shuls, a couple of Sefer Torahs in each, and someone to direct the people. The matter of nusach could certainly be a barrier in a city like Melbourne, where people go to a shul because they are a part of that particular community. That said, many of us who live in the ‘ghetto’ are so lazy that we wouldn’t go to a place ten minutes away when there’s one five minutes away – something that could be called ‘elasticity of demand’. So we probably don’t have the Jewish population density for such a venture to succeed. Nevertheless, these shtiblach, wherever they are, stand as an outstanding model of Jewish unity.

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