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So I’m having this conversation on Facebook with a very dear friend. It started with his news that he no longer counted as a Jew for the purposes of a minyan.
For those who don’t know, a minyan is a group of ten Jews who have gathered for the purposes of prayer. Issues surrounding who is eligible to be counted in a minyan are complicated. Traditionally, only men over the age of 13 count. Traditionally, only men who are Jewish count – if you are in the process of conversion, you are not eligible. These rules are opening up in more liberal strains of Judaism to allow for all sorts of other people to be included in a minyan – women, transgender people, and gender queer Jews are all finding their ways into minyans.
So, back to the conversation. I am talking with my friend Stuart who is sad that he no longer counts for a minyan. He has converted to Christianity and is happy as a Christian. But it is a sad day when something that was so important no longer applies. Becoming eligible for a minyan marks you as an adult Jew responsible to the community. To lose that identity marker must be hard.
My first response to Stuart was that I would always count him in a minyan if I was praying.
That was about three days ago and I am still thinking about it. I am no longer so clear on what my answer would be. I love Stuart. I would pray with Stuart with absolutely no problems and count it as a sincerely spiritual experience. I believe that we are all straining towards the same G…d, and the value of interfaith prayer is incalculable.
But at the same time, there is a reason I am a Jew and not a Christian, or a Muslim, or a person who is spiritual but not religiously affiliated. We pray in specific ways. We perform our rites and rituals in specific ways. There are things that make us Jews and not something else. And there are reasons behind why we do the things in the ways we do them.
How do we understand what makes our religious identity? How do we decide which traditions should be maintained and which traditions can be shifted?
I don’t have the answer to any of this, just as I no longer have an answer to whether I would count Stuart in a minyan. I’m not sure if this is a line that must be held, a tradition that marks us as Jews who pray together. There is something about being in a room with nine other Jews, praying towards the same goal, praying in the same language, praying at the same time. Stuart could be there; he could speak the language. He knows the forms. He could go through the prayers, and he would (I’m sure) mean them deeply. But at the same time, in many ways, he is not a Jew anymore.
Does it matter? Does it change the prayer if he counts in a minyan and isn’t Jewish? Does it matter if there is a minyan?
I don’t know…