On Making a Minyan, Literally
Yom haShoa morning. Siren has sounded. We all mourn.
I want to share with all of you another piece I wrote after hearing the siren.
This year was my father's 54th yartzeit. And on that day I was on a mission on behalf of עם ישראל, the Jewish people. But I knew I would be in a place where there may not be a minyan.
What to do?
There is an opinion in הלכה, Jewish legal literature, that one only needs to keep a yartzeit for the first 50 years of the passing of a beloved. This opinion is based on the verse "בִּשְׁנַ֥ת הַיּוֹבֵ֖ל הַזֹּ֑את תָּשֻׁ֕בוּ אִ֖ישׁ אֶל־אֲחֻזָּתֽוֹ — on the fiftieth year each man will return to his inheritance" implying (not by the straight textual meaning of course) that after 50 have passed, one's journey is over and the traveller no longer needs the help or push from those still in the lower world, in order to climb higher. He has reached his ultimate reward.
What should I do? This is a minority opinion and not accepted halakha. But such options, being valid Jewish rabbinic thought, may be used when necessary.
I wasn't totally satisfied.
Then I thought that as I have a brother, who will be saying קדיש for our father on Monday, 6th Adar, he will cover for me. That was a comforting thought.
But we always both said it. Perhaps he can say it because he doesn’t accept the 50 year thing, and I don’t say it because I do, and in essence one of us is probably sufficient.
Then I came up with another solution. I WhatsApped to my good friend Ḥayim who always goes to shul. “Ḥayim can you say kadish for my father’s yartzeit on my behalf because I’m stuck in the middle of ‘deep dark’ Africa without a minyan”. I sent him my father’s name, ישראל משה בן ברוך and he undertook and carried out the mission. As a man’s agent is considered like him in halakhic matters, I thought to myself, maybe I’m covered now — certainly using all of the above options in combination.
But I still wasn’t totally happy. This was the first time in 54 years!
So I did what any rabbinical scholar might do. There’s a case in the talmud (ברכות מ״ז) where there were 9 Jews who wanted to pray together (מַעֲשֶׂה בְּרַבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר שֶׁנִּכְנַס לְבֵית הַכְּנֶסֶת וְלֹא מָצָא עֲשָׂרָה, וְשִׁחְרֵר עַבְדּוֹ וְהִשְׁלִימוֹ לַעֲשָׂרָה) But 9 isn’t 10! And without a minyan, a count of 10, there are certain parts of the prayer service, including kadish, which cannot be said. That’s in addition to the power over haShem that 10 have more than <10 (see Avoth). One of the attendees, Ribi Eliezer, was accompanied by his slave. [It is important to understand that a slave in Jewish terms is a form of indentured labour of a non-Jew, where the status of this slave is that of a semi-Jew. For example he is circumcised and been in a mikve like a convert, he is subject to all negative mitzvoth of the Tora though not the positive ones, if his master is a cohen he too eats truma tithes, something that even the head of the Sanhedrin cannot do if he is not a cohen!] In order to make a minyan, this slave’s master issued him a manumission, immediately making him a full Jew, countable in a minyan!
But alas we were only three — and none of us happened to have our slaves with us :-(
There’s an expression in shul language known as making a minyan. This usually means that there are 7 or more us, but not 10, waiting to pray together. So we go out into the streets, the neighbours, get on the phone etc to gather some more Jews to make that minyan.
I thought I’d give it a go, putting a new twist on the expression. And I did make a minyan! Together with my two colleagues, we made 69 new Jews, during the day of the yartzeit! I could say kadish in my father’s honour!
On the next morning I was in shul with over 20 Jewish men, real Jews, each and everyone of us of exactly the same status of Jewishness. As the halakha says, we are all Jews from birth! When a ger, a convert, emerges from the waters of the mikve, he is considered to be have been born anew. I told this to each and everyone one of them as they surfaced from under the water, men, women and children.
The day was now Tuesday, 7th Adar. Was I a day late? Yes and no! I was covered yesterday by all the halakhic parameters I listed above. But I was still a day late. I could add in time zone calculations, because there were places somewhere in the world where it was still 6th Adar.
However 7th Adar is the birthday of Moshe Rabeinu, our teacher, and also the day of his passing on Har Nevo, the day of his yartzeit.
I announced to the congregation that I was saying kadish for both my father and for Moshe [which is also one of my father’s names] Rabeinu.
Abba, I hope I did the right thing by you. I did it all in your honour. Abba I miss you.
17th April, 2020 -- 23rd Nisan, 5780