Orthodox Jews: some advice, please.

How can I politely establish my bona fides for making up a minyan?

My background: my mother was born in Hannover, Germany, in 1930, in a relatively secularized Jewish family. (Of course, at that time most German Jews were secularized.) Her parents fled with Mom and her sister and came to the US in 1941. Her grandmother and aunt died in the camps.

My father was raised in a Protestant family, but is a quiet atheist, and when my sister and I were small, the family went to a Unitarian church. Although we were told that Mom’s family was Jewish, and that we were therefore Jewish according to tradition, we did not keep kosher or observe any Jewish religious or cultural practices. It wasn’t until I had a Jewish friend in high school that I began to learn about such things. I consider myself an atheist.

Eighteen months ago I married a Conservative Jewish woman who had a strict Orthodox conversion 30 years ago and who has been teaching in Jewish schools since then. Since we’ve been together, I’ve observed that she is far more knowledgeable about Jewish history, tradition, and practice than many born Jews. Needless to say, I have learned a great deal about Judaism in that time.

Finally to the reason for this post. The other night we attended a* sheva brachot* (one of seven post-wedding dinners held for a bride and groom by their friends) at a strictly Orthodox home. Before dinner, the men gathered for prayers, and although I can’t read Hebrew, I joined them. But before they started, the leader (I don’t know if he was a rabbi or not), looked around and said that one of us didn’t count. He made a point of not looking at me, and everyone else was confused, but he apparently assumed from my appearance that I had converted or was in the process. They sent one of the boys to a neighbor to get a tenth man to make up the minyan.

What should I have done?

You should have told him to go fuck himself.

unless he didn’t mean you of course. Then you would have been embarrassed. :o

Honestly, I don’t know… but I think Alessan’s answer is a very good one.

I would have put the guy on the spot and demanded an explanation.

I’ve been part of plenty of Minyanim which have included people who are not observant, and were probably not knowledgeable in Hebrew.

That said, I don’t know if any of them ever professed to be an atheist. If at some point you (or someone else) informed the assembled that you consider yourself an atheist, that might have disqualified you from participating. I do not know if this is the halacha, I’m just speculating here.

In what way did you stand out from the crowd? I assume you wore a yarmulke in the Orthodox host’s home.

To the best of my knowledge, atheism does not prohibit a Jew from observing mitzvot (and being counted in a minyan is a mitzva), nor is reading Hebrew a requirement (after all, there have been plenty of illiterate Jews over the course of history).

Please explain to this ignorant muslim what exactly a “minyan” is and whats the significance.

To the OP, belated congrats on your marriage.

The minimum to hold a meeting. I believe that because there is no High Temple in Jerusalem currently, there is no building of lesser temples - a synagogue is not a temple, it is a place of meeting that is religious based, and the center of the local Jewish community. Sort of along the lines of a Meeting House of the Quakers. Combines a place to worship, a place for education and a place for the community to do things together that they may not want to do at home because of lack of space or equipment.

There is no requirement to build a synagogue, many communities are too small to afford one, so the groups of men and women meet in someones house, and there is a minimum number that qualify for holding meetings of various types. Very similar to the early Christians who kept the practice for a number of years after separating, and is still practiced by many small groups of Protestant based Christians in the US by meeting in someones house or a rented room in a local motel until they raise the money for building their own church facility. The jewis do the same, meet in private homes and rented rooms until they have the resources and congregation size to support a synagogue.

In Orthodox Judaism, it’s a group of 10 adult Jewish males required for communal prayers and other rituals.

And the problem here was?

That the guy leading the gathering didn’t think that one of the males present qualified as a Jew.

Basically, there are certain prayers that can only be said when a certain quorum is present. This includes the full text of the morning, afternoon and evening prayers, as well as certain special services like the one mentioned in the OP.

I think the concept exists in all streams of Judaism - it’s just that the more liberal ones accept women, too.

Is there an exception if 10 are not available?

I think I’d have quietly taken him aside during the time period when the kid was running next door and said something like, “I’m not certain if I’m the “one” you speak of, but I’d like to talk to you sometime about that. I believe I am acceptable.”

Might not have helped in the moment, but it could clear up confusion for next time.

It’s possible he wasn’t talking about you. If he knew someone else in the group was under a religious ban for some sin, he may have not counted him for that reason.

AK84, if you can’t find 10 appropriate people, then you use different prayers.

I’m with WhyNot. Why wouldn’t you make inquiries, of the gentleman involved, directly afterward, to end the confusion? Why assume he meant you, and then, not bother to be certain?

Here on the SDMB, aren’t questions for Orthodox Jews traditionally posted on Friday night? :slight_smile:

I believe a boy who has not bar mitzvahed holding a prayer book counts.

You mean a boy younger than 13? No.

You mean a boy at least 13 that has not yet had some kind of ceremony celebrating his now being bar mitzvah? Yes.

The Rambam’s commentary on tractate Sanhedrin, chapter 10, outlines thirteen principles of faith, several of which require explicitly a belief in G-d.

Rejecting this does not magically make one not Jewish. But it does, in my opinion, make one an apostate Jew. And while an apostate is still halakhically Jewish, he may be required to accept immersion in a mikvah before a rabbinical court before he may again be accepted into the Jewish community.

Of course, I have no idea how the group may have reached their conclusions.

Thanks AK84, and thanks to everyone else for your answers.

This was not an option because 1) I didn’t want to make a scene and damage my wife’s reputation in the community, and b) I wasn’t offended and don’t care who does or does not consider me a Jew. People can make whatever rules they want, and if I’m not qualified to be a member of their club, it’s no big deal to me. My only reason for participating was as a courtesy to them, and because I thought it would be disrespectful to sit apart while they were praying.

This was the first time I had ever been in such a situation. I had been part of *minyanim *in Conservative homes where my background was known. Here, my wife was a friend of the bride, and knew only one or two others, and I knew no one else. When we arrived the hostess said it was good that I was there, because they hadn’t been sure that they’d have a minyan. But the prayer leader had his doubts.

Yes, I had my kippah, but I was wearing a polo shirt and khakis, my usual uniform, while most of the other men there were wearing the traditional black hats. And they were all known to each other, and I was a stranger.

I’m 99% sure it was me. I would have been happy to explain if he had asked, but he didn’t. My wife thinks that he didn’t want to embarrass me by questioning what he presumed was my conversion.

For my part, I wasn’t sure what would satisfy these very Orthodox people. My wife says that being born of a Jewish mother should be absolutely sufficient for anyone, but I thought they might have needed me to be circumcised (I am, as are a majority of American men born in the 1950s, regardless of religion), or to have had a bar mitzvah (I haven’t), to read Hebrew (I can’t), or meet some other criteria.

There was a boy there who was one week from his bar mitzvah. He didn’t count.

I don’t know if this situation is likely to arise again, but if it does, I’ll probably follow WhyNot’s sensible advice. Or perhaps we can quietly let someone know about my heritage beforehand.

Thanks again for all the advice.


I wore either a polo shirt or a replica Royals jersey to shul almost every weekday morning this summer, and no one questioned my fitness to be included in a minyan.

My best guess is that, if you attended this event because of your wife’s friendship with the bride, perhaps the bride or one of their mutual friends once mistakenly said or heard that she had intermarried, or that you had converted under non-Orthodox auspices, which in halacha is pretty much the same. I think that if you said something like, “I count ten Jewish men here,” they would have been properly corrected. This way, you’re not specifically saying that it’s you who they’re excluding, and it puts the other guy on the spot to explain himself.