Friday, July 21, 2006

Nine Men And A Boy?

It is a tense moment. Nine men are waiting for a ‘tzenter’ – a tenth man to make up the Minyan. Will one turn up, or will the regulars and the man who came to say Kaddish go home disappointed?

From Talmudic times, the rabbis have attempted creative solutions to this problem.. In the Talmud (Berachot), Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi indicates that one may add a pre-Bar Mitzvah boy to nine men to make the Minyan. As a matter of interest, the same section of the Talmud records that Rebbi Eliezer once arrived at a Shul to discover that it was one man short of a Minyan. Apparently, he manumitted his gentile servant (thus completing his conversion to Judaism) in order to make up the Minyan! While it is unlikely that the second case will ever be germane in the 21st century, the first proposal could be useful.

Actually, the Talmud discusses whether or not these suggestions were ever intended to be viewed as legally valid. This debate continued into the mediaeval halachic literature. While Rabbenu Tam (a grandson of Rashi) rules that in principle, one could include a boy in a Minyan, a number of major early halachists, including the Rosh and the Mordechai, contend that he never actually allowed it in practice. In fact, the Rosh himself disputes the halachic validity of including a boy at all.

The Tosafists mention the practice of including a boy who is holding a ‘chumash’. The ‘chumash’ mentioned is actually a scroll, not the type of printed book that we know today by the same name. Rabbenu Tam views this as nonsense; he asks, ‘is a chumash a man?’ Nonetheless, the idea appears to be based in a passage in the Jerusalem Talmud, and despite Rabbenu Tam’s disapproval, is cited by a number of later sources.

The Shulchan Aruch, published in the 16th century, mentions the practice of including a boy, but points out that it is incorrect, as demonstrated by the fact that is rejected by many significant halachists. However, the Rema (Ashkenazi gloss) adds that while in principle he agrees with the Shulchan Aruch, there are those who are lenient and will include a boy in an emergency, even without a ‘chumash’ in his hand.

Later sources qualify what is already a limited application of this leniency: the boy should be at least of an age when he understands that the prayers are directed to God and only strictly obligatory prayers should be recited.

The possibilities that there will be no Minyan, perhaps no Torah reading and that eventually the Minyan may fold are considered by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein to be ‘emergencies.’ Based on a careful study of the sources, he allows his respondent to rely on a boy to make a Minyan. He prefers that the boy be 12 years old (almost an adult) and while acknowledging that the ‘chumash’ trick is not really necessary, favours ‘giving him a Sefer Torah’ to hold. And of course, one may only use one boy in this way; no source will allow a small group of men to include two or more boys!

A version of this article first appeared in the Jewish Chronicle. It is republished here with permission.

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