We Need Modern Orthodox Havurot

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In the second half of the 20th century, Jews across North America began to search more personal ways to connect to Judaism and spirituality. Instead of flocking to synagogues for prayer services and Torah study, small Jewish cohorts known as Havurot began cropping up in cities and suburbs alike. It was a revolution of Jewish spirituality and activism, and showed an early form of entrepeneurial inventiveness among Jews who knew what they wanted, but were not getting it from the established organizations.

And still today we find a need for innovation and reform in the way the Jewish community is engaged in it’s spiritual, cultural and educational manifestation. This call is being answered by Jewish social entrepeneurs who are finding gaps in the services currently being offered, and are creating small, localized efforts to address those demands.

A lot is being written about this phenomenon (see Innivation Ecosystem by Jumpstart), and it is becomming a major element of the Jewish communal field. In fact, the only group of Jews that have not entirely embraced this spirit of individuality is the orthodox.

This may seem obvious to some people, but there is a lot of dissatisfaction among young (modern) Orthodox Jews with the synagoes they are associated with. By and large synagogues are not responding quickly enough to the needs of us young Jews, and we are forced to choose between losing orthodox affiliation and participating in sub-standard communities.

Some synagogues are more responsive that others (Mt Sinai is alright with recent exceptions noted) but the overall top-down structure of orthodox community is not an absolute necessity.

It’s time for us to chart our own paths and find our own voices. I think we should take to the streets (or or living rooms) and find new ways to express our yiddishkeit. We are already doing this at shabbat meals that include lively discussion of Jewish thought, philosophy, bible study and much more. We must find new ways to express and actualize this dwindling fire within us in significant and meaningful ways.

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7 thoughts on “We Need Modern Orthodox Havurot

  1. Aaron

    SBS,

    I think that’s a good point. In this age of Social Media, there is a lot of room for Jewish connectivity online.

    I do think, however, that Jews are meant to connect and interact together in person (why else would every holiday revolve around a feast?)

    A lot of what one might have gotten out of a Havurah could be gained through online communities, but there will always be that hug, smile or face-to-face conversation that makes the difference.

    -Aaron

  2. Aaron

    As I was thinking about this more, I realized that there is one Havurah in Washington Heights. I think that Migdal Ohr is definitely doing what I was talking about, and it has taken the Havurah and turned it into a small Jewish organization.

    I think that the Migdal Ohr model of combining periodic prayer, Torah study and group meals is definitely a nice model for what could be a successful movement of all types of Havurot.

    The beauty of Migdal Ohr is that it’s not separate from the rest of the community. It’s my understanding that many of the Migdal Ohr members will daven regularly at the synagogues in the neighborhood, but have Migdal Ohr as a pillar of their Jewish connectedness as well.

    SW – what if the format/structure was similar to Migdal Ohr’s?

  3. SW

    I like the structure/format is wonderful (various people hosting from time to time/community meals/divrei Torah/shiurum, etc…). My only concern is the nature of the havurah, the reasons people want to join them, and the various expectations each person has of the havurah.
    Inclusiveness is a wonderful thing, as is tradition. One man’s (or woman’s) view of women dancing with a sefer Torah, is another one’s view of women participating in teffilot. I am not saying that I think one should be allowed in the havurah and the other should not- but when setting one up, the havurah needs to establish guidelines regarding how they view halakha, minhag, and communal norms.
    All in all though, the idea of a small intimate inclusive community is a wonderful idea!

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