Partnership Minyanim: A Unique Niche

This month’s blog is by Sarah Weinberg, who serves as a gabbai at Kol Sasson Congregation in Skokie, IL.

The work of Kol Sasson Congregation aligns well with Rabbi Sid’s 3rd proposition, although it also differs from it in some ways:  “At a time when technology has made meaningful social intercourse much harder to come by the Jewish community must offer places where people can find support in times of need, a gathering of friends in times of joy, and the kind of human relationships that make life fulfilling.”

As an independent minyan, we leverage the talents and contributions of community members and, while we do pay a halachicadvisor, we currently have no paid clergy. At the same time, I would argue that the reason for the existence of Kol Sasson is not necessarily that the community members want to do it all themselves, rather it is that we have found that mainstream organizations don’t offer the type of prayer model and halachic structure that we wanted. 

While many leaders in the world of Open Orthodoxy are sympathetic to the approach of a partnership minyan, there are few synagogues that are open to this approach. Rather than say that our congregants have rejected mainstream synagogues, we prefer to say that we have not found synagogues that align completely with the values of our minyan. While our dues are generally lower than most synagogues, money is not the reason that people have made the decision to join our congregation. In fact, for a variety of reasons, a large percentage of our membership also belongs to other synagogues.

I find this to be a primary difference between fully-egalitarian, independent minyanim and partnership minyanim. The main difference between an egalitarian minyan and a Conservative synagogue is the hands-on approach and lack of a strict top-down structure. But what draws most people to our partnership minyan is the desire to maximize the participation of both men and women within the halachic structure. There really is no other place in our city where we would have that option. 

As we move away from the generation of founders and have grown, we are at a point where we are looking at hiring clergy to help support us. There are times when the all-volunteer model fails and that is something we continue to grapple with. 

The members of Kol Sasson certainly benefit from the existence of more mainstream institutions. Long term, it will be interesting to see whether more partnership minyanim will form outside the frameworks of existing Orthodox synagogues or whether the more mainstream Orthodox synagogue will find ways to accommodate the needs of hose of us who currently want to daven in a very unique way.

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Sarah Weinberg is a professional in business operations who enjoys applying her expertise to programming and community building initiatives within the Jewish community. She and her husband, Daniel, serve as two of the gabbaisat Kol Sasson Congregation in Skokie, IL where you can find them learning, having fun, and making music with their three children.