The skies opened up on Wednesday and for the first time in weeks the Land of Cotton got a decent soaking. The rain was needed, cooling off this little corner of the world that has been experiencing temperatures in the low 90s for the last month.
The lovely Miss Wendy and I were headed to minyon when the rain started pounding harder, momentarily mixed with hail. Gusts of wind had the trees along our route whipping about and traffic began backing up as roads filled with runoff and motorists slowed to a crawl.
Given the time of year – school is out and families are on vacation – and the violent weather, I knew there was a good chance we wouldn’t have a minyon. A few hearty folks weathered the storm, but after waiting ten minutes or so after the designated time for the afternoon service to begin, it became clear we were two Jews short of a prayer quorum.
That’s when one of the regulars suggested we go ahead with the service and use the Torah to fill in for the missing people. I’m familiar with the tradition at our shul of counting the Torah when necessary to reach a minyon. The idea has always seemed a bit bizarre, but most religions are filled with odd and esoteric rules and traditions.
Judaism, an ancient belief system that stretches back thousands of years, is no exception. We cover our heads with skull caps (kippot) and wear leather straps with boxes filled with scripture (tifillin) when praying, place amulets (mezuzot) on the doorposts of our homes and as jewelry around our necks. The observant don’t eat pork, shrimp or lobster, or mix meat and dairy products – no such thing as a kosher cheeseburger! The really observant refuse to do any sort of work on the Sabbath and the really, really observant pretty much spend their time studying the Torah and Talmud, figuring out why we do and don’t do all this stuff.
So in the overall scheme of things, using the spiritual weight of the Torah to fill out a minyon only makes sense, right? Well, maybe. References to the idea can be found in the Talmud, one sage suggesting that a child can be elevated to the status of adult by holding a Torah if a tenth man is needed to make a minyon.
There is much give and take about what age a child has to be or that, perhaps, two righteous youngsters equal one so-so adult. Somewhere in the distant past the need for a child was tossed aside and it was decided that the Torah itself was all that was needed to create a prayer quorum. After all, a Torah scroll contains the divine presence within it, one scholar suggests, and therefore it can create the necessary environment to sanctify God’s name in prayer.
Well, ah, maybe? Ultimately, modern Jewish law suggests that synagogues can essentially do what works for their individual communities – basically, a when-in-Rome sort of philosophy.
Meanwhile, the eight of us in my little corner of the world decided we’d hold the afternoon service; say aloud the parts not needing a minyon and skip over or recite silently the parts requiring a prayer quorum. There’s much I don’t understand about Judaism and Jewish law. But of one thing I am certain. Whether I whisper or shout, the God I pray to can hear my every thought!