The Rabbi Walked out on the Shiva



Minyan by Nancy Schon

I recently went to pay a Shiva call. Among the small group was an orthodox rabbi. We chatted and waited for a minyan to arrive. We made a couple of phone calls as the minyan was not materializing. To the surprise of some people in the room, the orthodox rabbi announced he was leaving. How can he do something so outrageous, someone demanded to know of me?  It is so disrespectful; just who does he think he is anyway?  On the contrary, I answered. The rabbi is acting with respect for the mourners.  How can you say that? Because I continued, the rabbi cannot share certain prayers absent a minyan and he cannot be counted in a minyan unless it includes only men. We will only have a minyan if we count the women, so the rabbi did the only thing he thought he could do under the circumstances, he left and essentially gave us permission to proceed. It might seem strange to some, but he was being respectful of both his beliefs and those who were in mourning. In that moment, he found a way to uphold both.

 minyanThere is room here to reflect on whether the decision was the correct one. Could not the rabbi have permitted himself to be counted for our purposes, never considering for himself that he has fulfilled his obligation? Wouldn’t his presence as a close family friend as a source of comfort override his interpretation of his obligation to his particular personal practice?

 The important point is he found a workaround that in his mind upheld his competing duties as he understood them. Then it was up to me to be respectful of the decision whether I agreed or not. Here was a moment that could have created separation as easily as it could create community. It required both “sides” of the conversation to decide which one it was.