Tuesday, June 26, 2018

"The Tenth Jew" by Howard Stein

The Tenth Jew
"Congregation" Watercolor on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
Howard Stein     

I know the Hebrew words;
I know the old gestures;
I know some of the chants;
I know how to read;
I know how to pray.

But I don’t know whether
I believe it any more.
Not that I have firm doubts,
Not that I have good reasons
Science would approve of.
I have a place of ache
Where once blessed assurance dwelled.

I don’t know why I go
To Schul any more,
Unless it’s to be sure
There is a tenth adult Jew
So that others can pray
A complete service.
Maybe to be obligated
To them is reason enough
To continue to go.

Poet’s Notes:  This poem is inspired by an event and amplified by imagination. Many years ago, I attended a Saturday evening service at my synagogue. It was the weekly service in which we bid farewell to the Sabbath until her return the following Friday evening. The service was also a transition from the sacred day of rest and prayer to the ordinary six days of work.

One Saturday night, I quietly entered the small sanctuary and was welcomed as a hero. It was not that I was new. I had been coming weekly for a long time, but people expressed deep gratitude that I had come that night. I felt gratitude in turn for the gracious welcome but also was somewhat puzzled.  What was all the fuss about, I wondered?  As I took my seat, someone explained what should have been obvious to me--until I arrived, there had only been present nine adult Jews, and I was the tenth. That is, I had completed the necessary minimum of adult Jews required to conduct the full service. I will never forget that night.

Editor's Note:  A minimum of ten Jewish men (and yes, they must be men, which is to say males thirteen years old or older) constitutes a ritual Jewish quorum or minyan.  Certain prayers can only be recited if a minyan is present.  Also, a public reading of the Torah requires a minyan.  On that “note,” I invite you to enjoy “Minyan Man” by the Maccabeats of Yeshiva University https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nXvFHWWCT6I.

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