About the Minyan
The Library Minyan is recognized internationally for its unique constellation of members and community-based approach to Jewish living. An integral part of Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles, California, the Library Minyan is organized, led, and run by its members. Volunteers rotate each week in leading Mishnah study, conducting the prayer services, and reading the weekly Torah and Haftarah portions. They also prepare and deliver the weekly d’rashot, which offer personal and often unique interpretations of the weekly Torah portions.
The Minyan meets on Shabbat and Jewish holidays, including all services for the High Holidays, and sponsors regular Kiddush lunches and other activities that reinforce a sense of community. Traditional in its observance – but completely egalitarian, child-friendly, and democratic in its decision-making processes – the Minyan has served as a model for lay-led services in synagogues around the country.
Services on most (“regular”) Shabbatot begin at 9:45 a.m. Mishna study is from 9:00-9:30 a.m only on Zoom, and everyone is invited from wherever you might be. On days when we recite Hallel or celebrate a major Minyan simcha we begin at 9:30 a.m. (and there is no Mishna study). Services usually end around noon, followed by a kiddush.
Services take place either outdoors, weather permitting, on the Ziering Family Field, or in the Dorff-Nelson Chapel on the lower level of Temple Beth Am. The shul’s address is 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, California 90035, just south of Olympic Avenue.
A Brief History of the Library Minyan
The Library Minyan was formed in 1971. It is called the Library Minyan because it originally met in Temple Beth Am’s library. Most of the initial members were in their late twenties and early thirties, many of whom were married with young families. A group of teen-aged USY members from Temple Beth Am were also regular members from the beginning. These founding members included young rabbis and others who studied together every Shabbat before services. Continuing that tradition, the Library Minyan holds a Mishnah study session every Shabbat before services. The original members created a “self-led” Minyan where the participants led the services and offered drashot in a variety of styles from week to week. There was no single rabbi to serve as spiritual leader and guide the community. Instead, the rabbis who were members participated with the lay members in formulating religious policies through consensus, but consistent with the policies of the shul and the Conservative Judaism movement.
The Minyan started with twenty to thirty people. By the late 1970s, it had outgrown the library. It moved first to a youth building adjacent to the shul and then to the old Beth Am Chapel, which was large enough to accommodate a minyan that by then had grown to over 100 worshippers. Today, an average Shabbat will see around 120 people, including many rabbis, rabbinic students and other Jewish professionals, with a variety of prayer leaders, leyners, and darshanim.
Throughout its history the Library Minyan has been studying and discussing religious issues in an effort to adapt itself to modernity, while retaining its commitment to Halahic observance and the basic tenets of Conservative Judaism. As just one example, from 1975 to the early 1980s the Minyan went through an extended study process to understand, clarify, and address the issue of women’s participation in the services. As a result, the Minyan decided to become completely egalitarian, thus not only allowing women to read Torah but also counting them for a Minyan and enabling them to lead the services. Although Conservative synagogues in Los Angeles had long allowed girls to read the Torah and Haftarah and to become Bat Mitzvah, none allowed them to lead the services. The Library Minyan was a pioneer in this area. Similarly, it was the Library Minyan that first decided to allow the inclusion of the names of our Matriarchs in the Amidah, a variation in liturgy that has today become a standard alternative in Conservative prayer. More recently the Library Minyan has studied and adopted positions welcoming LGBT members to full participation in life cycle events.
In 2011 the Library Minyan undertook a major overhaul of its governance, with goals of greater transparency of decision-making as well as wider participation and regular rotation in leadership. The new charter was adopted in 2012, with a new Steering Committee and Rosh Minyan selected each two years.
While the average age of members has increased over the years, the Minyan has focused more on younger families in recent years. Youth leadership of parts of the service and chanting Torah and Haftarah occur regularly, and children always close the service singing Adon Olam.
The Minyan continues to face challenges in a dynamic way but has maintained its founding principles of textual study, open discussion, and decision making by consensus. It also remains committed to its longstanding goal: to create an environment that enables diverse individuals to participate and experience more fully their own spirituality.
This summary is based on a history that Nadine Gerson prepared for her daughter’s Bat Mitzvah based on information provided by two of the Minyan’s founding members, Rabbi Elliot Dorff and Rabbi Joel Rembaum. It has since been edited and updated.