Article: The Yeses and Noes of the Breakaway Minyan


It can happen quite frequently in large shuls (and less often in mid-size ones): You come to daven on Shabbos to find that a small but significant group of congregants have “seceded” from the shul to form their own minyan (prayer quorum) elsewhere.”Good for them!” some of the remaining shul-goers may say, while others may wonder, “Is it kosher?”

The Upside of Up and Leaving

The pros and cons of the so-called “breakaway minyan” are discussed among poskim. This phenomenon may begin with a small quorum that finds an alternate place to daven from the main sanctuary, but it can also be another shul in a different location. A new shul, and possibly even a minyan, can be viewed as a positive thing: another space dedicated to kedushah (holiness) for Torah study and davening. It may enable some people to daven more assiduously, especially if unresolved differences of opinion previously disturbed the peace.

Separating the congregation may at times provide a minyan for a congregant with a chiyuv (mourner’s obligation to pray*).The shul may already have an established ba’al tefillah (prayer leader, colloquially called a “chazzan”) or another chiyuv. Indeed, the common minhag (custom) is to form two minyanim when two chiyuvim are present.

Congregation vs. Segregation

However, there are some grave halachic concerns with forming a new minyan. Taking people away from the main congregation decreases the advantage—and halachic principle—of b’rov am hadras melech (In multitudes there is glorification of the King), which Chazal interpret as the largest possible assemblage of daveners.

While many times machlokes (dispute) in the congregation is the reason for the breakaway, seceding from the shul may cause even more conflict. Soliciting congregants to complete the new minyan is actually a form of gezeilah (stealing). In addition, in a neighborhood that would have difficulty sustaining the outlay an additional shul demands, forming the new minyan can be a violation of hasagas g’vul (lit., boundary infringement—usually referring to opening a competing business and causing financial loss to the established enterprise). Many poskim address those who leave, urging them to return to the original minyan in order to foster darchei shalom (ways that promote peace).

The Halachic Consensus

Halachic authorities deem it permissible to form a new minyan or shul l’shem shamayim (for the sake of Heaven) and with legitimate motive (although it is not recommended to found a minyan in a private home unless there are extenuating circumstances, since it does not possess the kedushah of a shul). The standard of b’rov am may be suspended for a chiyuv or if the new minyan davens a different nusach (variation of the prayer texts unique to one Jewish community or another) from the old congregation. If there are size, layout or character deficiencies in the original shul that would allow for increased kavannah (concentration during prayers) in a new place, there is also dispensation to relocate. However, the breakaway group must take care to avoid the pitfalls of machlokes, “stealing” congregants and hasagas g’vul. It is preferable to establish the new minyan within the existing shul rather than move elsewhere.

Separating completely from the old shul can sometimes promote shalom in both locations, and it may well increase kavannah (which was less possible when machlokes raged), but attempting to resolve disagreements or political differences through diligent effort—achieving true shalom—must prevail over seceding, as mentioned previously.

A new shul built outside the immediate neighborhood of the established one that would encourage those who were not shul-goers previously to now daven b’tzibbur (as part of a congregation) because it is more accessible, can be the stated benefit of a breakaway minyan.

*In the first eleven months after a parent’s passing and on their yahrtzeit (anniversary of their passing each year), the mourner leads the davening as ba’al tefillah (as codified by the Rema) and thereby recites Kaddish for the aliyas haneshamah (ascendance of the soul) of his father or mother.



From Halacha2Go Archives