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Empowered Judaism

What Independent Minyanim Can Teach Us about Building Vibrant Jewish Communities

Rabbi Elie Kaunfer
Foreword by Prof. Jonathan D. Sarna

6 x 9, 224 pp, Quality Paperback, 978-1-58023-412-2

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The inside story and practical lessons from one of the most exciting developments in contemporary Judaism.

“Part description and part prescription, Empowered Judaism is a manifesto for transforming the way Jews pray and—more broadly—for building vibrant Jewish communities…. [It] represents the latest chapter in [an] uplifting history of religious creativity. This is a book that every Jewish leader will want to read and every serious Jew will want to contemplate.”

—from the Foreword by Prof. Jonathan D. Sarna

Why have thousands of young Jews, otherwise unengaged with formal Jewish life, started more than sixty innovative prayer communities across the United States? What crucial insights can these grassroots communities provide for all of us?

Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, one of the leaders of this revolutionary phenomenon, offers refreshingly new analyses of the age-old question of how to build strong Jewish community. He explores the independent minyan movement and the lessons it has to teach about prayer, community organizing and volunteer leadership, and its implications for contemporary struggles in American Judaism.

Along with describing the growth of independent minyanim across the country, he examines:

• The roles of liturgy, space, music and youth in this new approach to prayer

• Lessons to be learned from the concept of immersive, intensive Jewish learning in an egalitarian context

• Jewish values in which we must invest to achieve a vibrant, robust American Jewish landscape for the twenty-first century

“Kaunfer knows what’s ailing American Jewry and he has the cure.... Belongs in every Jewish synagogue, school and JCC library and should be read by every rabbi and Federation leader. [The] message is timely and deserves to be widely disseminated.”

Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter

“A pick not only for Jewish collections, but for any serious spirituality collection.”

California Bookwatch

“Rabbi Elie Kaunfer has emerged as an insistent and compelling voice for enhanced Jewish life in the twenty-first century. The minyanim of which he speaks are symbolic of a deeper vision: an entire community that is empowered, knowledgeable and committed to the richness of the Jewish tradition. Nothing short of a manifesto for the next generation, a challenge to the Jewish community about what we are likely to fall into by default if we do not take Kaunfer’s book seriously.”

Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, professor of liturgy, worship and ritual, Hebrew Union College; co-founder, Synagogue 3000; editor, My People’s Prayer Book: Traditional Prayers, Modern Commentaries series

“Taps into the spiritual yearning of a generation that hungers for a Jewish religious practice that is rich, meaningful and unapologetic. Captures the remarkable phenomenon of a newly emergent movement to reclaim vibrancy and vitality in Jewish life. [An] important and valuable contribution to the Jewish future.”

Rabbi Sharon Brous, founder, IKAR

“Challenges the Jewish community to provide the participatory, experiential religious opportunities that young Americans seek.... Worth reading.”

Central Conference of American Rabbis Journal

“Remarkable.… A ‘must read’ for people trying to understand this vital new phenomenon as well as for individuals seeking to connect to Judaism in a new way—be they lay people, scholars, or leaders of the American Jewish community.”

Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg, founding president, Jewish Life Network; founding president, CLAL: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership

“Kaunfer’s plea for an empowered laity should be heeded.”

CJ: Voices of Conservative/Masorti Judaism

“This is no ordinary book. This is a call to revolution … a passionate and brilliant manifesto [that] sets out a new course for Jewish life in America…. For an American Jewish community despairing of its future, this book is a prophecy of hope and new vision.”

Rabbi Edward Feinstein, editor, Jews and Judaism in the 21st Century: Human Responsibility, the Presence of God and the Future of the Covenant

“Excellent.... Gives solid advice on starting one’s own prayer community and then goes a step further to consider how Jews become ‘empowered.’”

Jewish Book World

“Truly insightful.... The content is gold, and if you don’t know about this stuff, you should.”

“This moving book reveals a critical new development in the lives of younger American Jews. Not often does one have the opportunity to read such an inside story on dramatically positive Jewish history in the making. Elie Kaunfer’s vivid account of participating in the creation of Mechon Hadar, an ‘Independent Congregation’ community that fosters Jewish liturgical and intellectual rigor, egalitarian ethics and group responsibility, and spirituality at the same time is compelling. His analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of conventional American Jewish congregations is spot-on, and will surely provoke lively and important conversations within and outside those congregations. Equally gripping is Kaunfer’s own story of initial resistance to encounters with the Divine, and his eventual immersion into a passionately religious path of Jewishness.”

Sylvia Barack Fishman, chair, Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies and professor of contemporary Jewish life, Brandeis University; author, The Way Into the Varieties of Jewishness

“Even the most devoted synagogue-goer might find the book’s descriptions of minyanim refreshing.”

Jewish Voice and Herald (Providence, RI)

“Offers plenty of excellent suggestions.... A book for anyone who cares about prayer communities.”


“A roadmap to the future. His incisive understanding of the mindset of early twenty-first-century Jews (especially young ones) informs this accessible and eloquent treatise on building resonant, inspired communities. Kaunfer argues persuasively that transformations in contemporary culture mandate changes in Jewish communal and spiritual structures—and that such innovations have always been integral to the evolution of the Jewish people.”

Felicia Herman, executive director, The Natan Fund

“Details what works and what doesn’t in starting a lay-led minyan.”

New York Jewish Week

“Accessible yet sophisticated…. The practical suggestions about worship are valuable not only to the world of independent minyanim but to synagogue minyanim and sanctuary services as well…. Will challenge both those who want to follow in Kaunfer’s footsteps and those who disagree with him.”

Rabbi David A. Teutsch, Wiener Professor of Contemporary Jewish Civilization at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College; editor, Kol Haneshamah Prayerbook series; author, Spiritual Community: The Power to Restore Hope, Commitment and Joy

“Advocates a new outlook on how to connect younger Jews to their tradition.”

Washington Jewish Week

“Practical, highly readable…. Read this book to understand the spiritual impulses of a generation of seekers who are not ready to give up tradition and not ready to give up on their own empowerment within Judaism either.”

Dr. Erica Brown, author, Spiritual Boredom: Rediscovering the Wonder of Judaism and Inspired Jewish Leadership: Practical Approaches to Building Strong Communities

“Challenges [our] assumptions and shifts our attention to what religious participation should be in a new and more engaged Jewish communal future.”


“Takes us on an inspiring insiders’ guided tour of the new independent minyan phenomenon, which is rejuvenating the Jewish landscape. Egalitarian, joyous, upbeat, participatory, spiritually alive—no wonder young people find a home in the minyanim! Enjoy this testimony to the vitality of Jewish life and the enthusiasm of young people to make it their own.”

Rabbi Marcia Prager, ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal; author, The Path of Blessing: Experiencing the Energy and Abundance of the Divine

“Essential reading for anyone interested in twenty-first-century life of Jewish prayer, study, and community…. A great read and a wonderful contribution to the Jewish bookshelf.”

Riv-Ellen Prell, professor of American studies, University of Minnesota; author, Prayer and Community: The Havurah in American Judaism

Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, named one of the top fifty Jewish leaders by The Forward, and one of Newsweek’s top fifty rabbis, is co-founder and executive director of Mechon Hadar (, an institute that empowers Jews to build vibrant Jewish communities. Mechon Hadar has launched the first full-time egalitarian yeshiva program in North America, Yeshivat Hadar (, where Rabbi Kaunfer teaches Talmud. A Dorot Fellow and Wexner Graduate Fellow, Rabbi Kaunfer co-founded Kehilat Hadar (, an independent minyan in Manhattan committed to spirited traditional prayer, study and social action. He was selected as an inaugural Avi Chai Fellow, known as “The Jewish Genius Award.”

Prof. Jonathan D. Sarna is the Joseph H. and Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University and director of its Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program. He is author of American Judaism: A History, winner of the National Jewish Book Award, among other books.


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978-1-58023-270-8 Spiritual Community: The Power to Restore Hope


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