Question: Can a non-Jew (or a person studying for conversion, but not yet converted) lead prayers? Is there a difference for different parts or prayers (e.g. Kabbalat Shabbat vs Amidah)? Is there a difference if there is a minyan or not?
The traditionalist in me says no, a person studying for conversion who has yet to convert cannot lead prayers because they are not traditionally obligated to lead prayers yet. The modernist in me says, maybe, but they can't lead the Amidah, they can't be called up for an Aliyah yet and are not counted as part of a minyan. This leaves leading the opening song and gathering the community before reciting the Barechu, reading Yotzer Or, Maariv Aravim or some of the poetic readings in a service and leading the closing song. The CCAR Responsa on this question answers in great detail the reasons why a person just prior to conversion isn’t obligated yet to fulfill the mitzvah of leading services. It also uses the traditional definition of a minyan:
“A minyan is thus a mini-recreation of the entire people of Israel. When a minyan is present, God is present. This is the rabbinic understanding of the verse, "God stands in the divine assembly [edah]" (Ps. 82:1).13 The constitution of a minyan for worship, therefore, is a reaffirmation of the relationship between God and Israel. Within the minyan, Israel collectively expresses its relationship with God, and the members of the minyan reaffirm their membership in the covenant community (b'nei b'rit). Minyan thus defines a Jewish community in a spiritual sense, as opposed to an organizational or institutional sense. When this spiritual community gathers as such for communal prayer, it must be led by one who is a full member of the community, i.e., one who is obligated to participate in fixed prayer. For this reason Tradition restricted the function of sheliach tsibbur to those upon whom it placed the obligation for public worship: free adult Jewish males14.”
The irony in today’s world is that the majority of reform Jews can't be bothered with daily prayers, Shabbat services or concerns about who is or isn't leading the prayers. On average most reform congregations are lucky to see between 2% of their members in a large congregation to 10% in a small congregation on a given Friday night. Jews by choice choose to be Jewish, seek community, and are actively defining their religious identity. Many people convert after years of journeying towards their Judaism, years of introspective soul searching and a years of classes and study. Most soon to be converts, after taking their local class of Introduction to Judaism, know more than naturally born reform Jews. Until their moment of conversion, however, a non-Jew just prior to conversion cannot yet be counted as part of a minyan or lead the central parts of a service. This should be seen as a goal within their conversion and not an insult or blockage towards their conversion. If person seeks to become part of the tradition and embrace its deeper meaning they must understand the difference of their status prior to conversion and post conversion when it comes to leading a Jewish prayer service.
Click here to view all of the answers for this question.
Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. Jewish Values Online
N O T I C E
THE VIEWS EXPRESSED IN ANSWERS PROVIDED HEREIN ARE THOSE OF THE INDIVIDUAL JVO PANEL MEMBERS, AND DO NOT
NECESSARILY REFLECT OR REPRESENT THE VIEWS OF THE ORTHODOX, CONSERVATIVE OR REFORM MOVEMENTS, RESPECTIVELY.