Come Saturday, one of the longest Shabbat afternoons of the year, Rabbi Jessica Minnen is hosting what may be the city’s first Ecstatic Mincha, an opportunity to pray with your entire body.
Ecstatic Dance emphasizes free-form movement to music, a kind of meditation in dance; some describe it as the kind of bold, expressive dance people do when they think no one is watching. There are places around town to experience Ecstatic Dance, but what makes Rabbi Minnen’s monthly dance session at the downtown Brooklyn studio of the Mark Morris Dance Group different is its overlay on Jewish tradition.
“This is a new way to engage in prayer and in community,” the 33-year-old rabbi says, “and find something greater than ourselves through music and movement.” She specifically chose Mincha, the late afternoon prayer service, as a time to try this. “Mincha is rooted in the idea of a gift offering that took place. Here, we are exploring that gift.”
Rabbi Minnen, who was ordained at JTS in 2013 and selected in 2014 as one of The Jewish Week’s “36 Under 36” honorees, adds, “I think the spirit of Shabbat is exploring where you are and where you can be. We say that Shabbat is a taste of the world to come — it’s about possibility. I think that’s part of what inspired me to try this.”
She explains that Mincha is itself an ecstatic peak on Shabbat afternoon, as the transition back to the week is beginning. For her, and she guesses for other young Jews who don’t yet have families of their own, it’s a time of high energy. Some might argue that it’s the opportune time for a Shabbat nap.
“I want to move,” says the rabbi, who is the Resident Rabbi at OneTable, an initiative supporting young adults to participate in Shabbat dinners, and founder of Seven Wells, an educational program that explores the intersection of sexuality and spirituality.
To get to Saturday’s session, Rabbi Minnen will take the subway, but without swiping her card, which isn’t allowed on Shabbat (transit workers at her stop know her). As for the train, it is running anyway, as the reasoning goes.
“I certainly wouldn’t argue that traveling to listen to recorded music is letter-of-the-law halacha. I think it’s spirit-of-the-law Shabbat,” says Rabbi Minnen.
For this first Ecstatic Mincha, a two-hour session, Rabbi Minnen will serve as shaliach tzibur, or communal prayer leader, or in this case, disc jockey, and will click to introduce her play list. (Space is limited. For more information check the Facebook community page; RSVP to email@example.com. Another session is set for July 18, with an August date to be announced.) Others are welcome to bring musical instruments or their musical selections.
After the first hour, the rabbi will ask dancers to form a circle, and since Torah is the centerpiece of the Mincha service, will offer a song as Torah, the lyrics as “instructions, possibility, potential.” This week, she’ll play the Israeli band Alma’s rendition of “Elohai Neshama,” a prayer traditionally said in the morning expressing gratitude for the soul. In her translation, God “breathed it into me.”
“The soul that is breathed to us,” Rabbi Minnen says, “that’s something I want to explore through dance.”