Chaim Ingram

Acute Angles: Why Isn’t She Counted?

Dear Rabbi.   I have brought my family up in a Reform congregation but we want to switch to an Orthodox one.  The only problem is my 14-year-old daughter. She has no issue coming to terms with separate seating as she has always sat with her friends anyway and seating men away from women at prayer makes absolute sense to her.  But she is resentful that she will not be counted for a Minyan.  How can I explain it to her?  A Conflicted Dad.

Dear Conflicted Dad.

Thank you for submitting this question to me just a few days ago.  I am addressing it right away, particularly as it relates to the upcoming weekly Parasha.

You may be interested to learn that the reason a Minyan consists of at least ten men is because ten is the smallest number comprising an eda, a congregation in the Torah.

In what context does this word eda appear? Well here’s the surprise. It is in connection with the ten meraglim, the ten traitorous scouts dispatched by Moses at the behest of the people to reconnoitre the Promised Land, together with the ever-faithful Joshua and Caleb.  These ten men issue a devastatingly negative report on their forty-day tour of Erets Yisrael which demoralises the rank and file so much that they consider mutinying and returning to Egypt.  The result is a forty-year detention in the desert until the demise of all those “who were counted in all your censuses, from twenty years old and above [until sixty]”.

Who were counted in the censuses? We see from Exodus 30:12 and Numbers 1:2 that it was the able-bodied males who were eligible for the army. They were the sinful multitude who were barred from entry into the Land.  Notably free from blame were the entire female population. They did not mutiny, nor were they denied entry into the Land.

Moreover, the ten scouts who caused the demoralisation were all male. The author of Kli Yakar, R’ Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz (1550-1619) suggests that “it would have been preferable to have sent a female reconnaissance mission, for the women loved the land and would never have spoken evil of it!”.

But that didn’t happen.  The ten perfidious meraglim were all male.  And it is these ten who are called an eda and it is from this reference that we designate ten men as constituting a minyan. And in a sense every worthy eda that has gathered in synagogues ever since the meraglim’s fateful mission and has proclaimed the truth of the Torah through its regular public reading has served to expiate and expunge that nefarious sin.

 Thus it would seem that women do not form a minyan or part of one because their superior conduct 3,300 years ago demonstrated that  they have no need of one!

Men “are counted” for a minyan,  Women simply “count”. They count because of the amazing work they do behind the scenes and sometimes even front-of-stage in ensuring the social, educational, charitable and kosher-dietary life of their community remains healthy and vibrant.

Tell all this to your daughter.  I hear she is intelligent , perceptive and sensitive and I think she will understand that not being counted for a minyan is no slight to women – quite the contrary!

About the Author
Rabbi Chaim Ingram is the author of five books on Judaism. He is a senior tutor for the Sydney Beth Din and the non-resident rabbi of the Adelaide Hebrew Congregation. He can be reached at
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