It's the greatest feeling in the world. You walk into an almost empty synagogue, and you can feel the waves of love pouring out from the nine men who got there before you. You are the minyan man!

They were just hanging around waiting for you. Maybe the chazzan (prayer leader) was about to start the Amidah, or one of the guys needed to say Kaddish, or maybe the rabbi was desperate to start the Torah reading. The reason for the effusive welcome is that the collective just couldn't move forward without you, the tenth Jew.

The collective just couldn't move forward without you, the tenth Jew But what are you supposed to do once you've gotten there? Do you need to don a tallit (prayer shawl) and start praying in order to count towards the minyan? What if you're not quick enough to catch up to the crowd? What if you've prayed already?

The basic rule is that although we need ten men physically present to constitute a minyan, only six of them actually need to be praying together. As long as we have a majority up to speed, the other four can answer "amen" and just hang around doing their own thing.

The Other Type of Minyan

It's not just in the synagogue that a minyan counts for more; there are other occasions in Judaism when we count to ten.

For example, Jewish law requires – as per Deuteronomy 8:10 – that after we eat, we recite a blessing to thank G‑d for the food He so generously provides. Depending on the indulgence, different blessings are recited. There is the short, one-line Borei Nefashot that we say after most snacks, the longer Al Hamichyah that follows cake or biscuits, and the full blown, five-benediction Grace After Meals that is said or sung after eating bread.

Those prayers are recited irrespective of when, how, or with whom one ate. However, when dining in company there is a preliminary passage, the zimmun, which we recite together. There is the so-called minor zimmun, read when at least three men have shared a meal, and there is the major zimmun, which includes G‑d's name, for a minyan or more.

Fascinatingly, though a minyan is required in order to recite the major zimmun, only seven must have partaken in the meal. As long as seven men have shared a meal together, three others can join to make a minyan.

I never really thought about this discrepancy between a minyan for praying, which requires only six participants, and the minyan for Grace After Meals, which requires seven, until I came across a comment by Rabbi Yisroel Salant, the Lithuanian Torah authority and ethicist. He points out that this distinction between prayer and Grace After Meals is indicative of the significance that Judaism allocates to individual responsibility and communal identity.

It is more important to make sure someone has eaten than that he has prayed It is important to gather together in a common cause. It is crucial to our identity as Jews that we join together in shared homage to our Creator. We should always be on the lookout to invite other Jews into our synagogues and influence them to pray. But the primary focus of our interactions with others should be to ensure that they have food to eat and to welcome them to our tables. It is more important to make sure someone has eaten than that he has prayed.

Reach out to others; invite them to your home and feed their hunger. You have no right to enjoy your meal while another goes without. Even if you have a table full of guests, go that extra step to find one more mouth to feed. That is our priority, and that is where we should direct our efforts. Doing so qualifies us as true minyanaires.