The J.P. Morgan Minyan

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

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An acquaintance of ours who had worked as a senior managing director at Bear Stearns, Andrew Neff, recently published an article on the Jewish Telegraphic Agency wire touching on his experiences there that included a recounting of his role “running the Bear Stearns minyan,” the daily gathering of the ten men required as a quorum for Orthodox Jewish communal prayer.

“When Bear Stearns moved to a new building several years ago, tighter security regulations killed our old stairwell mincha minyan. But after a few months I was able to get the conference room next to my office. Word spread and we started attracting outsiders from nearby firms. After a few weeks, I received a call from Bear’s human resources department. I was told there were issues with outsiders coming to a ‘secure’ floor,” Mr. Neff wrote. “It turns out there is a law requiring companies to provide employees with reasonable accommodation to prayer. So while the company did not want an official Bear Stearns minyan, they agreed to give me a room every day for prayer — for the ‘Andy Neff meeting’ — to which I could invite some of my friends to enable me to have a minyan. Twenty to 30 people regularly attended the service.”

He wrote, “Ironically, though Bear Stearns is gone, the minyan lives on. Roughly one-third of the attendees were from J.P. Morgan, which owned three buildings adjacent to our headquarters. We simply transferred management of the minyan to J.P. Morgan.”

So not only did JPMorgan Chase acquire Bear Stearns earlier this year; it also acquired a minyan. This sent us scurrying to our bookshelf to retrieve a copy of Ron Chernow’s book, “The House of Morgan,” which speaks of a “strain of anti-Semitism running through the Morgan story” and quotes an early biographer of J. Pierpont Morgan as writing that “He had a deep-seated anti-Semitic prejudice and on more than one occasion needlessly antagonized great Jewish banking firms.” The Chernow book goes on to report that as late as the 1970s, Arab oil potentates prized Morgan Guaranty’s “resolutely Christian past (the bank had no high-ranking Jewish officer until the 1980s).”

Count this latest turn as one of the many ways that capitalism is conducive to overcoming prejudice. And an example of how New York derives its energy and success from the way it has functioned as a place where minority groups can participate in great institutions without surrendering their identities or their faith.

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