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COVID-19 Sunset

The Mishneh Torah, Maimonides’ code of halakhah, emphasizes the preference for communal prayer over individual prayer: “Communal prayer is always heard even if there are sinners in their midst. The Holy One does not reject the prayer of the many, therefore a person needs to join himself with the congregation and not pray as an individual whenever one is able to pray with the community” (MT, Prayer 8:1). 

Our movement determined that during the height of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, for the sake of our communal health, we could virtually “join” the community via a digital platform based on the following source: 

If a few people are inside and a few are outside [the building], and the shaliach tzibur (prayer leader) is in the middle of the doorway, he joins them [together for a minyan]. Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chayim 55:15

In this scenario, the shaliach tzibur sees both a group of four and a different group of five, but the two groups don’t see one another. The shaliach tzibur joins together the two groups for a minyan. During the initial phase of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, since everyone could see (at least) nine other Jews on her Zoom screen, we allowed that temporarily to constitute a joined minyan. That temporary leniency was a blessing.

Nevertheless, we must acknowledge that both the individual and kahal (community) lose out when pray-ers daven from their own homes.  The individual loses out on the benefits of being surrounded by prayer and community; and the kahal is diminished by the individual’s absence in their eyes and ears. Thankfully, these kinds of Zoom minyans are no longer necessary to safeguard our communal health, and, therefore, will be officially terminated no later than May 1, 2023, for Shabbat and holiday minyanim­­­­­.

Since the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency began, the AJ daily minyanim have been meeting without members of Beth Sholom Congregation. Beth Sholom has informed us that they will continue their evening minyan through Zoom. Thus, I would now like to apply another halakhah to our new normal. This halakhah presents a case where there are 10 people saying Kaddish, and one person leaves the room, and then another, and then another. May Kaddish still be recited if fewer than ten people are in the room? The answer is that as long as the majority of the ten, i.e., six, are still present, Kaddish can continue. (Although the rabbis say uncomplimentary things about the four who left.) (S.A., O.H. 55:2)

In full recognition that the two halakhot above are distinct, I am combining them to offer our new protocols. As long the shaliach tzibur is present with five other Jews in the building, and the shaliach tzibur can see that there are at least another four Jews on Zoom—which will be the video platform used during daily services—then that will constitute ten Jews for the daily minyan. For the virtual participants on Zoom, should they be saying Mourners’ Kaddish, they will unmute themselves so that the congregational y’hei sh’mei rabbah will be a response to all mourners’ recitations of the Kaddish. Ordinarily, one may not have any Aliyah from Zoom. If circumstances prevent one from being at AJ, a Zoom participant may have a joint Aliyah with someone who is present at AJ.

To restate our new protocols:  for daily services as well as minhah/ma'ariv on Shabbat and holidays, although we will count everyone for purposes of a minyan, there needs to be at least six physically present in our building, including the shaliach tzibbur (prayer leader), to anchor the prayer service.

For both Shabbat and holiday services, since we are no longer “counting” virtual viewers, there must be a physical minyan of 10 people present in the sanctuary or chapel.

For special occasions, AJ will consider allowing virtual participation via Zoom for non-halakhic pieces of the prayer service, such as the Prayer for our Country and our World, the Prayer for Israel, a niggun, and Adon Olam.  This might mean that there would be a projector and screen in the sanctuary and that someone not in the building could offer their blessings within the framework of the service. This special option balances our desire for friends and family to interact with their loved ones for special events, such as a B’ Mitzvah, and our desire to preserve the sacred aesthetic of our chapel and sanctuary.   

Sun, June 16 2024 10 Sivan 5784