Zooming into Prayer

August 21, 2020
By Beth Mordecai
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Zooming into Prayer

Well, the end of summer is upon us. Sad I know. But we have the High Holy Days on the horizon, and the end of August to fill our cups for the road ahead. This has not been an easy five months since the Coronavirus entered our world. The next five months are anyone’s guess. Yet, as the unknown is presented before us I feel grateful to have the grounding of Congregation Beth Mordecai and for the spiritual sustenance that we can provide in pressing ahead despite our doubts and our fears.

And in reflecting on what is to come, I often reflect on where I have been. The past few weeks of starting Shabbat with you, planning our High Holiday experiences with a great team, speaking and connecting with you over the phone (I promise I will get to everyone before the holidays) have been a wonderful start to our relationship. Mostly, I just want to say thank you for welcoming me, for trusting me with the sacred task of leading and guiding this congregation, and for caring about our synagogue and each other. You have my deepest gratitude.

It also occurred to me that as we just sort of jumped in, we have had little time for me to learn all of the traditions and customs of CBM and for me to share some of mine with you. So I want to take this opportunity to explain a bit about how I view services conducted over Zoom. My colleagues and I have different practices when it comes to worship through the internet. I feel that you deserve to hear my approach, at least to start.

The main question at hand is whether a minyan (quorum of 10 adult Jews) can be convened over the internet. We know how to do it in person, but there is a question in the literature about the circumstance in which we find ourselves. This is relevant particularly because some parts of our worship may not be conducted without the presence of a minyan. Those things are called devarim sh-bikedusha – matters of holiness. These include reading from the Torah, reciting the Amidah out loud and with a kedusha, as well as kaddises including the mourner’s kaddish.

Early on in the pandemic the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly met to discuss these issues. A number of papers were presented and I had the chance to study the relevant texts from which a decision might be made.

Where I landed is this. I don’t feel like a minyan can be achieved through Zoom or over the Internet. There is too high a value placed on physical proximity in the traditional sources, and I fear what it might mean for in person minyanim more generally in the future after the pandemic. On the other hand, people want and deserve as full of a worship experience as is possible. Your time is valuable and you want to invest it in ways that will bring meaning.

Despite not holding that there can be a minyan over Zoom, I will permit the recitation of mourner’s kaddish. This for me was a bridge too far and I was not prepared to say to mourners or those grieving that we have no space to address their spiritual needs for kaddish.

So in our services online, you will observe that we skip certain prayers that we might normally have said in person. This is a little bit of my thinking as to how I came that that decision.

I know that we will have the opportunity to learn matters of Jewish law and practice in the weeks and months ahead. In the meantime, I wish you all Shabbat Shalom!

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