Home > News > Update on Zoom Practices – June 2023
June 15, 2023 in News and Updates
The use of Zoom began during the height of the Covid-19 emergency. It has been used in multiple ways throughout the Beth El community. Zoom has enhanced access for adult education, worship, committee work, aspects of youth education, and other areas.
Regarding Zoom in religious services, there are two issues: the use of Zoom during Shabbat / Yom Tov services and counting people in the minyan.
Regarding the use of Zoom itself, many agree Zoom enhanced our services during these difficult circumstances by giving access to people who were not ready to return to in-person services and to out-of-town participants joining Beth El remotely. Zoom practices were developed with an awareness of these uses and Beth El’s customs, practices, and diverse needs.
For counting remote participants in a minyan, the position of the Rabbinical Assembly, for over twenty years, has been that a minyan must be constituted in-person, but once a minyan exists a remote participant may “benefit” from that minyan, e.g., to recite Kaddish remotely. (see Reisner, 2001)
However, during the beginning of the covid lockdown, the Rabbinical Assembly established a temporary halakhic leniency that permitted counting remote participants in a minyan. Based on the concept of hora’at sha’ah,(1) this was considered a time limited practice during the emergency period.
On May 5, 2023, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) released a statement entitled “End of the Federal COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) Declaration.”(2) The emergency status of Covid-19 was declared over.
The use of Zoom and other similar platforms throughout Beth El may be considered under separate values such as access, equity, and other core values, but the emergency circumstances justifying the use of these platforms on Shabbat and Yom Tovim has ended.
A. The Use of Zoom for Services
B. Counting Worshippers in a minyan
With the acute emergency of Covid abating, we will return to the traditional practice of counting only in-person participants in the quorum for communal prayer. Zoom will continue to be available for remote access of our weekday services, and remote participants will continue to be fully welcomed. However, the formation of a minyan for Bar’khu, Kaddish, Torah reading, etc., will be determined by the requisite number of in-person participants.
Remote participation through Livestreaming (unidirectional) platforms will continue on Shabbat and Yom Tov. Livestreaming has been part of Beth El’s practices since 2013, well before Covid-19.
For the purpose of determining how a minyan is defined in this transitional period, our morning and evening minyanim will be treated as separate groups.
Since in-person attendance at morning minyan has grown, it is our opinion that the morning minyan group is able to sustain the transition back to in-person counting of a minyan. However, in-person attendance numbers at the evening minyan have not grown at the same rate, leading us to conclude that the evening minyan group is not yet ready for this transition.
Therefore, effective July 1, 2023, only in-person participants at the weekday morning service will constitute a quorum for a minyan. Access through Zoom will continue but the quorum will be formed by in-person participants. At the weekday evening service, a “hybrid minyan” (i.e., counting in-person and Zoom participants for a quorum) will continue to operate until the weekday evening minyan can consistently sustain an in-person quorum.
In the words of the prophet Isaiah, God greets us by saying: “Shalom shalom larahḥok v’lakarov (welcome to those who are far and near).”(3) The vibrancy of Beth El’s minyanim is important. Alongside these practices should be a continued effort to invite people into prayer experiences on Shabbat, weekdays, and other moments. In this way, we will fulfill the adage of being a Beit Tefillah (House of Prayer), Beit Midrash (House of Study), and Beit Knesset (House of Gathering), for all our members of our community—those who are far and those who are near. ‘
(1) Rabbi Alan Yuter explains the concept as “…the hora’at sha’ah idiom refers to temporary, ad hoc emergency legislation grounded in specific social and religious realities at a given time, and in response to specific circumstances...”
(3) Isaiah 57:19
(4) Rabbi Avram Reisner, “Wired to the Kadosh Barukh Hu: Minyan via Internet”. Approved by CJLS March 13, 2001
(5) Rabbi Joshua Heller, “Counting a Minyan via Video Conference”. Approved by CJLS July 23, 2021
(6) Rabbi Joshua Heller, “Streaming Services on Shabbat and Yom Tov”. Approved by CJLS May 13, 2020