Is a Zoom-Minyan worth the effort? (Eruvin 92)

Today’s Daf Yo.Me is dedicated to the Gadol HaDor, the leader of our generation, former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks zt”l.  He was a light unto the nations, an ambassador for Am Yisrael and one of the greatest Torah teachers of our time.  He conveyed the eternal teachings of the Torah to the world, counting amongst his talmidim: Jew and non-Jew, Anglo-Jewry and far beyond.  Able to converse with scholar and layperson alike, his messages will resonate for generations.  He will be remembered alongside centrist Judaeo-political giants including Maimonides, Abravanel, and Rav SR Hirsch. 

In the UK, we have just entered a second lockdown period.  Once again, we find our shul doors closed and prayer services taking place virtually.  Sadly, this time round, many are feeling Zoom fatigue and attendance levels are somewhat lower.  Having briefly savoured the taste of in-person minyanim, to many, the current offerings feel empty and almost futile.  From a halachic perspective, why should you log on to a virtual service?

תִּשְׁעָה בַּגְּדוֹלָה וְיָחִיד בַּקְּטַנָּה — מִצְטָרְפִין. תִּשְׁעָה בַּקְּטַנָּה וְאֶחָד בַּגְּדוֹלָה — אֵין מִצְטָרְפִין

If there were nine davening in a large courtyard and one in and adjacent small one, they join together to make a minyan.  However, if there were nine in the small courtyard and one in the large one, they do not join together.

The Mishnah Berurah (55:52) implies that the situation in the Gemara is one where the respective parties do not see one another.  However, if they are within eyesight of each other, then many (including Rabbi Akiva Eiger) opine that, just like a zimun (quorum for bentching), it suffices as long as all the participants can see each other.  Whilst not all authorities agree with this position, many appear to have adopted it during coronavirus, holding minyanim in adjacent gardens and porches.

The tricky question is: What constitutes seeing one another?  Certainly, seeing each other in person would count, but how about a Zoom service?  For starters, it’s important that everyone has their cameras on.  Otherwise, obviously, we aren’t seeing each other.  But once the cameras are all on, is that considered a minyan?  It’s unclear.  And that’s why most halachic authorities have cautioned against reciting devarim shebikedusha – prayers that we would only recite with a minyan, unless the minyan is physically present.

Consequently, many people drop out of services when they go virtual, reasoning to themselves that there’s no point, if you can’t recite devarim shebikedusha.  Nevertheless, even those parts of davening that may be recited as an individual, such as the shema and amidah are immeasurably more powerful when recited in the presence of a minyan.  And the fact is that over Zoom, we can see each other.  So there’s certainly a good case to be made for davening in a virtual minyan.

But I think there’s an even more pragmatic reason to daven over Zoom.

The Rabbanit ran a half-marathon today for the charity, ‘Friendship Circle’.  She ran from Hampstead Garden Suburb into the city, taking selfies at a number of important landmarks en route, including Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square (not to mention St Johns Wood United Synagogue and S&P on Lauderdale Rd!).

It wasn’t easy.  Not because she wasn’t prepared physically for the run.  But because it was a virtual event.  Because of covid, everyone ran on their own and designed their own route.  But when you’re running alone, you’re missing out on all the excitement and drive of the runners around you encouraging you along.

Davening in unison – even if it’s over Zoom – is motivating and helps keep the flame and passion for tefillah burning. When you’re davening with the ‘chevra’ they carry you along for the ride.  A half hour service doesn’t feel that long when everyone’s davening together.  Some people might be able to daven alone, but for many others it’s just too hard to get into it.

It’s not an easy situation right now, especially for those saying kaddish.  But let’s make the effort and daven together.  May Hashem see our efforts and grant an aliya to the neshomos of our loved ones and may they be melitzei yosher – effective advocates in the Heavenly court – that we be taken out of this crisis very soon!

About the Author
Rabbi Daniel Friedman is the senior rabbi of the 1200-family Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue, the United Synagogue's flagship congregation.
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