For more than 10 years, Aaron Lehmann, a long-time resident of Bergen County and now of Boynton Beach, Florida, has been a strong proponent of the virtual minyan, and now in this era of a true public health emergency, he believes it’s time for a published listing of available minyanim to appear, at least online. “Hashem works in strange ways,” Lehmann told The Jewish Link. “This should have been done a long time ago. Why did it take a maka (plague) to make it happen?”
“Back in 2013, Rabbi Moshe Tendler at Yeshiva University encouraged me to bring the issue to Rabbi Herschel Schachter, to go over the details of what was allowed and what was not,” Lehmann reflected. “At that time Rabbi Schachter said it was acceptable in cases when it is impossible to physically get to a minyan. He said that a mourner who needs to say Kaddish still couldn’t say Kaddish with a virtual minyan, but he could answer Amen to those who are saying it at the actual minyan.”
Lehmann continued with the psak he received, noting that if the listener hears Kedusha and Barchu, even if he is not in the room physically, Rabbi Schachter told him he may answer Amen. Several other points: no person listening in to a virtual minyan may be part of the 10 men counted in the minyan, and it should go without saying that an individual at home cannot serve as the shaliach tzibbur since halacha requires that the shaliach tzibbur must be in the same room with another nine people as part of the minyan. However, Rabbi Schachter noted it is important that one who is davening at home should dress up properly, to the best of his ability, as one would dress up to go to a regular shul minyan.
Today, Rabbi Schachter has been writing a wide array of halachic treatises spanning many different topics (see link: http://www.torahweb.org/author/rsch_dt_special.html), loosely known as “Piskei Corona.” He has listed certain prayers that can be said via Zoom including the 13 Midot Harachamim during Selichot and Hatarat Nedarim, “as long as the three members of the Beis Din who are matir neder are in the same location.The Beis Din members should be able to see who is requesting hatara, or at least be aware of how many people have approached them and are on Zoom requesting hatara before they begin,” which appears in Corona 49, August 2020.
The logistics behind a virtual minyan still require a physical minyan of 10 men to be taking place, which can then be broadcast online for others to “attend.” With corona still very much here and the weather getting colder, outdoor minyanim, which have been a mainstay, will soon cease to take place in certain places and some may choose to log in to weekday virtual minyanim. Needless to say, a virtual minyan cannot be broadcast on Shabbos or Yom Tov.
“Anywhere you have an existing regular minyan should be a place that can broadcast to people who can’t, won’t or shouldn’t go. In the winter when there’s snow on the ground, older members should not be risking a fall on the ice to go to shul. The same can be said for sick or immunocompromised individuals who shouldn’t be exposing themselves or others to whatever they have. I’m sure there are hundreds of people in my boat. At my age, maybe I shouldn’t go to shul. With corona, I know many people won’t return to shul, and some probably shouldn’t have been there in the first place.”
“I believe the virtual minyan should become a permanent thing,” Lehmann shared.
Lehmann would love to see a repository of listings of all the different virtual minyanim taking place across the world, and is looking for a partner who could help make this happen. “It could list them by city, state, time zone and nusach,” he expounded. “We do the best we can with the tools we’re given. Today you no longer have to be beholden to the times at your local synagogue. If you wake up later you can catch a virtual minyan in a different time zone. And it’s not just for davening. During corona I’ve watched some amazing classes and recently went on a tour of the Old City of Jerusalem, courtesy of a virtual tour.”
Teaneck native Daniel Gross, now of Houston, reflected on how a virtual minyan enhanced his Selichot this year. “One of the things I miss participating in since I moved to Houston is going to the Fifth Avenue Synagogue to hear Chazzan Malovany lead Selichot,” Gross said. “This year I was able to join him for a different type of Selichot—virtually. While I missed being there in person to sing along with the whole tzibur, it was really uplifting to me to be able to hear him sing all the songs in his unique nigunim (tunes).”
Speak with your rabbi for more information on virtual minyanim.
By Sara Kosowsky Gross