May 19, 2024
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The Virtual Minyan: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

We live in a connected world, where it’s nearly impossible to travel anywhere and not be connected to loved ones. We can chat with our kids away at school and our siblings who live across the country or in other countries. We can go online to see pictures of our kids at camp. We can follow our kids’ Israel program’s Facebook pages to see what they’re up to. Today we can even watch a bris online, attend a wedding by watching a live feed, or, lo aleinu, watch a funeral online.

So why can’t we attend a weekday minyan online as well? This is the ongoing question and quest that Aaron Lehmann, a long-time resident of Bergen County and now Boynton Beach, Florida, has been pondering for the past eight years. This concerned Jew asks, if one can attend Jewish lifecycle events virtually and spend Tisha B’Av jumping between live stream Kinot and shiurim, why can’t we attend a “virtual minyan” when necessary? Having lived and traveled coast to coast, his observation of the growing need for a minyan such as this is from his own personal observations and discussions with numerous rabbis across the United States and Israel.

This virtual minyan is not meant for someone who just doesn’t feel like going to shul one morning but is intended for those who are unable to attend. The number of different groups who could benefit from a virtual minyan is staggering. The elderly, the sick, students, businessmen, traveling mashgichim and more, including women who would like to go to shul to daven and answer Amen but whose life circumstances will not permit. He has visited nursing homes and short-term rehabilitation facilities where residents expressed their desire to daven with a minyan but unfortunately cannot. When Lehmann has asked these people if they would be interested in attending a virtual minyan, they have universally answered yes.

This is an idea whose time has already come in certain communities in very specific cases in the United States and in Israel. In fact, the virtual minyan existed for about two years in Teaneck at Congregation Bnai Yeshurun.

Rishon L’Tzion Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, shlita, the chief Sephardic rabbi in Israel, gave a psak for troops, hospitalized patients and others who are considered “anusim,” who are unable to go to shul and daven with a minyan, to take part virtually and even answer Amen and recite Kedusha. The rav stressed that one who is able and capable of going to shul may not rely on this psak.

In 2013, Rabbi Moshe Tendler at Yeshiva University encouraged Lehmann to bring the issue to Rabbi Herschel Schachter to go over the details of what was allowed and what was not. Rabbi Schachter said it was definitely acceptable in cases when it is impossible to physically get to a minyan.

Lehmann told The Jewish Link, “This is a b’dieved minyan and would be available on all days that are not Shabbos or Yom Tov. It would be available for those homebound or those who shouldn’t go to shul because it’s a tircha to themselves or the community, or those away on business. It could also benefit students at colleges where there isn’t always a minyan available as well as shlichim in communities where it’s difficult to get a minyan.”

So why haven’t virtual minyans taken off? According to Lehmann, every rabbi and executive director he has spoken to believes it is a wonderful idea. However, there’s been a reluctance to take it to the next level and expand it globally.

Ideally, he’d love to see one of the major religious organizations have a link on their website that would link to the different time zones and nusachs so that people could daven with a minyan according to their normal minhag. It would also be important to have different climate zones within the time zones so that if weather conditions would prohibit someone from getting to shul, they could log in to a minyan in a different climate zone. And we’re not only talking about the United States, but globally as well.

Of course, as with many issues, there are halachic concerns. But Lehmann believes they can be overcome for the benefit of the greater good and to give chesed to those who may need it most at various times in their lives. “After all, it is a b’dieved minyan anyway.” He doesn’t see this as a perfect solution but as a crutch when needed.

Lehmann knows that many ideas that were of concern years ago have been implemented over time. “How long did it take for people to adopt the Shabbos elevators or Shabbos scooters? People make accommodations according to the times they live in. Take, for example, Selichos. It used to be that Selichos didn’t start before midnight at the earliest. Look at all the Selichos programs today starting at 9 p.m. the night before or early the following morning.”

Speak with your religious leaders and institutions to help drum up support for this idea whose time has come.

By Sara Kosowsky Gross

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