July 20, 2024
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How many of the 613 mitzvot can be performed via Zoom? Let’s do the math.

The Talmud, at Makkot 23(b), states: “Rabbi Simlai taught: There were 613 mitzvot stated to Moses in the Torah, consisting of 365 prohibitions corresponding to the number of days in the solar year, and 248 positive mitzvot corresponding to the number of a person’s limbs.” Given the percentage of negative (60%) and positive (40%) mitzvot, one could argue that at least three-fifths of the 613 commandments can be adhered to via Zoom. This is because a negative commandment is simply something a Jew shall not do. For example, the 365 negative commandments prohibit a Jew from, among things, (i) practicing sorcery or casting spells (Devarim 18:10-11), (ii) getting a tattoo (Vayikra 19:28) or (iii) wearing Sha’atnez (Devarim 12:11). Every Jew can comply with such negative commandments merely by abstaining from the prohibited activity. Refraining from such conduct can be achieved anywhere and at any time, individually or collectively, whether in person or via Zoom. In fact, if you are a feckless, habitually lazy, do-nothing schmegegge, then you should excel at following the “do not” commandments.

By way of further example, the 365 “do not” commandments prohibit the kidnapping of a fellow Jew (Shemot 20:15) and unless you have Willy Wonka’s Wonkavision, it is impossible to kidnap anyone via Zoom. A Jew also shall not add lashes when whipping a person li¬able for a punishment (Devarim 25:3). This is a cinch to follow on Zoom because you cannot whip another person via Zoom just like you cannot commit assault and battery via mental telepathy. Of course, nowadays Jews whip only things like butter and cream (and then, as a result, themselves into shape), and the only lashes Jews add are the false eye-related kind.

Unfortunately, there are a number of negative commandments that can be violated via Zoom. For example, a Jew shall not gossip (Vayikra 19:1), but a yenta can spread rumors via Zoom just as effectively as a whisper-in-your-ear busybody. In fact, Zoom almost makes being a yenta too easy and probably a lot less fun. Many yentas enjoy the thrill of gossiping in plain sight and the rush of risky exchanges, all of which makes for titillating tittle-tattle. On Zoom, however, such chitchat can feel too safe and thus humdrum. A true yenta actually welcomes getting caught in the act mid-rumor because the story of getting busted can be even juicier than the rumor itself. For the yenta purist, it’s all about new material.

The 365 negative commandments also prohibit a Jew from “bearing hatred in one’s heart” (Vayikra 19:17). You certainly can hate someone via Zoom just as much as you hate them in person. In some cases, Zoom intensifies the hatred because the screen can accentuate certain loathsome nuances. This often occurs because on Zoom, many everyday distractions are eliminated, thus effectively placing each participant in the spotlight and under a microscope. For example, if you hate the sound of someone’s voice, that voice will be amplified and the resulting hatred will be intensified via Zoom. However, if you hate the smell of someone’s breath, then Zoom is the perfect solution. Some say that Zoom could put the makers of Scope and Listerine out of business and it also could make skunk-watching far more enjoyable.

The 365 negative commandments also prohibit a Jew from embarrassing a fellow Jew (Vayikra 19:17). Zoom can be extremely counterproductive in this respect. Think about how often a Zoom-using teenager is mortified when a parent screen-bombs or, in the background, offers humiliating tidbits that clearly belong with the other skeletons in the family’s closet. This is a potential double-whammy because while the parent is violating the anti-embarrassment commandment, the child, if pushed too far, is likely to violate the anti-hatred commandment.

While Zoom also can be useful when fulfilling some of the 248 positive commandments, there are limitations. A mohel cannot perform a circumcision (Vayikra 12:3) via Zoom. (He cannot even perform it from across the room.). A person cannot be “fruitful and multiply” (Bereshit 9:7) via Zoom. (A chatan or kallah attending a Yichud Room via Zoom also would be problematic.). A person cannot return lost property to its owner (Exodus 23:4) via Zoom. (A Jew, however, can return a glance via Zoom, as long as the Zoom is not in mechitza mode.)

Final thought: If a woman can be a mail-order-bride, can a man be a Zoom groom?

By Jon Kranz

 

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