By staff and wire reports
Local Conservative have rabbis applauded news that the their movement has issued a ruling allowing congregations to livestream services on Shabbat and holidays during the coronavirus pandemic.
But Adath Jeshurun and Keneseth Israel are already streaming services.
“It provides guidelines, which we had implemented weeks ago before the responsum was published,” said Rabbi Robert Slosberg of AJ. “It’s pretty much common sense.”
Noting the “unprecedented time” brought on by the virus, the movement’s Jewish law authorities voted Wednesday to allow livestreaming with a number of caveats, including that the equipment be set up in advance or that a timer be used to avoid the active use of electricity on Shabbat and holidays.
The Committee on Jewish Laws and Standards adopted the ruling by a vote of 19 in favor, three against, and three abstentions.
The ruling, written by Rabbi Joshua Heller of Congregation B’nai Torah in Sandy Springs, Georgia, notes that it is applicable to the current situation only and that “its conclusions will need to be reassessed as we transition to a ‘new normal.’”
The question of livestreaming on Shabbat and holidays had already been under debate within the movement prior to the pandemic.
“There are two main issues that need to be addressed when talking about online services,” said Rabbi Michael Wolk of KI: “Can you constitute a minyan of 10 adult Jews over some virtual platform? Secondly, how can we meet online on Shabbat and holidays when we do not use electricity?
In KI’s case, Wolk will count a minyan over Zoom if there are 10 Jews signed on who can see and hear each other. Before Shabbat begins, he sets up the Zoom room, “so that I can just walk into the chapel on Shabbat morning and get started.”
He will manipulate the settings during services to mute and unmute people (something he wouldn’t normally do during Shabbat) then walk away from the computer, letting the Zoom room shut off on its own, when services are over.
While the law committee does not hand down rulings that Conservative rabbis must follow, Wolk continued, it does give them different ways to make decisions on pertinent issues.
“Different communities have made different choices,” he said, “so I can only address the choices that I have made for Keneseth Israel.”
Heller also addressed concerns that allowing livestreaming could lead people to do other things prohibited on Shabbat or holidays.
“The wider intrusion of technology into Shabbat and Yom Tov worship will require greater fences to preserve the sanctity of the day,” he wrote. “It is a short step from watching services to emailing, online shopping, and other activities which violate the letter and spirit of the law.”
Indeed, Wolk said, Heller’s paper notes that many of these changes are meant to be temporary.
“My feeling is that we will be much more aware of the potential for including people virtually in Jewish life [after the pandemic]”, Wolk said, “but we will not count a minyan unless there are 10 Jews physically present. Likewise, I am looking forward to the day when I can return to shutting my computer down before Shabbat and not having to use it on my day of rest.”
But some pandemic-induced changes in worship are likely to live on.
“Once you start doing something, it is very hard to stop doing it,” Wolk said. I know what kind of religious practice I want to see after this pandemic, but I also recognize that in this area, like in so many others, we will be living in a permanently changed world.”