Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 16 May 2020 / 22 Iyyar 5780

Zooming to Minyan

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Michael A. of Illinois asked:

Dear Rabbi,

Is it acceptable to get a minyan by linking ten Jews on a real-time computer chat line (for example) and praying in a 'virtual community? In this case, it seems, the issue of “a soulless computer” is not a problem since there are ten living people who are interacting with the aid of technology. How does Judaism regard the creation of new communal spaces that are not physical in nature?

They are creating electronically the bonds of community and shared devotion that are denied them because of their lack of proximity to other worshippers.

Dear Michael A.,

This seems to be an interesting and practical subject in current times when there may be a danger in going outside due to worldwide contagion. What would be the halachic status of a minyan formed via computer?

The mishna in Tractate Megillah (23b) says:

"... the congregation is not led in prayer and the Priestly Blessing is not said, nor do we read from the Torah... in the presence of less than ten..."

The Talmud teaches that the source for this concept of a minyan and the number of people which comprise it is the verse, "And I will be sanctified amongst the people of Israel." The Talmud derives this information by means of a standard method of exposition.

What we need to know is whether a minyan requires 'physical proximity' or not?

The Shulchan Aruch writes:

"We require that all ten be in one place and the Shliach Tzibbur [the Chazzan] must be with them. One who stands in the doorway so that if the door were closed he would be outside is considered outside (i.e. not in the place of the minyan).” (Orach Chaim 55:13, 20)

We took your question a number of years ago to Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, one of the foremost halachic authorities in the world from the precious generation. He told us that even if all of the people were audio-visually connected via their computers they would not constitute a minyan because the people need to be in 'physical proximity' to each other.

We may note that this is not to say that there are not possibilities for a lone worshipper to be 'connected' in some halachic sense to an already existing minyan via computer.

The Shulchan Aruch writes:

"One should try to pray in a Synagogue with the Tzibbur (congregation). If because of extenuating circumstances he cannot, then he should pray at the same time that the Tzibbur prays." (Orach Chaim 90:9)

Rabbi Scheinberg mentioned that if you were connected to a minyan in such a way that you could hear the congregation praying, that would satisfy this requirement of prayer 'at the same time' as the congregation. You would also have the added merit of responding to 'matters of Kedusha' — e.g., Kaddish, Barchu, Kedusha, which are recited by the congregation. He told us that he had a remote audio hookup to a nearby sunrise minyan. He was quite elderly at that point and could not be at that minyan in person, but at least he was praying 'at the same time' as the congregation, and responding to the 'matters of Kedusha' recited by the congregation.

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