Here’s a question of Jewish law that could only be asked in the 21st century: Can we fulfill our obligation to pray with a minyan in a videoconference held online? Could 10 Jews be at home or in an office and pray together using Skype or ZOOM? On the one hand, a videoconference seems like a brilliant solution to convening a minyan, especially for people who don’t have a lot of spare time to go to the synagogue. The internet is an element of technology that could not have been envisioned by the Talmudic sages and medieval scholars who codified Jewish law. It’s possible to read the Torah via videoconference if one person had a Torah scroll and could chant the portion. It’s even possible to imagine a “virtual minyan” expanding well beyond the minimum requirement of 10 Jews for a quorum.
On the other hand, a virtual minyan is a bad idea, even if it’s a clever merging of religion and technology. That’s because no matter how good your computer is or how fast your internet speed is, people aren’t truly brought together in cyberspace. There’s something real about being in a shared physical space, where we can hear each other’s voices as we pray and sing, that simply isn’t very authentic online. Human interaction is most genuine when we face one another, listen to one another, take note of one another’s feelings that are seen in the expressions on our faces. And praying together requires genuine human interaction.
I say this as a prelude to putting in a plug for your presence at our daily minyan. If you are one of our regulars, or even if you come to the morning minyan occasionally, you know that Oheb Shalom’s daily minyan is a close group of people who care about one another and support one another. If one of us is ill, the rest of the group is concerned. If one of us is in mourning, the rest of the group provides comfort and consolation. If one of us can’t get to the minyan on his own, someone from the group will provide transportation. We celebrate each other’s joys with blessings at the Torah, in conversation before and after (and even during!) the service and enjoy breakfast and a few words of Torah study after the service each Wednesday. Perhaps most important, Oheb Shalom’s daily minyan is not a closed group at all. Any person who attends is instantly drawn into the club and quickly feels at home.
For those who are not sure they can recite the prayers, don’t worry. Our minyan is not a judgmental place where people’s knowledge is scrutinized or critiqued. Whether you choose to pray in Hebrew or in English, whether you wish to follow the order of prayers or do your own thing, you will feel at home at our minyan. You will be called to the Torah for an honor regularly and assisted in reciting the blessings if you are not familiar with them.
Aside from all the personal benefits of attending minyan, your presence will fill an important need for our congregation. One of the signs of a healthy synagogue is a reliable daily minyan that serves the needs of its members and the community, whether for prayer and introspection or the fulfillment of a mourners’ Kaddish obligation. There are few things more disheartening than a mourner seeking comfort and wishing to say Kaddish for their loved one but being unable to do so because there is no minyan.
So, I ask you to support Oheb Shalom’s daily minyan. Perhaps you wish to pick a day of the week to attend the minyan, or perhaps you are inclined to attend every day. Either way, your presence will make a significant difference in the lives of fellow members. The idea of starting each day with prayer and reflection, in the company of others, will also make a difference in your personal life by enabling you to start each day in a positive manner. That is why our tradition urges that we start each day with the experience of prayer.
The minyan meets every Sunday-Friday at 8:00 AM (7:45 AM on Rosh Chodesh and certain Jewish holidays), and at 9:00 AM on Sundays and national holidays. I hope to see you there!