Minyan Update - Kaddish Via Zoom
March 17, 2020
Dear Friends,

As we continue to make our way through these unprecedented times, we are often called upon to make very difficult decisions - sometimes even those that pit deeply cherished values one against the other.  Such is the case with the question of community members saying Kaddish via Zoom, something that as of tonight will be permitted at our daily minyanim.

Some of us will remember that the official viewpoint of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards is based upon a teshuvah by Rabbi Avram Reisner which indicates that a minyan may only be constituted by ten individuals physically present together and in person, after which point others may join the minyan virtually even to say Kaddish.  Under normal circumstances, I much agree with the elegant conclusion reached here - that allowing people to join an existing minyan (but not constitute one) online preserves the sense of obligation and connection that minyan is designed to promote while also making the comforts of community more accessible for those who cannot physically meet in person.

These, however, are not normal circumstances nor will they be for the foreseeable future.  The rabbis have a term for situations such as this calling them she'at ha-dehaq , "a time of crisis" during which normal rules are sometimes suspended given the exigencies of the hour.  I have heard terrible pain from members of our community finding it deeply unsatisfying to live stream into the services of other congregations rather than being able to mourn here with our own TIC family.  Indeed, many of us have felt firsthand the tremendous comfort that comes from saying Kaddish surrounded by people that we know and love. Given that the COVID-19 pandemic affects not just a few individuals but our whole world, that it is forecasted to continue for weeks and months yet to come, and that it places almost unimaginable restrictions on our ability to pray as a community, I am considering this period she'at ha-dehaq and thus making a ruling that stands for the current time only and should in no way be understood as precedent for any future situation.  A great number of my colleagues in the Conservative Movement are doing or have done the same.

Jewish tradition has always strongly upheld the value of k'vod habriyot , honoring God's creations.  The Talmud establishes in Berakhot 19b that caring for our fellow human beings is so important that it even overrides a mitzvah d'rabbanan (a rabbinic law, such as saying Kaddish in a minyan).  Given the significant emotional anguish being experienced by members of our community along with the absolutely extraordinary circumstances that turn this moment into she'at ha-dehaq, we will start saying the Mourner's Kaddish at the end of both morning and evening services beginning tonight.

A few concluding remarks:
  • While, given the sensitive nature of this prayer, Mourner's Kaddish will now be added into our virtual service, we will still refrain from reciting other devarim shebikedushah - prayers that should be recited only in the presence of a minyan (such as Barkhu, Kedushah, and other forms of Kaddish).
  • Reciting the Mourner's Kaddish via Zoom requires the presence of ten virtual participants, so please make every effort to join our morning and  evening minyanim.
  • For the next two weeks I will be teaching on the issues raised in this message - first this Wednesday, March 18, at 8:15 PM via Zoom where we will study the Reisner teshuvah  referenced above and then next Wednesday, March 25, at 8:15 PM where we will look at particular issues related to she'at ha-dehaq,   k'vod habriyot , and more.  Please watch your email for Zoom information!
  • Lastly, I wish to again emphasize that this particular ruling is one made for this moment of unprecedented crisis and should in no way be seen as either individual or communal precedent of any kind.

I send strength and healing to all those who have been mourning alone these past two weeks and look forward to welcoming you back.  Even when we are called upon to make hard choices, even when we do not always agree with one another, still we remain TIC - together in community.

Rabbi Annie Tucker