Dear OJC family,

We are living through extraordinary times, where our understanding of our current situation and our expectations for the future are changing quickly, sometimes day by day. One of the beautiful aspects of Judaism is how our laws can adapt to current circumstances without the loss of their integrity. As a rabbi who serves as posek (interpreter of law) for a community, it is my job to decide -- in keeping with the halakhic (Jewish legal) framework and chain of authority -- when and how the law is modified.

Last week, I ruled that our community would continue to follow the majority ruling of the Rabbinical Assembly's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) that a "minyan" could only be constituted by a quorum of 10 Jewish adults who were physically present to one another. I held further that any participants who wanted to join that minyan in prayer via virtual means for the purposes of saying prayers that require a minyan (like the Kaddish) must be able to see the 10 people who are physically together. Thus, a Zoom conference that emanated from a room with a visible group of 10 adults on the screen could be joined by other individual participants in remote locations. However, by this ruling, 10 individuals separated in remote locations could not join in one Zoom meeting and constitute a minyan. (See  3/13/2020 Letter of the CJLS )

Only days later, the governor of the state of New York declared a state of emergency banning social gatherings, making it impossible for us to congregate in our building. As a result of these further restrictions, I believe we find ourselves in a time that Jewish law categorizes as  sha'at hadechak, an hour of crisis. Because of these extreme conditions where gathering physically is in essence against the law, it is appropriate to interpret the law of minyan in accordance with more lenient precedents. (See  3/17/2020 Letter of CJLS )

To that end, beginning this Tuesday night (3/24/20), we will commence daily weekday services, Sunday through Thursday at 7:30 p.m., via Zoom video conferencing. You will find the link to join the video conference of the evening service on our website, theojc.org . Click on the  OJC TV Virtual Programming  button, and find the link with Meeting ID on the calendar in the appropriate time slot. If you have previously downloaded the Zoom application, the link will take you directly to the meeting. One of the rabbis will continue to offer a short teaching at the conclusion of each evening's minyan, giving us the opportunity to interact as we learn together.

If you do not have a Siddur Sim Shalom for Weekdays prayer book, you can download the evening service by clicking on Siddur Sim Shalom .

Please consider when joining us that the community can only count you in the minyan if you are participating in the conference by both audio and visual connection. To constitute part of the minyan you must be able to be seen and heard by 9 other participants. Similarly, if you are relying upon the minyan to say kaddish, you must join by both audio and visual connection. If you are not comfortable in the use of this technology, we have enlisted the help of several tech-savvy congregants who are willing to help you get acclimated. Please email OJC.chesed@gmail.com with your request for help, and we will have a friendly "technician" reach out to you. (And if you are willing to be part of our "Chesed Tech Team," please let me know!)
PLEASE NOTE: It is important to recognize that this ruling only applies under these extraordinary circumstances, and does not establish a precedent for minyan in times when we are free to congregate in groups of 10 once again.

Furthermore, this ruling does not apply to a Shabbat minyan, as we cannot use the Zoom platform technology to constitute a minyan in keeping with the laws of Shabbat. That being said, we do plan to offer a livestream of abbreviated Kabbalat Shabbat and Shabbat morning services this weekend, but I will be broadcasting alone from the sanctuary, sharing prayers that we sing without a minyan. We will share more information later this week about how you can access this broadcast. 

We are also gathering resources at this time to help make your Passover celebrations as meaningful as possible. Please do not forget to arrange for the sale of your chametz prior to the holiday.  Click here   to find the form to authorize me as your agent to sell your chametz. Print, sign and mail; and please consider fulfilling the mitvzah of ma'ot hittin with an accompanying donation to the synagogue ("RSDF" in the memo), which will enable us to provide Passover provisions to those in need. 

I welcome your questions and comments. If you would like to engage further on this topic, please email me at Rabbi.Scheff@theojc.org .

I hope you are feeling healthy, safe and connected; that your immediate needs are being met; that you are feeling the care of your OJC community; and that our sense of security and normalcy will soon be restored.

L'shalom ,

Rabbi Craig Scheff