WITH EVEN MORE UPDATES: The Heter for Zoom at the Seder is Incorrect and Should be Retracted

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    by Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5TJT.com

    UPDATES: Rav Shlomo Amar stated in a letter that tehre is absolutely no basis to this heter and that it is wrong.  It has been communicated to Rabbi Hoffman that 3 of the Rabbonim who signed  have retracted the ruling (Rav Moshe Suissa, Rav Aharon Cohen, and Rav Yonatan Sror).  The ruling was, apparently, issued only in one case of a Pikuach nefesh situation with some of the details being different.

    Recently, a group entitled “Igud Chachmei HaMaarev B’Eretz Yisroel” issued a ruling (publicized on Arutz Sheva) in regard to Zoom, the social media site, and discussed whether it can be used to conduct a Pesach seder on Yom Tov itself.  Their idea was to connect the elderly with younger family members conducting a Seder. The Rabbis identified three possible problems (using an electronic device on Shabbos or Yom Tov, uvdah d’chol, and a concern that it will be used on other holidays).  This group of Rabbis tried ruling leniently to allow it.

    With due respect, while the heart of these Rabbis is in the right place in showing concern for the elderly, there is no question that this ruling is erroneous for a number of reasons. We will address for now, only the three issues that were brought up in their letter.

    1] The additional use of cameras does increase the uptick of the wattage used by the camera.  True, with most cameras the wattage used is very little – but a watt is still causing the extra use of electricity and it is considered a davar hamiskaven and a psik raisha denaicha lay.  This is also true of the microphone.  It is, therefore, forbidden. [Many Poskim also hold that there is a problem of Kosev – writing when dealing with video cameras, so even according to those opinions that allow the use of electricity in limited circumstances it is still problematic].

    2] The prohibition of Uvdah d’chol is not permitted for a Dvar Mitzvah when there is a srach melacha involved.  This is the clear ruling of the Pri Magadim in his Aishel Avrohom 306:16. Although one could possibly argue that this Pri Magadim is only for  Ashkenazim (although we do not find any Sefardic authority that argues), there is a clear proof from the Gemorah in Shabbos 143b proving the Pri Magadim.  The Gemorah there states :uBilvad shelo yisfog” – yisfog is an example of uvdah dechol and it is not permitted for the tzorech Mitzvah of saving the three meals.

    3] There are numerous other halachic issues involved here, but there is no question that allowing use of Zoom and social media – would open up the floodgates of abuse.

    When purchasing a mantel for a sefer Torah it is important to adjust the size of the mantel to fit the Torah.  We do not cut the Torah itself so that it will fit in the mantel.  It is clear as day that numerous Poskim will come out with rulings forbidding such a breach in Torah observance. ADDED LATER:  Rav Shmuel Eliyahu, the Rav of Tzfas, ruled that the ruling is erroneous.  Yisroel Reisman shlita likewise stated to this author that although they may mean well – this heter does not pass the test of halachic validity.  Normative Poskim do not agree with such a heter.  Rav Gershon Bess concurred and stated, “during a  time like this where we need much rachamei shamayim – this is the wrong kind of demonstration of ahavas Yisroel.”  Rav Hershel Ausch, Av Bais Din Valkan, also told this author that this is “chillul Yom Tov.” Another major Posaik in Brooklyn told this author that Rav Yasha Ber Soloveitchik held that the microphone was an issur deoraisah – this is certainly worse. This Psak is a chillul hashem.”  I am also told that Rav Hershel Schacter will soon publish a responsum forbidding it.  Rav Yisroel Meir Lau also issued a psak saying that it is forbidden, however, this author has not yet seen that ruling.

    Also, here the electricity is used with meleches machsheves – and both parties are being mechaven – doing it purposefully.  All the heterim of camera use is only when it is aino miskaven.  Many Poskim are of the opinion that this is a deoraisah.  Some Poskim hold that it is tikun maneh others hold that it is makeh b’patish.  Rav Elyashiv held that a video  camera is Kosev. The Chazon Ish held, of course, that Electricity is boneh.

    The Zoom solution recommended by these Rabbis is also not a recommended one.  Generally speaking, people confined to nursing homes have an earlier seder than the family does – because they cannot stay up that late.  This is a known fact to anyone that ever had anything to do with a nursing home.  Rather, efforts should be made so that the members of the nursing home will have their own Seder with a qualified person who is dedicated to their well-being.  Also, anyone that is familiar with Zoom and the elderly will quickly realize that it is not a feasible idea.

    With due respect, this ruling should be retracted.

     

    The author can be reached at [email protected]

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    20 COMMENTS

    1. Thank you rabbi Hoffman for rectifying this potentially huge pirtzah. The michshol the erroneous psak poses for many is not to be taken lightly, and this retraction should be spread far and wide.

    2. Not a Posek but a few Qs:
      Though obviously breaking the atmosphere and leading to further issues is a concern.
      One is allowed to add to a flame on Yom Tov, so if a non-Jew turns on the zoom, the extra wattage is not a problem if a matter of a fire especially with “mitoch”.
      If Boneh (or other), this would definitely be boneh in an irregular matter or a grama (the voice causes extra wattage) not so sure that isn’t allowed on Yom Tov.
      I heard from Rav Heinemann in a recently posted video that he said it was an issue of forming an image when moving in front of the camera. That I don’t have an answer to nor do the cosigners seem to perhaps refer to just audio.

      • I believe that the Zoom would already be connected before yom tov, and the problem is that when you move, the video is updated and uses more wattage. Not the turning it on.
        Adding fuel to a fire on yom tov is only permitted for cooking.

    3. Seems like once you move away from the issue of d’oraisa which no one has ever been able to explain to me how electricity can be a d’oraisa and I think this is the consensus of the rabbonim (although there was recently a movement to push the idea that electricity is a d’oraisa), many of the arguments fall away. There are still other issues, specifically various levels of d’rabbanims at play here that will likely mean most Rabbonim say not to use it.

    4. This whole agenda about using cameras etc for davening and seders was started by reform conservative and open modern orthodox rabbits. It’s not authentic Judaism.

      • What’s up Doc? Those pesky “rabbits” getting everywhere? Try some carrots, it might improve your eyesight.
        I’m with the reformers on this one. it may not be Orthodox Judaism, but it can still be authentic Judaism, even if it is not halakhic.

    5. I Davened at a Minyan not too long ago (well before Carona) where a Chasidish Yungermon used a tablet to allow his hospitalized father to Daven a weekday Mincha along with his daily Minyan. I think families with elderly parents should do this type of thing regularly rather than upend the traditions of the Seder. I bet it would not be as difficult to be apart for the couple of Seder nights if families are Davening together every day.

    6. Am not going to go into details, will however respond to a couple of issues brought up by the commentators.
      1) Adding to a flame is only permissible לצורך אוכל נפש & for no other reason.
      2) Without getting into the question as to it being a דאורייתא או דרבנן, will respond as if it were only a איסור דרבנן, even if it is only a איסור דרבנן, which Heter is it that can be used that would allow this in a case like this? The answer is “no Heter”. Just imagine a city with no עירוב, would you be able to carry an elderly person’s grandchild to cheer up the grandparent on שבת קודש? The answer again is “no Heter”, even though it is only a איסור דרבנן. btw, there is another איסור in regards to these technologies, and that is נולד, as you are creating images that have not been on the screen beforehand.
      הכותב וחותם מתוך תפילה לרבון העולמים “ונאכל שם מן הזבחים ומן הפסחים עוד השנה בביאת גואל צדק במהרה בימינו אמן”

    7. As to the question of the Yungerman and his sick father, who says that it is considered Davening with Minyan (please don’t quote R Moishe unless you actually learned the Tshuva inside). However, doing what the Yungerman did does Not breach any Halacha whatsoever, even if it is only to make his father feel good.

    8. What Rabbi Hoffman’s note and all the comments completely overlook is that (as the psak prominently points out) it is premised on the fact that Sefardi poskim, when electricity use first became widespread in the late 19th / early 20th century, took a different — and much more lenient — attitude to the use of electricity than did Ashkenazi poskim.

    9. So the bottom line is that using zoom during the seder is not be’seder? What if it’s muted on both ends so there is no problem of speaking into a microphone?

      • R schachter wrote yeshiva regarding using a phone for someone who’s in quarantine and critical take a look its online and I hear from r schachter that you cannot form a minyan over zoom for the purpose of kahlua like for kris hannah and all other dining that you need to do berabim.

    10. Dear Rabbi Hoffman
      The bolded update says that you are told that Rabbi Herschel Schechter will soon publish a response forbidding this. Now that said letter was published can you comment directly on that? Turns out it is a lot more nuanced than merely outright forbidding it as you had stated. Thank you

    11. The decisors who oppose the heter must ask themselves these superarching questions:

      1. which opinion offers hope?

      2. whose decision inspires?

      3. which determination is focused on individuals and their families rather than exclusively on the Torah? and

      4. which pronouncement leads to healthy growth?

      Shouldn’t take 5 minutes.

      The lack of substantive thought in the opposition to the heter is appalling. It manages to omit any reference to the COVID 19 disease. Thus, it offers no appreciation or understanding of the environment or context within which this groundbreaking question arises. There is no explication of the all-important nexus. It is worse than rubbish! It is a chilul Hashem. It brings disrepute to the Torah. And to God.

      This is a horror. It is a replication of the madness of the European rabbis (one of whom was my father-in-law’s, zt”l) who advised their communities to stay put during the Holocaust. And I’m not even getting into the true monsters who then caught the last train out leaving their supporters in the lurch.

      To the contrary, context and environment are very much at the core of the thinking of the matirim (see particularly their point 3).

    12. Bottom line. To moishe Goldstein.
      The rabbis were not listened to before Nazis came. People were mechalel Shabbos and sliding away from Torah observance. That’s was when Nazis came

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