By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5TJT.com
Never before in the annals of halachic history has there been such a need to plumb the depths of halachic nuances in light of new technology. We all miss our minyan, our Barchu, our Kaddish, our Kedushah, our krias haTorah. The ubiquitous use of Zoom has brought up the question in many circles of reestablishing the minyan, or at least a limited form of it, through Zoom.
So, what is the story? What can be done? What may not be done? And what is a machlokes?
Types of Zoom Minyanim
Before entering into this halachic minefield, we have to distinguish between two theoretical types of Zoom minyanim. Pay close attention to these two types because the subtle nuances can make a huge difference in the final halachah.
We will define a Zoom minyan type A as joining up via Zoom with a kosher minyan of at least ten shomer Shabbos men gathered in one room or area that is not separated by mechitzos, barriers. Let us also make another distinction here. It must also be a minyan that is countenanced by rabbanim. More on this later.
Zoom minyan type B is when there is no physical minyan in existence at all and the ten people are praying together solely through Zoom.
Cannot Join as Minyan of Ten
It is universally agreed that one cannot join a minyan to be counted as one of the ten via Zoom — either for a Type A or Type B minyan. The Biur Halachah (Siman 57) even indicates that one may not even join a minyan to be counted as one of the ten if one is in a different room within the same house. This may be a little-known fact and is particularly problematic in shivah homes where there is simply no room for ten men. It is recommended by most poskim that the person join the minyan in the big room if possible. The Aruch HaShulchan (O.C. 55:23) writes, however, that one may stay where he is. Most poskim have adopted the Biur Halachah’s view.
What May Be Done
What can be done at both types of Zoom minyanim is to coordinate davening together at the same time. This is perhaps also a level of enhanced davening — davening at the same time as the tzibbur. We say “perhaps,” because if we are discussing Zoom minyan type B, who says that there is a tzibbur here? For a type A Zoom minyan there would be no question. The tzibbur would have to be in the same time zone (or Tefillah Zone) as the person Zooming.
The Gemara (Sukkah 51b, for example) tells us in several places that there was a shul in Alexandria, Egypt, that had such a large attendance that people would stand on stepladders and wave flags as to when to respond to the various blessings in Shemoneh Esrei — Meinif bsudrin. So we see that perhaps there is benefit to coordination of time.
Another source is the Gemara in Berachos (7b) where Rav Yochanan was chiding Rav Nachman for not attending the shiur and then suggesting that he should have coordinated his davening to coincide with the time that the congregation was gathering.
The issue in regard to whether one may respond with amen, barchu, or reciting kedushah has been addressed before in terms of answering these via a telephone or a live radio broadcast. The Minchas Elazar (Vol. II Siman 72) permits answering a davar sh’eb’kedushah on the phone. It seems the Tzitz Eliezer (Vol. VIII #11) did as well.
Rav Shomo Zalman Auerbach (Minchas Shlomo Vol. I #9) forbade it, as did Rav Elyashiv, zt’l, Rav Ovadiah Yosef (Yabia Omer Vol. I #19:18), and, lbc’l, Rav Moshe Shternbuch (Moadim uZmanim Vol. VI #105). The wording of Rab Shlomo Zalman is as follows:
: אי אפשר כלל לצאת בשמיעה זו בשום דבר שחייבים לשמוע מפי אדם ואף שיודע אני רבים יתמהו על כך וכמו זר יהי’ דבר זה בעיניהם עם כל זאת האמת הוא כדברינו וברור הוא בעיני שזה מוזר רק לאלה שאינם יודעין כלל מה טיבם של המכשירים האלה וחושבים מחשבות הבל שחוטי הטלפון או גלי הרדיו מוליכים ממש את קול האדם וכדי להוציא מלבם טענה זו הארכתי מאוד בביאור הדברים אבל לא ליודעין את האמת כי בדברי בזה עם מבינים מדע ויודעים בהלכה כולם הסכימו לי
The underlying rationale of those poskim who forbid answering Amen and other dvarim sh’bekedushah is that the voice being heard is not a real voice at all. It is rather a transposed electronic signal or radio wave — not a soundwave at all. In their view, it is not no longer a human voice.
The logic of this view is rather compelling. What then is the underlying rationale of those poskim who permit it? There is an Igros Moshe (OC Vol. II #108) that may explain their rationale. He writes, “I am quite in doubt as to this matter … since whenever he talks the sound appears, this may be considered as if it is his voice itself.” Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, in the aforementioned responsum (note #4), cites the Chazon Ish as holding to the same possibility and adds the fact that it appears immediately upon it being expressed.
One of the repercussions of this concept is that reciting Amen might present a problem of an Amen Yesomah — an orphaned Amen, one not attached to words.
In the Sefer Halichos Shlomo (Tefillah, chapter 22 footnote #56), Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach writes that he had studied the laws of electricity quite well, and although it is never his custom to say “accept my opinion,” he feels guilty that he did not publicize the underlying prohibition of responding to a berachah over the radio or over the phone. Even Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l, cited Rav Auerbach’s expertise in the area of electricity.
Everyone misses going to minyan. There is a remarkable Shaarei Teshuvah in Siman 55 that discusses an early quarantine where six people were confined and could see four others in other confined quarters. He mentions that one should try to say Kaddish or Kedushah at least once in 40 days.
Rabbi Hoffman can be reached at [email protected].