Some Orthodox congregations are holding small minyanim and Shabbos services outside, while others are going online.
COVID-19 has changed many aspects of life, including religious services.
Since state restrictions on public gatherings continue, many local synagogue and temple buildings continue to be closed. This poses a challenge for meeting the traditional Jewish requirement of daily prayers with a minyan — a quorum of at least 10 men praying together. (Non-Orthodox congregations typically count women in their minyanim.) The minyan symbolically represents the community of Israel and is required for reciting the Kaddish and other prayers, as well as reading from the Torah.
Some Orthodox congregations are holding small minyanim and Shabbos services outside their buildings, sometimes under tents, or inside their facilities in small numbers.
“We are hosting in-person minyanim, with masks, distancing and a limited number of attendees in our large main sanctuary and social hall,” said Rabbi Shaya Katz of Young Israel of Oak Park.
“Davening outside has been very beautiful,” said Rabbi Shneur Silberberg of Bais Chabad Torah Center in West Bloomfield. “Our daily minyan is stronger than in the past, perhaps because some shuls are not doing it.”
However, many local Conservative and a few Reform congregations are using digital platforms like Zoom, Facebook and YouTube to offer virtual minyanim. Some link to their services via a password-protected site or a personal email to discourage hackers. While some worshipers miss the contact of an in-person minyan, others find them more convenient.
Congregation B’nai Moshe in West Bloomfield has done well with online minyanim.
Executive Director Steven Fine said, “We do get a minyan of Zoom participants most every morning and our afternoon Zoom minyanim sees anywhere between 20 and 40 participants every day. This is attended in greater number than when we had in-person services.
“While many were not able to attend our 6 p.m. services in person, some have become regulars over the last six months. We’ve had people join our afternoon minyan from as far away as Arizona and California. We have built a wonderful online community of caring individuals through this most difficult time.”
Rabbi Aaron Bergman at Adat Shalom Synagogue, a Farmington Hills Conservative congregation, said, “We are Zooming seven days a week, twice a day. Minyan attendance for each service has been strong and consistent.”
Conservative Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield has offered morning and afternoon/evening minyan on Zoom every day since March. “Our weekday minyan numbers are twice what they were when we met in person,” said Rabbi Aaron Starr.
At B’nai Israel Synagogue, a Conservative congregation in West Bloomfield, a daily online minyan includes the Mourner’s Kaddish, if there are 10 participants, but not the other Kaddishes or Torah readings. Congregation Beth Ahm in West Bloomfield follows a similar course.
Several Reform congregations including Temple Beth El, Bloomfield Township, and Temple Israel, West Bloomfield, offer weekly virtual minyanim.
Jewish halachic tradition prohibits using technology on the Sabbath and high holidays. Most Orthodox congregations have continued to abide by that restriction during the pandemic. The Conservative Rabbinical Assembly issued a paper outlining ways to use Zoom and other online technology for Shabbos and Yom Tov, and made the paper available on its website.
Rabbi Bergman, a recent past president of the Michigan Board of Rabbis, said, “There were a lot of discussions among Conservative Rabbis. Ultimately this has been considered to be an unusual emergency situation where we had to be very creative in keeping the community connected to their Judaism and spiritual lives. Every synagogue has taken a slightly different approach, but we all felt the pandemic forced us into a situation that we would not normally have endorsed.”
B’nai Israel’s Rabbi Mitch Parker said that people missed Shabbat services, so they instituted an online service. He added, “We tried to maintain the sanctity of Halachah and the day by asking members to turn on their computers to a Zoom site on Friday night before Shabbat.” Members can access the service without turning anything on or off and without touching any computer keys.