US shul's 'virtual minyan' reaches out to unaffiliated for festivals

A liberal shul in Cincinnati, Ohio, calls itself the "world's first progressive online synagogue."

By JOSIAH DANIEL RYAN
September 10, 2009 21:19
2 minute read.
US shul's 'virtual minyan' reaches out to unaffiliated for festivals

beth adam 248.88. (photo credit: )

 
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Move over televangelism, 'God-casts' bringing 'virtual minyans' are in and Jews will be able to celebrate the High Holidays this year online "from the comfort of their own homes". Couch potato congregants should give thanks to a liberal shul in Cincinnati, Ohio, which calls itself the "world's first progressive online synagogue." "We are meeting Jews where they are," said Rabbi Laura Baum of Congregation Beth Adam which is hosting the online services. "It's really a myth that most Jews are already coming together physically for the High Holidays or other events. For people that have communities locally we think it's great and we are not trying to tell people not to show up at their local synagogue. But this is for people who have not connected for some reason or another." But no everyone is so pleased with Baum's online efforts. Rabbi Basil Herring, Executive Vice President of the Rabbinical Council of America, said he believes that by holding services remotely, the tradition of Jewish community could be endangered. "We understand the motive but it might well end in the opposite effect of what was intended," said Herring. "Individuals who use this mechanism will not feel badly that they are not participating in Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur and it will seem like their rabbis are telling them that it's OK." But Baum said that in these digital times "being" at shul is no longer what it used to be. "The definition of community is changing," said Baum who said she keeps in touch with many of her congregants online. "Communities are increasingly found online as we see on facebook and other websites. People are reaching each other and keeping in touch with each other online." But Herring disagreed. "A synagogue is a place where Jews get together and we pray, not by ourselves, but as a community and as a group," said Herring. "The notion that one can simply stay at home and be part of the experience essentially undermines what traditional prayer is about. It sends a counter-productive message to those who think they don't have to be part of the community." According to Orthodox Jewish law one must be physically present at a prayer group to discharge his prayer obligation. Women are not obligated to pray in a group at all. Baum, apparently admitting there is no substitute for actually being there, said that despite the Internet services she will also be presiding over a service in a brick and mortar synagogue.

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