Constituting a Minyan by Means of Virtual Technology

Two papers have been adopted by the Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee for Jewish Law and Standards addressing the possibility of constituting a minyan over virtual technology. The first paper is by Rabbi Joshua Heller, who by arguing for a broad application of she’at hadehak (a pressing circumstance) outlines three options for leaders of Conservative minyanim. The first is to permit the recitation of the Mourners Kaddish in a minyan where in-person and virtual participants count equally in the minyan, the second to include a virtual participant only as the tenth person in a minyan (as some communities already count a minor holding a Humash as the tenth) and the third permits any ritual (with reservations as to Torah reading) to be done with a minyan constituted exclusively by virtual means or in combination with in-person and virtual participation. Members of the CJLS voted individually upon those three options. The committee had already offered unofficial guidance regarding this practice for pandemic times. This new paper gives communities that wish to guidance for how to extend the practice.

The second paper is by Rabbi David J. Fine. Rabbi Fine argues for a more limited reading of she’at hadehak, one in which the end of the COVID-19 pandemic would lead to a reapplication of the standards of constituting a minyan in person that were in place before the onset of the pandemic. Rabbi Fine’s pesak din (ruling) is that a minyan cannot be fully constituted virtually, although, according to a 2001 teshuvah by Rabbi Avram Reisner, one may join a minyan remotely to fulfill one’s obligations if a minyan is already constituted in person. In addition to the two teshuvot, Rabbi Dorff posted a concurrence, in which he explains why he voted for all four options justified by Rabbis Heller and Fine.

Educational materials and discussion session with Rabbis Fine and Heller will be publicized shortly.