Skyping the Minyan
by Rabbi David Lerner
People were giving me strange looks.
I guess it was to be expected
– I had come into the minyan
and opened up my laptop,
which now was making
strange noises. People were curious about why
the rabbi would be disturbing the sanctity of
the daily minyan by playing with his email.
At the end of services, the mourners
observing yahrzeit got up to recite the
Mourner’s Kaddish. At that point I turned
to the laptop and looked in, and a woman
on the screen stood up to recite the Kaddish
I explained to the minyannaires that we
had a new participant in the Temple Emunah
daily minyan. Her name is Maxine Marcus,
though everyone calls her Max. She lives
in Amsterdam and works in the Hague,
where she serves as a war crimes prosecutor
at the International Criminal Tribunal
for the former Yugoslavia.
The story behind the story: My wife,
Sharon Levin, and Max have been close
friends since they participated in USY’s
Poland Seminar/Israel Pilgrimage 25 years
ago. Theirs was among the first USY groups
to visit Poland to see the instruments of
the Nazi death camps. Both Max and Sharon
were profoundly moved and transformed
by that experience.
Max’s parents were survivors of the Holocaust.
Her mother was deported from the
Hague in 1942 at age 12 and was imprisoned
in more than 10 concentration camps.
She spent her 14th birthday in Auschwitz
and endured unspeakable horrors, tortured
by the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele. Growing
up in the 1970s and ’80s, Max heard
these stories and internalized a profound
commitment to Judaism and a deep sense
During her college years, Max spent her
summers volunteering at a Bosnian Muslim
refugee camp helping the victims of war
crimes, often Muslim women. My wife also
was a volunteer during the Yugoslavian war
in the early 1990s. After law school, Max
worked for human rights in Africa and eventually
wound up in the Hague.
In recent years, Max had been dealing
with her parents’ aging and the cancer that
life. She discovered
is not easy to
say Kaddish in
Amsterdam. She and I realized that she could
participate in our daily minyan through the
free internet video calling service known
But would it be kosher? Interestingly
enough, 10 years ago Rabbi Avram Reisner
wrote a teshuvah, a religious responsum
for the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards
of the Rabbinical Assembly, explaining
that should such technology arise (Skype
had not yet been created), it would be permissible
for someone to join in a minyan,
although not to count in the quorum of 10,
and to recite the Kaddish. While it also would be allowed through the phone, it
is much better to have a real-time audiovisual
After examining dozens of sources and
precedents from thousands of years of Jewish
history, Rabbi Reisner concluded that
a minyan may not be constituted over the
Internet, an audio- or video-conference,
or any other medium of long distance communication.
Only physical proximity, that
is being in the same room with the shaliah
tzibbur (the prayer leader), allows a quorum
to be constituted.
Once a quorum has been duly constituted,
however, anyone hearing the prayers
in that minyan may respond and fulfill his
or her obligations, even over long-distance
communications of any sort. A real-time
audio connection is required. Two-way connections
to the whole minyan are preferable,
though connection to the shaliach
tzibbur alone or a one-way connection linking
the minyan to the mourner is sufficient.
Email and chat rooms or other typewritten
connections do not suffice. Video connections
are not necessary, but video without
audio also would not suffice.
Rabbi Reisner defines a hierarchy of preference.
It is best to attend a minyan for the
full social and communal effect. A real-time
two-way audio-video connection, where the
mourner is able to converse with the members
of the minyan and see and be seen by
them, is less desirable. Only in exigent circumstances
should you fulfill your obligation
by attaching yourself to a minyan
through a one-way audio medium, which
essentially is just overhearing the service.
As long as someone who is physically
present in the minyan recites the Mourner’s
Kaddish, a participant at another location
may recite it as well; this is not considered
a superfluous blessing.
As you can see, Skyping into the minyan
is permissible according to Rabbi
Reisner’s teshuvah. It has been a powerful
experience, as members of the minyan got
to know Max, schmoozing with her for a
minute or two over Skype after minyan. This
has been a great blessing. It is a reminder
that our minyan is not just a gift to each participant
– allowing us to experience the
power of God, prayer, and community –
but it also reaches out to include all who
participate, even those on the other side
of the Atlantic Ocean.
Last summer, Max visited Temple Emunah
in person. For the first time, our members,
who had never been in the same room
with her but felt close to her through her
Skyped recitation of the Mourner’s Kaddish,
were able to meet Max.
Today, we occasionally Skype in members
who are ill as well as members of other
shuls who have heard of our Skype minyan.
It is our hope that many shuls will add this
option to their daily minyans.
Kol Yisrael areivin zeh ba’zeh – all Israel
is responsible for one another – whether
in person or through the internet.
You can see the full text of Wired to the
Kadosh Barukh Hu: Minyan via Internet. See
also the RA Spotlight.
Rabbi David Lerner is the spiritual leader
of Temple Emunah in Lexington, Massachusetts.
He is president of the New England
Rabbinical Assembly and co-chairs the
RA’s Commission on Keruv, Conversion and