A Jew with a cell phone © Deltaoff (shutterstock)
They are stopgap measures, but apparently quite workable. Rabbis, too, must consider how to care for their congregants these days – on Shabbat, Passover and beyond.
Until recently, he could not imagine all these activities on the Internet. Rabbi Avichai Apel of Frankfurt looks with satisfaction at the digital emergency solutions that were tested for the first time last week for the weekly Jewish day of rest Shabbat.
For just as in churches, services are currently banned in synagogues because of the Corona crisis. In addition, Orthodox Judaism forbids the use of electrical devices on Shabbat – so there is no possibility of broadcasting services live.
Many a rabbi had therefore held services alone well before the start of the day of rest on Friday evening, which could be broadcast live at the time. "I am very pleased with the first Shabbat of this kind," said Apel, who is on the board of the Orthodox Rabbinical Conference of Germany (ORD). "This was very interesting and gratifying." For until now he had been rather critical of such digital offerings.
Apel himself celebrated a service in Frankfurt last Friday afternoon, for which about 90 families had registered online, he says. "It was a wonderful experience." And: "We will try to continue this as long as necessary." Now the second such Shabbat is coming up this Friday.
And it's not just about Shabbat – because Passover, one of the highest Jewish festivals, is just around the corner. Start is the eve of 9. April. That evening, the festival commemorating the Exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt is ushered in with a communal meal. The fact that every household will have to celebrate the Seder meal alone this year because of the coronavirus is causing unease and also anxiety among Jews worldwide, despite all their understanding.
Restricting Passover to one's own home
The chairman of the General Rabbinical Conference of Germany (ARK), Andreas Nachama, points out in a recent newsletter that saving lives is currently a priority – even if it is "sad and bitter" to limit Passover to one's home. But the point now, he said, is to avoid as much social contact as possible. The ARC unites rabbis who work in unity congregations and in liberal congregations.
Very fresh is a religious law ruling by some Orthodox rabbis, according to which the use of the video conferencing service "Zoom" is allowed and elderly people in quarantine can exceptionally participate in the family dinner via a video link. You must turn on devices and program before the holiday begins.
The justification given was that the technology was being used to fulfill a religious obligation. Also, he said, it was important to strengthen the bond between the boys and their grandparents and prevent depression and sadness. The decision is highly controversial.
Criticism came, among others, from Israeli Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau.
Apel also can't understand the ruling, calling it a minority decision by very few rabbis. He himself does not feel bound by this, each rabbi can decide for himself. Concerns about being alone weigh heavily, "but we don't have a life-and-death emergency here".
Using the telephone on Shabbat as an exception
It was different with the special permission granted to Corona patients to use the telephone on Shabbat as an exception. Because in this case, it is a matter of protecting life – an act that is above all rules and regulations, emphasizes Apel.
The rabbi adds that pastoral care is currently focused on phone calls and the Internet. This currently included, for example, attunements to Passover, in order to make the feast lively again this year. There are, for example, communal learning opportunities for children and adults: "The main thing is to be there. And we have to break down the walls between people."
In view of the restrictions on the practice of religion, which not only affect Jews and, for example, also hit Christians hard in view of the upcoming Easter celebration, Apel calls for solidarity.
"There is no difference between the religion, origin and sexual orientation. Every man is a man."