That’s the invitation being offered by many individual synagogues and even by the Jewish Television Network, a pioneer in using many forms of communications technology to meet the needs of Jews, and anyone else interested in Jewish thought and practice. While some in the Jewish community object to the very notion of people tuning in online for their Yom Kippur experience, there is much about this that deserves to be celebrated. As I told the Steve Lipman of the New York Jewish Week, “The more opportunities there are for people to connect, the better it always is.”
It’s not that I don’t appreciate the halakhic problems from a traditional perspective, because I do. And for those and many other reasons, attending a cyber-shul is not for me. But unless one insists that to be authentically and meaningfully Jewish, something must meet the measure of contemporary orthodoxy, and I certainly don’t, that is not an issue. Neither is the fact that participating in a service online really is very different from being there in person.
While I wish that more people broadcasting their services better appreciated how new technology and new means of communication create genuinely new understandings of community and connection, the changes they are bringing are no more radical than the writing down of the oral torah, Maimonides popularization of a simplified law code over the more complex Talmud, or the institution of regular prayer that could be performed anywhere as a substitute for animal sacrifices offered exclusively in the Jerusalem Temple.
Compared to these events, all of which both radically altered AND enhanced the experience of the Jewish people, shul-casting is a pretty modest departure from the tradition — one with enormous potential in both immediately and in the future. While on line services may not be for everyone, just consider how they can serve many people in the following circumstances:
• Those who can’t afford local synagogue services for whatever reason
• People who are physically unable to attend synagogue services
• People who have to remain home to attend to a homebound ill or disabled family member
• People who don’t feel comfortable with locally available synagogue options
• Disenfranchised, alienated or disaffected Jews who seek a meaningful spiritual experience outside the established structure of synagogue life.
• Seniors and disabled patients confined to hospitals, nursing care, assisted living, hospice, rehabilitation and residential facilities
• Members of the military who may be based in remote locations
• Elderly shut-ins, who had despaired because they were unable to attend a service on the holiest night of the Jewish calendar year
• Anyone who is curious about the Yom Kippur service, but too shy or intimidated to seek out a synagogue
• Students who attend rural or foreign universities with few or no options to attend a reasonably close synagogue
• People living and working abroad in regions that offer few or no alternatives
This list is from the JTN website, and you can get information about their shul-cast by going to http://jewishtvnetwork.com/highHolidays. Interestingly, like many of the synagogues mentioned in the Jewish Week article, this is not about encouraging people to leave a brick-and-mortar synagogue for their home computer. It’s about creating options so that more people can connect in more ways, regardless of the circumstances of their lives. That seems pretty sacred to me.
I want to take this opportunity to ask forgiveness of anyone who has been hurt or offended by my words on Windows and Doors, and bless each of us that in the coming year, we find all that our minds long to learn, all that our hearts yearn to feel, all that our bodies need to be well and the love of friends and family with whom to experience it all. G’mar Hatimah Tovah.