Rabbis Offer Alternatives to Kaddish-as-Usual

By FRANCES KRAFT

Among other challenges facing the Jewish community because of COVID-19, mourners who would otherwise say Kaddish as part of an in-person minyan no longer have that option.

Most Orthodox rabbis do not consider online minyanim acceptable for reciting Kaddish or for other aspects of the service that require the traditional prayer quorum of 10. The chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, has suggested a memorial prayer called the Hazkarah, which was written in medieval times and can be said without a minyan.

In Vancouver, Congregation Schara Tzedeck, which is modern Orthodox, is offering twice-daily online Torah study in lieu of the daily minyan and Kaddish.

“The idea is that people should do a mitzvah in memory of their loved one,” said Rabbi Andrew Rosenblatt, the synagogue’s spiritual leader.

He added that in the middle of Passover, Schara Tzedeck held a virtual Yizkor service, which had close to maximum shul attendance.

In Montreal, Rabbi Anthony Knopf, spiritual leader of the modern Orthodox Congregation Beth Ora, has arranged to have Kaddish said on behalf of some congregants through Aish HaTorah’s minyan in Jerusalem. The Aish website states that its minyan is held “in accordance with the directives and guidelines of Israel’s Health Ministry.”

Beth Ora also has a weekly online Mincha/Ma’ariv service, where worshippers observing yahrzeit or shloshim are given the opportunity to speak about their loved one. “There are different ways of finding that meaning and that connection,” Rabbi Knopf said.

But at least one Orthodox synagogue, the Yachad congregation in Tel Aviv, has approved saying Kaddish in a virtual minyan.

Rabbi Benjamin Lau, an Israeli Orthodox scholar and community leader, wrote in a Times of Israel column in March that he participated in a Zoom minyan organized by the congregation after consulting with Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, who has published extensively on Halachah (Jewish law). 

In the Conservative movement, there are also a variety of approaches. Beth David B’nai Israel Beth Am, an egalitarian Conservative synagogue in Toronto, holds Zoom services twice a day with the exception of Shabbat and holy days.

To deny mourners the opportunity to say Kaddish “would create great emotional stress,” said Rabbi Philip Scheim, the congregation’s senior rabbi. He said his sense was “that we had to respond to a very pressing human need.”

Rabbi Philip Scheim

In mid-March, the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly posted a document titled “Guidance for Remote Minyanim in a time of COVID-19.” In lieu of Kaddish, the document recommends alternative prayers or mitzvot, such as text study. The directive also noted that some members of the movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards recommend a more lenient approach based in part on sources that suggest worshippers can be counted in a minyan if their faces can be seen. 

The Reform movement now permits online minyanim “only under the unusual circumstances of a global pandemic,” Rabbi Yael Splansky, senior rabbi of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto, told The CJR in an email. Her congregation is offering twice-daily minyanim, and she said they have been “surprisingly meaningful for many.”

All the same, Rabbi Splansky wrote, “I long for the day when we can return to welcoming each other into the small chapel, carry the Torah in procession, offer Yahrtzeit candles as gifts of comfort from the Temple Brotherhood, and gather over bagels after the service for in-person conversation. In the meantime, however, this [virtual minyan] is a powerful tool for uplifting prayer, meaningful connections, and sustaining rituals.”