A new Pesak on Zoom Seders during Coronavirus, by R. Herschel Schachter

The basic summary:

– If there is any situation of certain or even possible “psychological danger” (possibility of suicide, or that one may “lose their mind”), family may and must call or Zoom to check in. If there is no such risk, even if this case is “painful and sad,” use of electronic communication is not permitted

– If necessary under pressing circumstances (She’as Hadechak Gadol), one may help someone run a Seder over a phone line left open before Yom Tov, since “it’s not so clear what prohibition there is in speaking on a previously open telephone line” (translating the Hebrew text). Preferable to avoid this, though.

Basic analysis:

– The two permissive views come from two different angles: 1. Use of electronic communication for isolated individuals with mental health risks, based on Pikkuach Nefesh, which overrides the entire Torah. 2. Use of phone (but not Zoom!) to help those lead a Seder if necessary, based on the lack of a clear prohibition and some need. Left unstated is what if there is a scenario that is a pressing circumstance relating to someone in isolation that does not rise to Pikkuach Nefesh – can one use an open phone line in that case?

– The distinction between phone and Zoom is based on the Rav’s view of Roshem (a Tolada of Kosev), which was not addressed in the Sefardic Teshuvah. Focusing on that point leads to a leniency, b contrast, regarding phones that has not been much publicized before this point.

– This Pesak allows for a fair amount of leniency in extenuating circumstances, but without allowing for too much of a shift as to the nature of the standard Yom Tov experience. This is largely accomplished by focusing on the Pikkuach Nefesh angle rather than the question of why phone/Zoom/electricity is prohibited.

– There are three issues at work here: 1. One’s Halakhic traditions about electricity. 2. Whether one is focused on technical or experiential factors. 3. What one wants YT (and Shabbos) to look like. Here we find RHS using the Rav’s views on Roshem (#1), his balancing technical arguments (not clear why phone prohibited) with a general reticence to too strong of a Heter in order that the nature of YT experience not change (#2&3).

Rav Schachter’s letter is here:

Comments are closed.