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Online Prayers Bring New Spirit to Synagogues

Women also want to pray and be counted in the synagogue. Prayers over Zoom bring a spirit of partnership and equality

Rabbanit Chamutal Shoval is the Anita Perlman Fellow in Ohr Torah Stone’s Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute of Halakhic Leadership 

Makor Rishon | April 2, 2020

On the past two Friday nights I participated in Kabbalat Shabbat services counting upwards of 200 people. No, I did not go to synagogue when this is forbidden. I participated in an online Kabbalat Shabbat, through Zoom. In one virtual window stood the prayer leader, holding a guitar, and an hour before candle-lighting he was joined by hundreds of worshippers in dozens of homes throughout the country. It was a wonderful picture – female and male worshippers sitting and singing Lecha Dodi together, feeling less lonely, if only briefly, by way of the screen.

When the ‘Corona decrees’ began and it was decided not to hold prayers of upwards of ten people, it was clear to everyone that such a small minyan would be made up of men only. I am not complaining that women are not obligated to pray in a minyan. Those few small minaynim were made up of dedicated worshippers and most of the congregation did not take part, and obviously not the women. The strict number included only those who make up a minyan.

It was the online option that changed the game. The link to the online prayer service was passed from hand to hand, from mobile device to mobile device. All at the same time, before Shabbat, families crowded together before the screen, trying to feel – if only to a small degree – the holiness of the Sabbath through the musical Kabbalat Shabbat. They sang, each in their own home, yet still feeling together. The square structure of dozens of participants on a Zoom screen is so different from the structure of a synagogue. Everyone was an equal partner, and everyone’s soul was thirsty for God’s presence. Everyone saw the cantor, and the cantor saw each and every one, men and women.

We all long for our routines, for the ability to leave our house, for whatever reason, and especially to go to the synagogue. But the desire to pray and be seen in the synagogue belongs to women also, not only to men. Many women would like to pray, to give a dvar torah, to have a significant presence in the synagogue, within the confines of halacha. They would like to hear the cantor, see what is taking place in the synagogue, and not disappear, silently, behind the partition.

Maybe these days of online prayer, and the disruption of all our habits, will bring a new spirit to the synagogue, so that women will feel more welcome and wanted. Please God.

Read this oped in Hebrew on the Makor Rishon website


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