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A Minyan online

There has been a good discussion on this site about whether or not sacraments can apply in the virtual world. I continue to hold the position of being wary of moving in that direction. There has been quite a bit of news around the new RC confession app (the first app to get a RC bishop’s imprimatur!) [Warning: don’t put in both “married” and “priest” you will break the app – or possibly even your iPod or phone].

Christianity is not the only religion to be moving into this brave new world (there are lots of meditation apps…) In Judaism you need at least ten adult males (a minyan) for particular rituals. Michael Sabani argues that ten online can form a minyan:

We can see the advancements of the internet and the ability to stream a service live as a benefit of these modern times. This use of technology isn’t really as big an innovation as you’d think. In fact, “the gemara in Sukkah 51b relates that the synagogue of Alexandria, Egypt was so large that they had to wave flags so that the people in the back knew when to answer ‘amen’” (Friedman). How about that! The online service is essentially the same thing; we are sending out “electronic flags” to all those participating.

According to Rav Soloveitchik, “even if one is in another room, he may still have the advantage of tefillah betzibbur, just as he may respond to devarim shebekedushah” (Mipninei HaRav [2001], p.41). So we are told that even those in another room may participate in a service and be included, while being in a different room from the leader of the service.

The Rambam tells us, in the Mishneh Torah (Tefillah viii) that if a minyan is distributed between 2 adjoining rooms and the shaliach tzibbur is standing in a doorway between the two, or even within earshot of both rooms, all involved can be counted for the minyan. So, in the 21st century, the live, streaming video really is the doorway into the rooms of the participants. As long as everyone can hear the leader and participate, there really is no reason why all who are watching and participating can’t be counted.

In summary, Rav Friedman says that “all stimuli that are not from a natural origin, are not in their natural form, or do not originate from a natural process are invalid for the fulfillment of almost any halakhic obligation.” So it seems that if the prayer leaders are actively, naturally speaking and leading, the service would be valid.

Read the rest here.

H/T Meredith Gould

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11 thoughts on “A Minyan online”

  1. The minyan argument here seems most applicable to the Daily Office in the Anglican Tradition. That doorway can take various forms.

    But what about the Eucharist? The Episcopal Church, in The Book of Common Prayer, currently requires the celebrant to hold or lay a hand upon the elements during the Words of Institution. The question of communion by video extension will come up one day, though.

    I have a blog post about this from 2009. While I was and am currently in the “must be physically present” camp, that blog post shows that I am open to questioning that position. http://blog.rrchapman.us/2009/11/a-collision-of-thoughts/

    Now, what about having a hologram lead a service? http://blog.rrchapman.us/2010/03/let-your-technology-shine-forth-to-all-people/

    We haven’t really started this discussion within the historic church Tradition. I’m afraid of letting the Evangelicals setting the agenda for us, as their concerns aren’t the same. Being an Incarnational Church means God is with us, not available on a screen.

    1. I think you are right, Bob, that the Daily Office is appropriate in the virtual world and there are various ways to participate in that – including on twitter.

      I regularly would take TEC’s BCP as a standard, but in the case of what to do during the telling of the Last Supper story I think that is open to much further discussion – some of which I do in my book Celebrating Eucharist. In this case IMO NZPB is much better with the presider “taking” the bread and wine at The Preparation of the Gifts. That aside, the link I provided to Virtual Eucharist? gives a position much akin to your own.

      Thanks for moving the discussion forward. It will be one that needs to be continued…

  2. “Taking” the bread and wine still requires physical presence.

    As long as we are on the “take, bless, break, and give” track, how does the celebrant break and give virtually.

    About the only thing a celebrant may be able to do virtually is bless. And, I will leave it may for now. I know other types of prayers do not require physical presence, but is a prayer proper if not following the template (take, bless, break, give).

    1. Maybe I didn’t write well, Bob. I was agreeing with you – not disagreeing. That I am not convinced about TEC’s BCP moment of “taking” does not mean I think the taking can be dispensed with. Quite the opposite.

  3. Let me be clearer: I was agreeing with you.

    We could carry on all day like this. But, we also would shock the world if other saw two Anglicans agreeing on something. Even if virtually.

  4. I even know of a church that “virtually blesses communion” even when physically present. They do so at their “drive-in church” and participants BYOB bring their own bread for self administration.

    There are WORDS of comfort which can be delivered many ways but there is still no virtual hug. Humans need bodies to be human; sacraments have realities that manifest themselves physically.

    Now that I put it that way, the sacrament of marriage may present a case in point for why sacraments require physical presence – that is unless folks are seeking virtual marriages these days too.

    1. Joel, you wouldn’t happen to have a website for the drive-in church, or an online article about this, would you? And you only mention the bread – they don’t consecrate wine?

  5. Wine? Open container laws in found in local jurisdictions in the US would cause a problem with the wine, unless you left the cork in the bottle.

    In spite of open container laws, I understand there are drive through establishments in New Orleans that serve margaritas and daiquiris. http://karenrussell.typepad.com/my_lifejust_not_on_the_ro/2009/11/new-orleans.html Apparently there is a secret to keep from being arrested. http://www.bootsnall.com/articles/00-03/new-orleans-louisiana-travel.html

    There may be a solution in Louisiana for communion in both kinds whilst in a car.

  6. What concerns me most about these concepts is that they promote the modern assumption that there is no need, nor place, for the local church. It seems we are to “neglect to meet together” (Hebrews 10:25) and live our lives as if it is just us and God.

    If we are members of the Body of Christ, then ‘the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”’ (1 Corithians 12:21). It is not a good development to say that we have no need of one another, whether it is in the sacraments or any other part of the Christian life!

    I personally think the rubric of the Book of Common Prayer as regarding those unable due to incapacity to come to the Lord’s Supper is particularly well defined. First, it sets out that there must be signified “three, or two at the least” persons who will communicate along with the sick and the curate, and then – dealing with whether there be a lack of curate or sufficient persons to communicate – declares:

    But if a man, either by reason of extremity of sickness, or for want of warning in due time to the curate, or for lack of company to receive with him, or by any other just impediment, do not receive the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood, the Curate shall instruct him, that if he do truly repent him of his sins, and stedfastly believe that Jesus Christ both suffered death upon the Cross for him, and shed his Blood for his redemption, earnestly remembering the benefits he hath thereby, and giving him hearty thanks therefore, he doth eat and drink the Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ profitably to his Soul’s health, although he do not receive the Sacrament with his mouth.

    (Both quotes from ‘Communion of the Sick’, BCP 1662)

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