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Seder Via Video Conference


Beit Din Eretz Hemda - Gazit

Nissan 13 5780
People from our community are sitting alone at home because of the covid-19 pandemic, and would find it difficult to conduct the Seder by themselves. May we permit them and their families to set up their computers so that they will be able to see and hear each other and celebrate the Seder together?
The use of electronic devices on Shabbat and Yom Tov is one that requires careful consideration. Halachic authorities shoulder the responsibility for maintaining the proper atmosphere for Shabbat and Yom Tov, and with the widespread use of electronice devices for so many purposes, the potential for tarnishing the sanctity of these holy days is great.
Although Halacha does allow for special consideration for extenuating circumstances and for Mitzvah purposes, we must be careful in application of these considerations so as not to do more harm than good. The latest attempt to widely permit the use of video conferencing technology on Shabbat and Yom Tov must serve as a warning bell to us as to how the boundries of Halacha may be improperly stretched.
Therefore, as the use of communication devices such as computers and smartphones, even when turned on prior to Yom Tov, involves certain concerns for prohibitions, it is prohibited for people who are healthy in mind and body to use them to communicate on Yom Tov, despite their good wishes to celebrate the Seder together with their families.
One may join in a family meeting using these devices prior to the entrance of Yom Tov, in which one could tell the story of the redemption from Egypt and sing the songs of the Seder, in order to celebrate together. However, one must ensure that all participants understand that the mitzvoth of the Seder may not be fulfilled prior to nightfall, and therefore following nightfall each one in his home must fulfil the entire Seder, from Kiddush until the end of the Hagadah. If there is a concern that publicizing a recommendation for such a family meeting will lead to people not fulfilling the mitzvoth of the Seder night at their appropriate time following nightfall, one should refrain from publicizing such a recommendation, as there may be more lost than gained.
Only in extenuating circumstances and with approval the local community rabbi, it is permitted to use electronic devices on Yom Tov for communicating with people for whom there is a concern for their mental or physical health, in accordance with the following principles and guidelines

There are a number of situations where significant harm to one's mental health is considered a life-threatening situation, where the prohibitions of Shabbat and Yom Tov may be overridden:
A. Preventing a mental illness, or a serious deterioration in one's mental health, is considered a life-saving act that overrides the prohibitions of Shabbat and Yom Tov.
B. Any seriously ill or frail person, even if he is mentally well, since a deterioration in his mental health may lead to a deterioration in his physical health, preserving his emotional and mental health is considered a life-saving act that overrides the prohibitions of Shabbat and Yom Tov.
C. Extreme stress and anxiety are also considered to be life-threatening situations by small children and by seriously ill or frail people, and in extreme situations even by healthy adults.

Therefore, regarding people for whom lonliness during the Seder night may severly harm their mental health and well-being, especially if they are ill or elderly, it is permitted for them to celebrate the Seder with their family or friends via electronic devices such as a computer or phone.
There is a preference for solely audio communications, but if needed to alleviate the loneliness, audio and video communications are permitted as well.
As stated above, the responsibility for the implementation in each specific case rests with the local community rabbi who is familiar with the individuals and their particular circumstances.

In order to mitigate the prohibitions involved in such communications, one should conduct them in accordance with the following options, listed in order of preference:
1. One should set up the connection by computer or phone prior to the entrance of Yom Tov, so that on Yom Tov itself there will be no need to operate the device. One may initiate the video conference prior to sunset, so that it will remain open into the night. Alternatively, there are video conferencing programs that allow scheduling meetings to automatically open and close on specific times. One should run test trials with these programs prior to Yom Tov to ensure they will operate smoothly. Some programs place a time cap on a meeting's length, and therefore one should make sure to use a program that will run for the necessary duration. One should set the camera and audio to the correct postions and settings prior to Yom Tov.
2. If it is not possible to set up the communication prior to Yom Tov, or it was disconnected during Yom Tov and there is a need to reconnect, or there is a need to adjust the camera or audio, one may ask a gentile to take the necessary actions to do so. In places where the instructions are to reduce contact between people due to the pandemic, one should not invite a gentile to their home to do so. Only if there a gentile amongst the household members, such as a caregiver, one should ask them to do so.
3. If no gentile is available, a Jew may also operate the devices and take the necessary actions to enable a proper connection. It is perferabe to do so in a manner different from the norm, such as using one's backhand, or something of the sort.

However they are conducted, the meetings should not be recorded.

According to most authorities, one does not fulil the obligated blessings by hearing them via a computer of phone, and therefore each person should recite by himself the various blessings in the Hagadah, and the Hallel as well. Regarding the rest of the Hagadah, one may fulfil the obligation to tell the story of the redemption by hearing it via the electronic devices. It is however recommended to recite the primary passages of the Hagadah, which are Avadim Hayinu (We were slaves in Egypt), Metchila Ovdei Avodah Zara (Our forefathers were idol worshippers) and Raban Gamliel Omer (Rabbi Gamliel said), by oneself. One who does not know how to recite the blessings, may hear them via live transmission over the computer or phone. One may answer amen on the blessings one hears via live transmission over the computer or phone.

This permission for electronic communications with the ill and elderly and any person for whom there is a danger to their mental health and well-being is not limited to the Seder night, and also applies to any Shabbat and Yom Tov, and in particular outside of Israel where frequently there are three continuous days of Shabbat and Yom Tov. In such a situation, there is a preference for conducting the communications on the second day of Yom Tov, but in case of need they are permitted on the first day of Yom Tov and Shabbat as well, and again in accordance with the prioritized instructions listed above.

Someone who is healthy in mind and body but does not know how to conduct the Seder himself, and is need of guidance, and without guidance will likely be unable to fulfil the mitzvoth of the Seder night, should be taught prior to Yom Tov how to conduct the Seder, and provided with a Hagadah in a language he understands. If he was not taught prior to Yom Tov, he may operate a recording prior to Yom Tov, which will continue running into Yom Tov and guide him through the Seder. He will need to recite along with the recording the blessings and the Hagadah. In case of great need, where without personal guidance during the Seder he will be unable to fulfil the main mitzvoth of the Seder, it is permitted to operate a solely audio connection prior to the entrance of Yom Tov, such as a phone call, and receive guidance throughout the Seder.

In the attached Pdf file are these instructions including the Hebrew version along with sources.
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