Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, our normalcy is being snatched from our hands. In many cases, we need to seclude ourselves in our homes, take our education solely online, and wear a mask in the limited places we can travel. We failed to appreciate the freedoms we used to have, like eating at restaurants and seeing family overseas, which now is typically restricted. We are losing numerous privileges, so much so that the pandemic doesn’t feel tangible.
The Conservative movement experienced similar disbelief when it became clear that in-person worship was strictly forbidden. Although the possibility of livestreaming services had been denied in the past, the movement’s Jewish law authorities permitted Conservative synagogues to livestream Shabbat and holiday services. They believed that the pandemic’s unfamiliarity and restrictions justified their unprecedented decision. Nevertheless, there still remains controversy surrounding the method of live streaming services and has raised tensions between the different denominations of Judaism.
Most Orthodox congregations forbid the livestreaming of services because it directly contradicts the prohibition of using electricity on holy days. Although most communities have different guidelines applied to their establishments, select Conservative synagogues livestream anyway. They found that it was the ideal way to connect to Judaism at a point when relating to G-d and religion was hard enough.
Rabbi Joshua Heller of the Conservagtive Congregation B’nai Torah in Georgia proposed the ruling for the current circumstances and asserted that the situation had to be “reassessed as we transition to a ‘new normal’.” Rabbi Heller continued, “This question took on a dramatic new urgency as almost every synagogue in the world was forced to suspend in-person physical worship.”
Because of the abnormal times, the Conservative movement allowed its followers to livestream with many caveats. They instructed that the technology necessary to livestream must be readily assembled and include a timer in the setup so that users would steer clear from actively using electricity on Shabbat.
Some Conservative leaders acknowledged that livestreaming services could precipitate the desecration of holy days. It is very easy for one to move from watching the services to sending emails or shopping online. To protect the sanctity of Shabbat and High Holidays, they talked about imposing greater fences for the worshippers.
It is easy to judge other Jews and the way they affiliate with Judaism. At any moment, I can question other Jews’ adherence to the Torah and how they practice their respective faith. However, it is crucial to take a step back and notice that everyone relates to religion in their own ways. I identify as an Orthodox Jew and use what I consider traditional means to remain devoted to G-d. In contrast, Conservative Jews, who were recently granted the authority to live stream services, connect to religion in a more unconventional and modern manner.
Even though I may feel sheltered in my own religious bubble, I must respect other movemens of Jews and their preferred method of observance; that remains another layer of warmth and acceptance that I strive to perfect. I was commanded to love my fellow Jews, and this is the first step to fulfillment.
Rochel Leah Itzkowitz is a senior at the Frisch School in New Jersey. She is a Staff Writer for Fresh Ink for Teens.