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TCS Question - Why is it permissible to have a webcam broadcasting our services?

Last year members of The Community Synagogue became internet celebrities with a song inviting people to join us for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services (it was one of the many things which attracted me to the community). We will now be broadcasting our services on the internet, through our new look website, and it is worth asking why this is okay from a Jewish perspective.

A number of responsa (traditional Jewish answers to halachic questions about Jewish law) from our movement have dealt with a number of issues related to the use of a webcam. Our movement approved the video-taping of services, as long as it did not distract the community present. They also approved the broadcast of services (for call-in services and on the radio), especially as a way of allowing the ill to feel a part of the community despite their inability to attend services at that time.

The microphone is used in our services so that the words of our prayers and songs can fill the sanctuary, and in order that the hard of hearing are able to hear the words and participate fully. With a microphone the service is broadcast throughout the sanctuary. One can view the webcam as an extension of the microphone broadcasting the service throughout the community for members who cannot be present in the service. It is simply another means of broadcasting the service.

In the commandment of Shabbat one of the striking features is that the commandment extends to include every member of society ‘you, your son and your daughter, your servant and your maidservant, your cattle and the stranger within your gates’ (Ex. 20:10). Shabbat observance is all-inclusive. We have striven to make our services as inclusive as possible; we have broken down barriers so that all Jews can be welcomed. But we are challenged to include members of our community who cannot physically be present in our Synagogues for prayer. While we hope that all members of our community will be present at all services, we must acknowledge that some are unable to make the journey to be with us. The elderly, sick and those who find themselves geographically apart from us are often amongst those most in need of community. We cannot always bring them to the Synagogue, but by broadcasting our services over the internet we offer them a way to be part of our community. They may not be physically part of the minyan, but they can experience the service through their computers.

As Talmud Yoma 85b states: ‘Shabbat is committed to your hands, not you to its hands.’ With Shabbat in our hands in the twenty-first century we are able to do things which our ancestors could never have dreamt of. As Reform Jews we can embrace our Judaism and our modernity. In the past we could not share our services with those not present in the Synagogue, now with the creation of webcams and the internet we can reach more people than ever before, including them in our community of prayer.

About Rabbi Danny

Rabbi Danny
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