A self-avowed nerd, host of The Times of Israel podcast Amanda Borschel-Dan is fascinated by the epidemiological journals distributed by Israel’s Health Ministry which show the daily paths taken by those infected with the novel coronavirus.
Based on these journals, it was recently discovered that the foremost hotspots for contagion in Israel are synagogues. So it’s no wonder that for the past several weeks, prayer quorums have increasingly gone online. But are they kosher? And in what circumstances?
Through our two guests this week — Rabbi Avi Poupko and Dr. Michal Isaacson — we’ll discover how technology can allow observant Jews stay connected to their prayer communities, and ways in which it can help out those at highest risk during the coronavirus crisis — the elderly.
Haifa University’s Dr. Michal Isaacson, an expert in gerontechnology, explains that the biggest risk to older adults is not the disease, rather social isolation and its associated loneliness. She gives tips to help Borschel-Dan stay connected with her 95-year-old grandma — and how a shrinking physical world doesn’t mean cutting off communication.
“Smartphone usage has become more prevalent in recent years and one of the things that we know about older adults is that they use very few functions within their smartphones. So people who have had smartphones before this crisis are using more and more of their functions. Their video is working more, they’re able to enter different types of chats, and that’s been very useful,” said Isaacson. However, she cautioned, if the older adult is not a smartphone user, this is not perhaps the best time to purchase one.
Then, we speak with Rabbi Avi Poupko about the very deep and historically Jewish need for prayer quorums. They’re usually made up of 10 adult men, so how can technology fill the gap now that the Israeli Health Ministry has put out an order stopping all gatherings of more than two individuals?
Poupko comes from a long line of rabbis and has the unique perspective of someone who has studied at some of the top Orthodox yeshivas, yet is firmly planted in mainstream modern Israel. He is currently the Rosh Beit Midrash at Mechinat Ein Prat, a pre-military leadership academy for high school graduates from across Israel’s religious, political and social spectrum.
“The Jewish revelation, which is unique as opposed to the Christian or Muslim revelation, in that it happens with the entire people gathered together at Sinai, as opposed to an individual revelation to Jesus, or Muhammed, ours is one together. So the idea of social distancing — it’s hard to think of a practice that is so counter to the very basic DNA of the Jewish instinct to gather together,” said Poupko. “So it presents a unique challenge.”
At the same time, he says, “This virus presents us with opportunities.”
He discusses how in Jewish law the idea of a minyan, or prayer quorum, is not clearcut in black and white terms. This opens the door to new endeavors that build on the feeling of a critical mass of Jews gathering together to praise God, he says. “You need to feel that we have gathered together to perform a certain religious duty,” he says, emphasizing the sometimes subjective nature of what is a prayer quorum.
Poupko says that in his opinion, a Zoom prayer gathering does not “cut it.” Listen here to hear why:
Also this week:
This week, in a special episode of the “WhyWhyWhy!” podcast, we bring you one short story, “Alone together with Fiona,” told by Abi Hartuv. It’s a tale of neighbors nurturing ties even while confined to their homes, in other words, a story borne of the extraordinary circumstances in which we all find ourselves at the moment.
“WhyWhyWhy!,” which normally features stories told in a Tel Aviv bar, is hosted by Times of Israel’s Opinion and Blogs Editor Miriam Herschlag and TLV1’s Noah Efron. For now, they’ve taken the show off the road, and continue to seek out true, gripping stories that reveal our humanity amidst the chaos and uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic.
The podcast, a collaboration between The Times of Israel and TLV1 Podcasts, welcomes new story submissions. If you have a story to tell that you think might be a fit, contact the hosts at email@example.com