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March 25, 2020 12:54 pm

Israeli Rabbis Rule Video Conferencing for Passover Seders Permissible in ‘Emergency Situation’

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

A Passover Seder table. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

As the coronavirus crisis continues in Israel, families are facing the prospect of celebrating Passover with relatives and friends absent due to the ongoing lockdown.

In response, a group of rabbis from the Moroccan community issued a rare halachic ruling on Tuesday that allows the use of the video conferencing application Zoom in order to allow those isolated from their families to participate in the Passover Seder virtually.

Jewish law usually forbids the activation or use of electronic devices on a yom tov holiday.

Israeli public broadcast Kan reported that the ruling came in response to a specific query that asked whether Zoom, “which connects older people and their families, who cannot stay with them due to the spread of the virus,” is allowed in order to celebrate the Passover Seder together.

The ruling noted that, in contrast to Ashkenazi tradition, several Sephardi and Moroccan rabbis permitted the use of electronics on a yom tov so long as they were activated before the holiday began.

It stated that in the current circumstances, it was permissible to loosen regulations, but this should only be for the duration of the “emergency situation.”

The ruling also stated that there is an imperative to prevent psychological damage to older people, and “to give them the motivation to continue to struggle for their lives, and prevent depression and a weakening of the soul that can cause them to despair of life.”

“Therefore, it seems to us that [the law] can be loosened, with emphasis that this is only for an emergency situation, and only for the purposes of this year’s Seder and for whoever needs it,” the ruling concluded.

It was signed by Rabbi Eliyahu Abergel, head of the Jerusalem Beit Din.

The ruling came as rabbinical authorities in other countries were making similar decisions.

In the UK, the Kashrut Division of the London Beth Din ruled that, due to the coronavirus crisis, certain products not examined under special kosher supervision could be used for the Passover Seder.

The products include honey, sodium bicarbonate, pure butter, pure fruit juices, coconut and olive oil and tapioca starch, among others.

The Beth Din said that these regular products could be used “1) if regular supervised products are not available, and/or 2) for people in isolation who are unable to go shopping or have Pesach.”

The Jewish Chronicle quoted the head of the Kashrut Division, Rabbi Jeremy Conway, as saying, “We already know why this Seder night will be different to all other nights and this Pesach will be one unlike any other.”

“The Kashrut Division has been working overtime to support our kosher shops and manufacturers,” he said, “as well as to put together new guidelines, just for this Pesach, for those who are unable to get access to fully supervised products.”

“Working together, we hope the community will be able to have a kosher and meaningful Pesach despite the challenging circumstances in which we all find ourselves,” he added.

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