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Shabbat dinners amid the pandemic: An ancient Jewish tradition goes virtual

August 14, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

The Sabbath, or Shabbat in Hebrew, has long been a weekly holiday of renewal, in which Jews separate themselves from the world, including technology. But during the pandemic, Shabbat dinners are going online and religious leaders are debating whether changes like that ought to remain permanent.

Now, however, during the pandemic, with many Jewish congregations taking services online for the first time, Ring's faith has undergone its long overdue blossoming.

Ring's experience reflects a growing trend in Judaism, as several branches of the faith, long resistant to technology, find ways to adapt during the pandemic.

One group that has embraced the virtual possibilities for faith is Lab/Shul, which describes itself as an "everybody-friendly, artist-driven, God-optional, pop up community for sacred Jewish gatherings in New York City. "

"What the Sabbath is about is an invitation to tap into the sacred specialness of life," Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie, who leads Lab/Shul, said.

It's this awesome holiday we get every week to rest, to pray and to sing," said Rabbi Sandra Lawson, associate chaplain for Jewish life and a Jewish educator at Hillel at Elon University in North Carolina.

"A lot of the things we do are centered on community," said Lawson, who has become a Jewish digital leader of sorts, viewing social media as a way to welcome others into the faith.

But with physical gatherings of 10 people prohibited in many areas due to the coronavirus pandemic, serving communities virtually during quarantine presents a conundrum in how to uphold Jewish tradition while taking public health into consideration.

In May, the rabbinic arm of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism issued a 30-page opinion formally allowing the use of electronic devices to stream services for Shabbat and other Jewish holidays.

Strictly Orthodox communities have opposed the use of technology during Shabbat and holidays, and each individual Jewish community is adapting in its own way.

Lesser co-leads a Facebook group called "Dreaming Up High Holy Days 2020," in which nearly 2,500 cantors, rabbis and lay leaders exchange ideas on how to celebrate the holy days during the pandemic, either virtually or with in-person modifications in place.

It's something that nearly anyone who attends one of the virtual Shabbat dinners could relate to whether they're atheist, agnostic, Jewish or "Jew-ish," as Lau-Lavie said.

Nearly 800 miles away in a Chicago suburb, Ring was also celebrating Shabbat, comfortably at home and using a digital technology to spiritually connect with her community.

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