Today (25 March 2020) a group of 14 Sephardic rabbis in Israel approved the holding of virtual seders, provided the video conference is operating before the start of Pessah and left running after the seder. The rabbis also said that this permission is “for emergency times only.”

Their motivation was pikuach nefesh: "It is important to lift the spirits of the elderly, who have been separated from their families and others to avoid contracting the deadly virus, and to give them motivation to keep fighting for their lives, and to prevent depression and mental weakness which could lead them to despair of life."

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau and others criticized the ruling.

What, exactly, are the halachic objections to this set-up as they described it?

  • Just heard a shiur on it. It appears the Moroccan rabbis didn’t really know about Electricity 100 years and therefore at the time is was ok. The Rabbis today are basing their ruling on that psak 100 years ago. Commented Mar 25, 2020 at 21:56
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    Wouldn't it make more sense to ask what the basis of the ruling was, instead of the basis of the objection? Unless you think it's more obvious that electricity would be permitted to use on Yom Tov?
    – Double AA
    Commented Mar 25, 2020 at 22:17
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    Rabbi Heinaman in the Torah Anytime Halacha video discuses this and prohibits it for practically all situations
    – Dr. Shmuel
    Commented Mar 26, 2020 at 1:59
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    Please add the link to Rabbi Lau and the others who criticize the ruling so that we can see what they say. Commented Mar 26, 2020 at 2:07
  • If I had it I would not have asked my question. Commented Mar 26, 2020 at 2:19

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UPDATES: Rav Shlomo Amar stated in a letter that tehre is absolutely no basis to this heter and that it is wrong. It has been communicated to Rabbi Hoffman that 3 of the Rabbonim who signed have retracted the ruling (Rav Moshe Suissa, Rav Aharon Cohen, and Rav Yonatan Sror). The ruling was, apparently, issued only in one case of a Pikuach nefesh situation with some of the details being different.

Rabbi Herschel Schachter explains that this is only in a definite pikuach nefesh situation. The articles that I have seen on this do not seem to emphasize this adequately. The quote from the rabbis does not seem to adequately explain that it is only in a situation where they are indeed in despair of their lives and not could lead them to despair of life.

If the government or a physician has decided that an individual must remain in isolation over the course of Yom Tov and this individual has a psychological condition where physicians who know this patient have determined that there is a possibility that this person being alone over the course of Yom Tov would be in a situation of pikuach nefesh (possible suicide) if the individual was not able to communicate or speak with family members, then the family members must reach out to this person over Yom Tov to speak on the phone or use the internet by leaving a connection open from before Yom Tov. Rav Moshe Feinstein has decided that, in certain circumstances, psychological danger is considered life threatening. Rabbi Soloveitchik went further and noted, in the name of his grandfather Rav Chaim Soloveitchik, that even if there is a concern that someone will lose his or her mind even if their life is not in danger, that too is considered a case of Pikuach Nefashos.

If a person is physically ill and alone and the physicians have determined that there is a possibility of the condition deteriorating further to a point of being life threatening, then the family must remain in contact using electronic devices with that person over the course of Yom Tov in order to check on the person's well being.

If a parent who is ill lives outside of Israel and the parent has a non-Jewish aide then the children who live in Israel are allowed to call the non-Jew and speak with the non-Jew when it is Yom Tov outside of Israel and not Yom Tov in Israel in order to check in on the parent. Those family members in Israel can also ask the non-Jew to show the parent a live screen of the family so that the patient can see that his family members are safe and healthy. It is also proper to tell the non-Jewish aide in America that if the patient is upset or concerned over Yom Tov and the patient would like to speak to family members, then the non-Jew should remind the patient that it is Passover or the Sabbath and that after the Sabbath and holiday is over they will certainly be able to speak on the phone.

However, if someone is not as ill as described above, however they must be confined and alone because of the circumstances related to the Coronavirus then they may not use any electronic devices in order to connect to family members on Shabbos and Yom Tov. Although it is painful and sad to be alone and people want to be with family and friends, this is not a sakanas nefashos, a life threatening situation, and there is no place at all to allow the violation of Shabbos and Yom Tov.

Rav Schachter explains that showing a virtual seder during Yom Tov is improper.

However, to leave a computer screen on and to have people watch and connect over the internet is a greater concern of violating Shabbos and Yom Tov since it creates images and pictures when the people move.

If the government and medical professionals have said that it is not safe for parents and children to be together then children may not visit for Pesach, even at the insistence of the parents. Not listening to the parents in this situation is not a violation of Kibbud Av V’Em.

  • Pikuach nefesh was the ONLY reason for the ruling in my question. Commented Mar 26, 2020 at 0:28
  • @MauriceMizrahi You did not make that clear enough nor did the articles that I saw about it. In fact some of the rabbis involved withdrew because the original question was extremely limited. Commented Mar 26, 2020 at 0:33
  • (CYLOR! CYLOR! CYLOR!) The third paragraph of your quote from R' Schachter might raise possibilities of people in America broadcasting a fake "Seder" (without eating matzah, etc.), before YT starts for them, for older people in Israel when it's already YT for them, with the help of a non-Jewish aide in Israel. It's still only going to be for very limited cases, but the threshold for that is going to be lower than the threshold for Jews actually interacting with a camera or microphone when it's YT for them.
    – Heshy
    Commented Mar 27, 2020 at 14:05

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