This High Holy Days season, for the first time, would-be congregants can worship how and when they choose, all with a click of their television remote.
Shalom TV, the video on-demand Jewish cable network available in almost 40 million North American homes, including Pittsburgh and northern West Virginia, will broadcast taped, edited versions of last year’s High Holy Days services, conducted by Rabbi Mark S. Golub, president of Shalom TV.
The Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services were filmed at Chavurat Aytz Chayim in Connecticut, where Golub has led services since 1971.
High Holy Days services have never before been aired on-demand on cable television, according to Golub, who says the purpose of the recorded services is not to replace live, communal worship.
“Many Jews can’t get to a synagogue anyway,” said Golub, referring to those who are in poor health, and those who live in remote areas. “I am not suggesting that television ever replace a real service. That’s just silly.”
Shalom TV, which launched in 2006, had received a multitude of requests for live High Holy Days services, Golub said, but because the on-demand format precludes live, streaming broadcasts, he decided last year to record his services for use this year.
“If it works well, I plan to do the same thing next year,” he said.
The services will be offered for viewing beginning Sept. 5, three days prior to erev Rosh Hashana. Golub arranged for the cable providers to receive the programs in advance to ensure they would be available for view in all markets in time for the Holy Days.
Golub, who was ordained as a Reform rabbi in 1972, says his services are “eclectic, with traditional elements.” His congregation in Connecticut is not affiliated with any formal movement.
Because taping High Holy Days services would be prohibited in Orthodox and Conservative congregations, Golub said, he decided to record his own community’s services. He did not pitch the project to any Reform congregations.
The video on-demand format permits different parts of the services to be presented as individual programs, so the viewer is free to watch whichever portions of the service are of interest. Those programs include liturgy, Torah readings, shofar service on Rosh Hashana, Kol Nidre, Yizkor memorial service, Neila and Martyrology on Yom Kippur, as well as some of Golub’s own sermons.
“What we’re doing for our viewers is to allow them to choose to watch the pieces that mean something to them,” Golub said. “You have a remote control in your hand. You can just fast forward.”
The programs allow for participation for home viewers by providing Hebrew and transliteration on the screen whenever there is congregational participation, Golub said.
The services will also be available on-line, through the efforts of the National Association of Jewish Chaplains, for the benefit of those serving in the military, Golub said.
While this marks on-demand cable television’s first foray into broadcasting High Holy Days services, the concept of reaching Jews unable to attend traditional services is not new, according to Rabbi Scott Aaron, community scholar at the Agency for Jewish Learning in Pittsburgh.
“Synagogues have been webcasting services for years,” Aaron said.
Although he acknowledged the potential benefits of these broadcasts, he also expressed concerns about the format.
“The stated intention is that it’s meant to bring the synagogue to those who are homebound,” Aaron said. “There is a certain benefit to that. But the question is, will it become yet another excuse why one doesn’t have to join a community, or become part of a community?
“I also find it interesting that the rabbi who is president of the network is broadcasting his own services, Aaron continued. “It feels like it becomes an extension of his own rabbinate, rather than an offering to the [congregational] community at large. There’s a certain amount of self-interest there. While I’m sure his motivations are good, it just doesn’t ring as true as if he had gone to another synagogue.”
“It does raise the question,” Aaron added, “What are we doing as congregations to reach those who can’t come to us?”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)