’m not a posek and this isn’t a halachah column. I work in media, and speak only from that vantage point.
We all know the midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 14:1) about the king who tasted delectable food while visiting a Jewish friend, and asked his own cooks to duplicate the dish. The royal kitchen staff tracked down the recipe and followed it precisely, but it wasn’t the same.
He asked his Jewish host why the dish didn’t taste right. The Jew explained that there was one ingredient missing — the most vital one of all. Shabbos.
The depth of this Chazal is that the true power and pleasure of Shabbos are intangible. Its magic comes to rest on our food, just as it does on our homes, our families, all of Creation, but it’s essentially otherworldly.
Most spiritual experiences are like that — they are the least tangible things in the world.
The success of hakafos on Simchas Torah, for example, cannot be judged by what time they ended or how loud they were. Instead, watch your children’s faces when you hum a hakafos niggun on a cold winter day and see how they react, the light and happiness that floods their features.
Recently, it’s become a fad to release video footage of intensely spiritual moments, the high points of Yom Tov and Shabbos — tekias shofar, hakafos, “Kah Ribon” at the tish — with the block-letter, center-screen disclaimer that it was tzulam al yedei goy, photographed by a non-Jew.
No, of course no one was asked to take a video on Shabbos or Yom Tov, chas v’shalom. (We never asked for it, it just happened. A passerby heard the singing and came in and captured it. Right. For sure. He happened to walk by during the peak moment of the day, and wandered in and was able to get the best access for the perfect shot.)
I understand why the organizers or fundraisers would want these videos to be shared; PR is important and these clips show the glory of what’s really going on.
Except they don’t.
Like Shabbosdig food, the real ingredient is the experience itself. You might see the swaying and the fervor, hear the passion and joy, but it’s hollow.
Speak to poskim regarding halachic acceptability; this is just a marketing observation. The best and only PR for what’s happening while “V’chol Ma’aminim” is being sung is being there when “V’chol Ma’aminim” is being sung.
Anything else is a disservice.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Issue 732)