Q. If a Shule has problems with a minyan, how about a “virtual reality” minyan?
A. A minyan, a quorum of ten males of the age of Bar-Mitzvah or over, is needed for Kaddish, K’dushah, Bar’chu and the Torah reading. The ten, who may include the officiant, must be in the same room. If some are in another room they cannot be counted, but if there is already a minyan and other people elsewhere can hear the service they may join in with Amen and other responses.
In all circumstances the minyan must comprise real people, though there is an idea found in Talmudic literature (Ber. 47b) that in an emergency, tishah va’aron mitz’tar’fin – “nine and the Ark combine to make ten”; some say that aron (Ark) is the initials of echad ro’eh v’eino nireh – “the One who sees but is not seen”.
In the early 18th century there was an actual question raised, reported by Chacham Zvi Ashkenazi (father of the controversialist, Jacob Emden) in his responsa (published in Amsterdam in 1712), concerning counting to a minyan a golem, a man-made creature that looks and acts like a human being but has no soul; Zvi Ashkenazi’s grandfather, Elijah of Chelm, had apparently made such a golem. The halachic conclusion is that a golem cannot be a member of a minyan; all the more so a computer-generated image cannot be counted in the minyan.
The lesson is that there are some duties which only human beings can perform, and human beings should not let the community down by failing to assure the congregation of a minyan when one is needed.