Question from Dr. Yizhar Hess, Director General of the Masorti Movement: In light of the spread of the corona virus, is it permissible to listen to the Megillah reading “live” via telephone, radio, television or Facebook?
Responsum: I am replying in brief since the matter is urgent, and since I am in the middle of a trip to the United States and have no books.
I. Pikuah Nefesh – Saving a life
As many know, Pikuah Nefesh takes precedence over most of the mitzvot in the Torah. Therefore, it’s clear that if a doctor or the Ministry of Health determine that someone requires quarantine for two weeks, they are required by halakhah to obey.
II. Reading the Megillah at Home
It’s preferable to read the Megillah in public (Orah Hayyim 690:18), but it’s also permissible to read the Megillah at home (ibid.). Therefore, if a person has a kosher Megillah on parchment, he/she may read it at home.
III. A leniency is preferable to a stringency
In general, I am of the opinion that a leniency is preferable to a stringency, on the basis of our Sages, who said: “And you shall live by them – and not die by them” (Yoma 85b); “the power of a permissive ruling is preferable” (Berakhot 60a and parallels); and many other passages.
IV. The generally lenient attitude towards the Megillah reading
In the specific case of the Megillah reading, our Sages and the Poskim (halakhic authorities) were very lenient. For example, one may read the Megillah sitting or standing (Megillah 21a in the Mishnah); two may read the Megillah simultaneously, as opposed to the Torah reading which must be read by one reader (ibid., 21a and 21b); after the fact, it is permissible to read from a Megillah where up to half the text is missing (Orah Hayyim 690:3); and one can take long breaks in the middle of the Megillah reading (ibid). Therefore, it’s possible to rule leniently in our case as well.
V. The attitude of modern Poskim to our topic
After the invention of the telephone, radio and microphone, beginning in the late 19th century, Jews began to ask the Poskim if it’s permissible to listen to the Megillah reading via telephone, radio, microphone and television.
- Those who ruled strictly
Those who ruled strictly include important Poskim, such as:
Shlomo Zalman Broin, She’arim Hametzutyanim Bahalakhah;
Shlomo Zalman Auerbach;
his son R. Yitzhak Yosef;
Eliezer Waldenberg, Tzitz Eliezer;
Meshulam Rath (Rata), Kol Mevaser;
Yehoshua Mordechai Feigenbaum;
In general, they claimed that the voice which comes out of a microphone, radio and the like via a “membrane” is different than the natural voice of a person and therefore the listener has not fulfilled his obligation to hear the Megillah. Even if this is true from a scientific point of view, they did not cite any Talmudic source which forbids this type of voice. As opposed to the Shofar (see below), there is no discussion in the Talmud regarding the nature of the voice for reading the Megillah. Therefore, even if the voice which is transmitted via a microphone, radio and the like is different, this does not mean that it is forbidden.
2. Those who ruled leniently
Those who ruled leniently include important Poskim, such as:
Hayyim Elazar Shapira of Munkatch, Minhat Elazar;
Ya’akov Moshe Toledano, Yam Hagadol;
Yehudah Leib Tzirelson, Ma’arkhei Lev;
Tzvi Pesah Frank, Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem;
the Hazon Ish;
Natan Shlomo Shlisel, Yerushat Pleitah (it’s permissible under special circumstances);
Yosef Teomim, Av Bet Din of Detroit;
Penei Meivin (it’s permissible under special circumstances).
Some of these Poskim also allow one to listen to the Shofar via microphone, radio and the like.
However, many of them differentiate between Shofar, which is forbidden via microphone, radio and the like, and Megillah which is permissible. This is because the Mishnah in Rosh Hashanah (27b) rules that “one who blows [the Shofar] into a water cistern or a cellar… if he heard the sound of the Shofar, he has fulfilled his obligation, if he heard the sound of the echo, he has not fulfilled his obligation”. The question in our day is whether the sound emanating from a microphone, radio and the like is the sound of the Shofar itself of the sound of the echo of the Shofar. But, regarding the Megillah, there is no Talmudic source which discusses the nature of the voice reading the Megillah.
Therefore, I agree with the Poskim who rule: listening to the Shofar via a microphone, radio and the like is forbidden; but listening to the Megillah is permissible.
VI. Practical halakhah
In light of the above, it’s permissible for a Jew in quarantine or who is afraid to attend synagogue because of the corona virus to listen to the Megillah via telephone, radio, television or Facebook, on condition that the transmission is live and not a recording.
May it be God’s will that the doctors will discover both a vaccine and a cure for this dangerous virus in the very near future.
Rabbi David Golinkin
9 Adar 5780 [March 8]
(which summarizes most of the important responsa)
Hahashmal Bahalakhah, Vol. 1, Jerusalem, 5738, Chapter 13
Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, Responsa Yabia Omer, Part 1, Orah Hayyim, No. 19, paragraph 18
Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, Responsa Yehaveh Da’at, Part 3, No. 54