Use of an Amplification System for Reading the Megillah
Use of an Amplification System for Reading the Megillah
The reading of Megillat Esther on Purim provides a rare opportunity for a weekday service that produces large crowds. As such, the question arises whether one can fulfill the mitzvah of reading the Megillah by listening to the ba'al korei (reader) through an amplification system (microphone and speakers).
The centerpiece of this discussion is a Mishna, Rosh HaShanah 27b. The Mishna states that if a shofar is blown into a pit, if the listener hears the actual sound of the shofar, he fulfills the mitzvah of listening to the shofar. However, if he hears the echo of the shofar, he does not fulfill the mitzvah. The contemporary discussions about fulfilling the mitzvah of shofar or Megillah through an amplification system either explicitly or implicitly address the nature of the problem of hearing the echo.
The Stringent Position
R. Shlomo Z. Auerbach, Minchat Shlomo no. 9, notes that there is a fundamental problem with fulfilling the mitzvah of shofar or Megillah through an amplification system because when one hears the sound coming out of the speaker, it is not the actual sound of the shofar or the reader. Rather, it is an analog or digital reproduction of the original sound. R. Shalom Vider, in Teshuvot Yerushat P'leitah no. 6, presents the same objection to fulfilling these mitzvot through an amplification system and suggests that the Mishna's problem of hearing the echo of the shofar is simply that one does not actually hear the shofar but rather a reproduced sound.
R. Yosef Engel, Gilyonei HaShas, Berachot 25b, states that the fact that one does not hear the actual sound produced by the shofar or the reader does not prevent one from fulfilling the mitzvah. After all, even without an amplification system, one only hears the vibration of matter in one's immediate area and not the original sound waves. Nevertheless, the problem with an amplification system is that one does not hear the sound in a natural manner. Hearing a sound through in an abnormal fashion may not be considered a halachically valid form of hearing.
One can add that this is the Mishna's problem with hearing an echo. Although there is always an echo produced by any sound, the human ear cannot detect the echo unless there is a considerable delay (approximately 1/10 of a second) between the original sound and the echo. Thus, it is possible that the problem with hearing the echo of the shofar is that one does not hear the shofar in a natural manner.
The Middle Position
R. Chaim E. Shapira, Minchat Elazar 2:72, suggests that the problem with hearing a shofar through an echo not only applies if only the echo is heard but even if one hears the sound of the shofar and the echo together. According to Minchat Elazar, one can only fulfill the mitzvah of listening to the shofar by hearing the unadulterated sound of the shofar. If other sounds are heard together with the shofar, one does not fulfill the mitzvah. Regarding sounds heard through amplification systems, the sound comes out of the speaker together with other non-shofar signals and therefore, one cannot fulfill the mitzvah by hearing a shofar through an amplification system.
Nevertheless, Minchat Elazar notes that the concern of hearing the sound of the echo is only mentioned in the context of the mitzvah of listening to the shofar. He writes that he knows of no reason to invalidate an amplification system for the mitzvah of Megillah.
R. Tzvi Pesach Frank, in a responsum printed in Minchat Yitzchak 2:113, also suggests that there is a difference between listening to a shofar through an amplification system and listening to the Megillah through an amplification system. Regarding the shofar, the mitzvah is actually to hear the sound of the shofar. Therefore, if the sound is tainted by an echo, one cannot fulfill the mitzvah. However, regarding the Megillah, the mitzvah is not to listen to the Megillah, but to read the Megillah. All of the listeners fulfill their mitzvah based on the principle of shomei'a k'oneh (the listener is like the responder). When one listens to the Megillah, it is as if he himself is reading the Megillah. According to R. Frank, a tainted sound does not prevent the shomei'a k'oneh principle from taking effect and therefore, one can fulfill the mitzvah of Megillah by listening through an amplification system.
The Lenient Position
R. Auerbach, op. cit., notes that he discussed the matter with R. Avraham Y. Karelitz (Chazon Ish). Chazon Ish responded that if the listener hears the sound through an amplification system immediately after the sound is produced it is possible that he fulfills the mitzvah. R. Auerbach explains that accordingly, one must explain that the problem with the echo is that the sound is not heard immediately upon its production.
R. Moshe Feinstein, Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim 2:108, argues that even if one were to consider the sound coming out of a speaker as a reproduction, it does not necessarily invalidate the sound because any sound that is heard is not the actual produced sound (similar to R. Engel's initial assertion). He posits that the problem with hearing the echo is that an echo is a weak sound. Sound produced through an amplification system is a strong sound and therefore not subject to the invalidity of the sound of the echo. Therefore, R. Feinstein rules that in principle one should not protest those who use an amplification system for the reading of the Megillah. [R. Feinstein presents other reasons why one should not accept this practice.]
R. Auerbach, op. cit., writes that according to his own opinion that one may not fulfill the mitzvah of shofar or Megillah by listening through an amplification system, one who listens using a hearing aid would not fulfill the mitzvah either. R. Auerbach notes that a hearing aid is merely a miniature amplification system. According to R. Shapira and R. Frank, a hearing aid would be valid for listening to the Megillah. [It should be noted that there are two important practical differences between these two opinions. First, according to R. Auerbach, a person listening to shofar or Megillah should not recite a beracha. Second, according to R. Auerbach, if an individual is able to hear without the hearing aid, he should remove it (or deactivate) when listening to the shofar or Megillah. If the individual cannot hear without it, R. Auerbach will most likely agree that he should listen with the hearing aid and then he will either be in fulfillment of the mitzvah according to those who disagree or exempt from the mitzvah because he has no way of fulfilling it.]
R. Moshe Shternbuch (in the journal Ateret Shlomo Vol. IX) presents a distinction between hearing aids and amplification systems. R. Shternbuch seems to follow the approach of R. Engel that the problem with amplification systems is that one does not hear the sound in a natural manner. As such, R. Shternbuch posits that if a particular individual always uses a hearing aid to hear, this becomes his natural method of hearing and he may fulfill the mitzvah in this manner. R. Shternbuch adds that one may add the opinion of Chazon Ish as a mitigating factor.
R. Shternbuch applies his ruling to cochlear implants. A cochlear implant is a device that gives those who are totally deaf or severely hard of hearing the ability to hear by stimulating the auditory nerves to replicate the effect of the original sound. The cochlear implant bypasses the ear so that no sound is heard through the ear. One could argue that this is not considered sh'mia (listening) at all since the sound is not heard through the ear. Nevertheless, R. Shternbuch rules that since this is the normal way of hearing for an individual who has a cochlear implant, he may fulfill the mitzvah of shofar and Megillah by means of the cochlear implant.