"I CAN'T HEAR YOU!!!" - MEGILLA VIA MICROPHONE
Perhaps the most dynamic feature of our halachic system is its unfailing ability to deal with and include ever-changing circumstances over the course of time. In particular, advances in technology are constantly analyzed for the effects that they will have on the performance of various mitzvot, and to see how they fit into the greater system, if at all. One of the greater areas of advance by Western society in the past 150 years is the ability to transmit one's voice over increasingly larger ranges. From the telephone and gramophone, to the radio and microphone, to television and digital technology, man has brought himself and his society to a point where he can sit at home and allow millions of people in all parts of the globe to be intimately connected to him by being able to hear the sound of his voice.
Obviously, there are areas of halacha where this technology has the potential to have a direct impact. There are a number of laws whose performance is related to, or is a direct function of, hearing a sound made by a person or an object. Most notable among these mitzvot is the commandment to hear the blowing of the shofar, but all of the laws relating to communal prayer include the simple premise that one person can recite the prayers or read from the Torah on behalf of all those who are listening with the intent of being included in the group.
What would be the issues involved in applying this technology to these laws? Specifically, would it be possible for an individual to fulfill his obligation to hear the Megilla on Purim being read by listening to someone who was reading into a microphone or a radio? In order to answer these questions, we have to be aware of any potential issues involved in the act of a person listening to another person read the Megilla with the intent of fulfilling his obligation.
The only source that we have in the gemara related to this issue is in Rosh HaShana 27b. In discussing the blowing of the shofar, the mishna discusses a case of a person who blows shofar while standing in a pit. It states that if a person listening from outside of the pit heard the actual sound of the shofar then he will fulfill his obligation. However, if what he heard was merely an echo, then he is not considered to have heard the actual sound of the shofar (but rather some derivative noise), and thus cannot say that he has fulfilled his obligation.
In order to make this discussion relevant for the reading of the Megilla, we have to analyze two concepts. The first is the nature of the voice and the type of hearing needed in order for one to fulfill his obligation to hear the Megilla being read. The second is the nature of microphones, radios, etc. are they considered to be emitting nothing more than an echo (and thus the gemara in Rosh HaShana will provide a useful model), or is there something different about the type of sound and the nature of the sound that they produce.
In terms of the type of voice needed for the reading of the Megilla, there is very little information available.Rav Ovadiah Yoseif (Yabia Omer 3:54) cites a responsum of the Halachot Ketanot who claims that there is a need for a listening and for one who is making himself heard. Thus, if the voice is considerably detached from its original source, it will not be considered to be valid in terms of the reading of the Megilla. As such, if one records his voice onto a tape and plays it back later, it would be safe to assume that one who listens would not fulfill his obligation, since he is listening to a voice that does not really exist - it is merely the tape recorder (or CD player, etc.) translating the information on the tape and converting it into sound waves that sound like the voice that recorded them in the first place.
However, while it would seem that we can disqualify recordings of one's voice, we have yet to deal with situations where the voice is broadcast to others at the same time that it emerges from the mouth of the speaker. Rav Yoseif goes on to cite Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, who spoke with the Chazon Ish concerning this very issue. Rav Auerbach himself felt that microphones and radios were not valid conduits for helping others fulfill their obligations to hear the Megilla, but the Chazon Ish was not so sure that it was so simple. He takes a very basic approach: since the sound from the microphone reaches the people at the same time that the voice speaks, it is very possible that the people are considered to be listening to the reader himself, and thus this could possibly be a valid way of reading the Megilla! To put it in simpler terms, one who listens to someone on tape will say that he is listening to a tape of that person, but one who listens to someone speak into a microphone will say that he is listening to that person, and not to a mechanized amplification of the voice of such a person.
Moving for the moment to our second question, both Rav Yoseif andRav Moshe Feinstein (O.C. 2:108) deal to some extent with the nature of the sound that comes out of a microphone. Rav Feinstein begins by saying that it has been explained to him that the sound coming out of a microphone is an echo, and thus the gemara in Rosh HaShana can serve as a model, and thus one could not fulfill his obligation of hearing the Megilla in this manner. However, he has doubts that this explanation of the workings of the microphone is sufficient to disqualify it, since, along the lines of the Chazon Ish, the reading of the Megilla via a microphone is done in the same way that it would be done without it, with everyone hearing the voice as it is happening. While Rav Feinstein thus allows for the possibility that a microphone could be used, he advises refraining from doing so since it is a new way of doing a mitzva, it is a technology whose status in halacha is unclear, and he does not want to encourage people to find new-fangled ways of performing mitzvot (as a side note, the responsa Bar Livai uses this logic to forbid machine-made matzot for Pesach, since they are a deviation from the way the mitzva was always done).
Rav Yoseif takes a slightly different approach in his analysis. He points out that the voice that one hears from a microphone is not the voice at all, but rather is a series of sound waves generated by the voice of the person at the other end. Thus, one does not hear Megilla from a person who is obligated in the mitzva, but rather from a machine which has no such obligation. However, he citesRav Tzvi Pesach Frank and Rav Yoseif Kohein who permit using a microphone, since the voice heard through the speakers is still very much connected to the human voice at the other end, insofar as the voice in the speakers starts and stops when the human starts and stops. Despite these view, Rav Yoseif brings in the view of the Tzitz Eliezer (4:26) who rules that the voice heard through the microphone is not the voice of a human, but rather that voice is gone and these noises are new, machine-generated sounds that cannot help one fulfill his obligation to hear Megilla (presumably, digital technology makes this question interesting; it would seem that the view of the Tzitz Eliezer would apply to it). Rav Yoseif concludes that neither a microphone nor a radio is a valid method of hearing the Megilla. However, he does note that if one is sitting close to a person reading the Megilla though a microphone and he can hear him without the amplified version of the sound, then he fulfills his commandment in that manner.
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