There is a major debate in the Aharonim whether a person’s voice that is reproduced electronically but experienced immediately would be halakhically considered the same as the natural voice of the person. Hearing something over a telephone, hearing aid or loudspeaker would all fall in this category.
The core source that is referenced in the Mishna and Gemara in Rosh HaShannah (27b-28a) that state that a person does not fulfil the obligation of shofar if he hears the echo of the shofar. For some, this is clear evidence that for mitzvoth having to do with hearing, it is only acceptable if one hears the direct sound itself. Others disagree and argue that an echo is only a problem for shofar and not for other mitzvoth, such as the reading of the megillah. Megillah, they argue, may be heard via an echo, and thus may also be heard via a telephone.
However, it is not so simple. Hearing a sound through a telephone is very different than hearing an echo. An echo is created when the sound waves produced by the person bounce off something and rebound back. A telephone, in contrast, operates by converting the sound to an electrical signal at one end and then converting it back to a sound at the other end. This is a completely new sound; it does not consist in any way of the sound waves that came originally from the person.
It is for this reason that many poskim believe that a person cannot fulfil her obligation to hear megilla via the telephone. These poskim include: Rabbi Ben Zion Uziel (Mishpetei Uziel OH 21), Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach (Minhat Shlomo 1:9) and Rav Ovadya Yosef (Yechaveh Daat 2:68 and 3:54).
Despite the fact that the voice is a reproduction, there is still a good basis to consider it to be the same as the voice itself for the simple reason that that is how we experience it. When I am talking on the phone to someone, I experience it to be hearing the person’s voice, not hearing a reproduction of her voice.
Halakha, in its formal definitions, does at times pay attention to how we experience things and not how they actually operate behind the scenes. Consider turning on an incandescent light, which is considered to be a direct act of lighting a fire on Shabbat. But why is it direct? What actually happens is that I close a circuit, electricity flows through the circuit, and then passes through the filament which began to glow. That should be grama (indirect causation). But because it happens immediately, and is experienced as a turning on of the light, halakha defines it as my direct action.
Since a voice over a telephone is experienced as directly hearing the person’s voice, it could be considered the person’s voice and one could fulfil the mitzvah of hearing the megillah. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggrot Moshe OH 2:108) is inclined to permit, as a matter of strict halakha, for exactly this resaon:
|ומנין לנו עצם כח השמיעה איך הוא שאולי הוא ג”כ באופן זה שנברא איזה דבר באויר ומגיע לאזנו. וכן מסתבר לפי מה שאומרים חכמי הטבע שהקול יש לו הלוך עד האזן וגם יש קצת שיהוי זמן בהלוכו, ומ”מ נחשב שהוא קול האדם לכן אפשר שגם הקול שנעשה בהמיקראפאן בעת שמדבר ששומעין אותו הוא נחשב קולו ממש וכן הא יותר מסתבר. וגם לא ברור הדבר מה שאומרים שהוא קול אחר. ומטעם זה אפשר אין למחות ביד אלו שרוצים לקרא המגילה ע”י המיקראפאן מצד ההלכה.||How do we know exactly how hearing works? Perhaps it is also through something created in the air that reaches our ears. This makes sense, given what scientists say – that sound has to travel to get to the ear, and that there is even a brief passage of time until it does so. Nevertheless, it is considered to be the person’s voice. Therefore, it is possible that even a voice that is created by the microphone – such that immediately as the person is speaking, people hear him – should be considered to be his voice itself, and this is what makes the most sense. And it is also not clear what scientists mean when they say that the sound the emerges is a different sound. Based on this, it is possible that one should not protest those who wish to read the megillah over a microphone, as a matter of strict law.|
Hazon Ish writes similarly:
|ויתכן דכיון שהקול הנשמע נוצר ע”י המדבר וגם הקול נשמע מיד כדרך המדברים אפשר דגם זה חשיב כשומע ממש מפי המדבר או התוקע, וכמדומה לי שצריכים לומר לפי”ז דמה שאמרו בגמ’ אם קול הברה שמע לא יצא, היינו מפני שקול הברה נשמע קצת לאחר קול האדם משא”כ בטלפון ורם – קול.||It’s possible that since the sound is created by the person speaking and it is also heard immediately, just as how people talk, it is possible that even this would be considered like actually hearing directly from the speaker or the one blowing the shofar. It would seem to me that according to this we would have to say that the ruling in the Talmud that one does not fulfil the mitzvah of shofar if he heard its echo is because the echo is heard a little after the sound came from the person, which is not the case with a telephone or loudspeaker.|
It should be noted that Hazon Ish did not definitely come down on the side that this was valid and that Rav Moshe, although he clearly sides with the position that it is permitted as a matter of halakha, says at the end that as a practical matter one should avoid doing this because it is a “new thing.” It is highly doubtful whether he have the same qualms nowadays.
In addition to Rav Moshe and Hazon Ish, Tzitz Eliezer also gives serious weight to the position that one fulfils the obligation over a telephone and states at the end of his teshuvah (Tzitz Eliezer 8:11):
|ובאין דרך אחרת, או כפי שנשאלתי במקרה אחר על בית חולים גדול שא”א להעביר שמיעת קריאת המגילה לחולים כי אם דרך המיקרופון, אזי המורה על כגון דא להתיר אפילו לכתחילה השמעת קריאתה באמצעות כלי המיקרופון אין מזחיחין אותו.||And when there is no other option, or in another case which I was asked about, regarding a large hospital where it was not possible to have the patients hear the megillah without transmitting it via a microphone, if a posek were in such a case to permit it even li’chatchilah, we should not disparage his position.|
In addition to a question of how we define hearing someone’s voice in general, there is another reason to be lenient when it comes to megillah reading, namely, that the mitzvah in this case is not to hear the megillah, but to read it. Those who are hearing it are considered to be reading based on the principle of shomeya k’oneh, listening is like reading it yourself. One way to understand this principle is that listening to what is being read connects the listener to the reader, and it is as if he is reading the megillah through the reader. If this is the case, then it would seem that hearing the reader’s voice through a telephone would suffice to create this connection, even if it wasn’t considered to be the original voice.
Thus, as a matter of halakha – One should, as a general rule, follow the weight of the poskim and the science behind how telephones work, and not hear the megillah via the telephone. However, one can certainly rely on the lenient opinions in cases of exigency, such as our case of quarantine. Other cases of exigency would include old age homes where a loudspeaker is needed so that all the residents can hear, or hospitals where someone cannot be in the place where the megillah is being read.
This lenient position is based – as we have written – on positing that halakhic definitions can sometimes follow our experienced reality of phenomena, an approach which I find quite persuasive. Given that, I would go further and say that if a person has a strong internet connection, it would be better to participate via Zoom or the like than by phone. The experience of hearing the person’s own voice is reinforced when the person who is reading the megillah can be seen directly by the person who is watching and listening.
It should also be noted that none of this discussion would be relevant for counting a man participating via Zoom as present to make a minyan. In such a case, it is not a question of hearing, which can be done at a distance, but of presence, and a number of halakhic requirements must be satisfied to consider a person to be present.
In conclusion, if one has to stay home due to quarantine, they can listen in to the megillah via telephone and fulfil their mitzvah in that fashion.
Parshat Zakhor is a more difficult issue since using a telephone is not an option. Here it needs to be noted at the outset that many Rishonim believe that the mitzvah to remember Amalek is not related at all to the reading of Parshat Zakhor and is either only part of the war against Amalek, or a mitzvah to learn and reflect. It is only the position of Tosafot, that the mitzvah must be performed through the reading of the parsha from a Torah scroll. Shulkhan Arukh (685:7) rules that as a result of this position, people must make a particular effort to hear Parshat Zakhor being read, even if it means coming in from the villages to the main town. Rema adds to this that for those who cannot come to shul to hear it read, they should read at home from a Humash, but do so with the proper trop.
One could certainly follow Rema and read from a Humash. But what if one wants to hear it from a Torah scroll because of those who rule that it is required? For such a person a number of options are available:
a. If read by oneself – there would not be a minyan, and some believe that Zakhor must be read in a minyan in order for one to fulfil his Biblical requirement. This is a hard position to understand, since there is nothing about this mitzvah which would indicate that it would need to be done in a minyan.
b. If read in a minyan organized by the shul – we would still have to contend with those who believe that even the structure of aliyot and brakhot is required to do the mitzvah. This position, however, is extremely difficult to understand, since the entire structure of aliyot and the accompanying brakhot is of a rabbinic nature.
Given all the above, it seems to me that the best option is to have the shul arrange a minyan after Shabbat and have someone read parashat Zakhor, without brakhot or aliyot, and allow people to phone in or Zoom in so they can hear it. If that is not possible, then I would advise a person read it him- or herself, or have someone read it to them, once the quarantine is over. If none of these are options a person could hear va’Yavo Amalek read on Purim morning, either directly or by telephone.
May we all have a happy and healthy Purim!
 Minhat Aharon (18), Minhat Elazar (2:72), Rav Tzvi Pesah Frank as cited in Minhat Yitzkhak 2:113, and Tzitz Eliezer 8:11, section 5 leans towards this position.
 A good description of this can be found in Tzitz Eliezer 8:11, section 2.
 Cited by Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach in Minhat Shlomo 1:9. Rav Aurbach concludes: “In my humble opinion, this is a huge novel idea, and I don’t understand it.” As stated above, Rav Shlomo Zalman’s unambiguous position is that one does not fulfil the mitzvah via the telephone.
 See also Iggrot Moshe OH 4:126.
 The alternative understanding of shomeya k’oneh is that when one connects to the words by hearing them it is like one has said them himself. The problem with that explanation in this case is that it is not sufficient to say the words of the megillah, one must read them from a megillah. It is thus more compelling to say that connecting to the reader via what is being read, makes it like the person is reading the megillah through the reader.
 See Shulkhan Arukh OH 55:13-19.
 Rambam, Sefer HaMitzvot, no. 189
 Ramban, Mitzvot that Rambam Omitted, positive mitzvah 7.
 Megillah 17b, s.v. Kol. And other Rishonim who adopt this position. See Rashba, ad. loc.
 See Magen Avraham, introduction to siman 685.
 Hinukh 603 writes that the mitzvah is once every 1-3 years. Rokeach (234) writes that one must remember Amalek “every year.” Hatam Sofer EH 1:119) states that the mitzvah must be repeated each year based on the Gemara (Brakhot 58a) which states that it takes a year after a person’s passing before his relatives are no longer actively thinking about him. In parallel, the memory of Amalek would fade after a year has passed from the last time it was actively remembered. It is possible that the reading of this parsha or the parsha of va’Yavo Amalek during the normal Shabbat readings would suffice to ensure that the memory does not fade, but that is to some degree dependent on the question of whether this mitzvah requires intent.
 Mishnah Brurah 685:14 and 16.
 Trumat HaDeshen 108, based on his reading of Rsoh Berakhot 7:20.
 See Mishnah Brurah 685:16 and Sha’ar Ha’Tziyon ad. loc., 5.
 See Taz OH 685:2, who cites Maharshal who seems to be of this opinion, and he endorses his position.
 See Bah, OH, end of siman 685.
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