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Q&A

Can one fulfill the obligation of megillah on Purim via Zoom?

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I have heard (but have no source) that, to fulfill the obligation of reading the megillah, one must either be physically present for a reading or, if listening by phone, follow along in a kosher scroll. (First question: is that correct?)

What provisions, if any, exist for following remotely if one lacks a kosher scroll? Can a megillah reading be conducted via Zoom if a camera is pointed at the scroll being read from, so everybody can read along? If I understand correctly, one who attends a public reading needn't follow along at all, let alone from a scroll; I've been at (traditional) megillah readings where people followed in a Tanakh or on their phones using Sefaria. Assuming that's not incorrect, I'm having trouble reconciling "follow along in anything, in person" with "must follow in a kosher scroll, if alone".

The question is prompted by the special circumstances of the current pandemic, but I'm asking about the general case. (Also, not asking out of personal need.)

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2 answers

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I will quote from the guidance put out LAST YEAR by the OU and I will put in bold some salient points (Orthodox Union [email protected] Mon, Mar 9, 2020 at 1:17 PM )

The clear majority of Halachic authorities do not consider Halachically adequate a Megillah reading heard over the phone or online. There is however a minority opinion that does allow for this, provided that the reading is live, and not pre-recorded. Following the Halachic principle that we may rely upon minority opinions under extenuating circumstances – שעת הדחק כדיעבד דמי וכדאי הוא ר״ש לסמוך עליו בשעת הדחק - this minority opinion can be relied upon for those who are in mandated isolation.

IMPORTANT: Even for those in isolation, the ideal solution is to have a kosher, hand-written Megillah in hand which they read from audibly, either on their own (even without the correct טעמי המקרא, cantillation), or assisted by a reading heard by phone or on-line. In such situations – as in all situations where there is no Minyan present – the closing Bracha following Megillah reading is not recited.

To summarize:

Generally healthy individuals should attend public Megillah readings as usual, where the community is exercising the proper precautions. Those who are not currently ill but are not attending a public reading because they are deemed high risk, should reach out to their Rabbi and community to help arrange a private Megillah reading. Those who are ill or have had serious exposure and must remain in isolation must not come to shul. They should ideally have a kosher, hand-written Megillah in hand from which they read audibly, either on their own or assisted by a reading heard electronically. **Those who must be in isolation but are unable to read from a kosher, hand-written Megillah, may fulfill their obligation via hearing a live Megillah reading, by phone or online. **


This information was presented as for a sh'at had'chak, extremely extenuating circumstances -- last Purim. I have not heard any guidance from this year that directly contradicts any of this, but what I have heard has omitted certain parts.

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The first statement matches what I have heard this year from numerous sources, both Ashkenazi and Sephardi.

I have heard a number of the items below from Rabbi Dovid Rosenbaum of Young Israel Shomrai Emunah. Any discrepancies from his actual Psak are my own fault. And of course, CYLOR.

In my Rabbi's Halachic opinion, listening to a Megillah reading by Zoom is a last-resort option, but only if you do not have the option of reading along from a Kosher Megillah. That is, listening to a live Zoom reading would be preferable to simply reading in a printed Megillah. However, he made it clear it is a last-resort option. He suggested that if you have a Kosher Megillah but do not know how to read it properly, reading it along with a recorded Megillah reading would be a good option. The advantage of a recorded reading is that it is less likely to have intermittent problems and therefore better for reading along with it. However, a record reading is not sufficient unless you can read along in a Kosher Megillah. A couple of suggestions for recorded readings are:

Chabad

Kol Hamikra

The basic premise, as I understand it, is that in order to fulfill the Mitzvah of Megillah, you must hear it read from a Kosher Megillah. There are two ways to do that:

  • A Baal Koreh reading from a Megillah. Everyone directly listening (not Zoom or phone or radio) fulfills the Mitzvah.
  • A person with a Kosher Megillah listening (recording, Zoom, phone, radio) and saying every word along with the broadcast voice while reading the Megillah. This person is able to hear his/her own voice reading the Megillah (i.e., this should not be reading with eyes only) and therefore fulfills the Mitzvah even though he/she does not know how to Layn the Megillah without assistance.

The second situation is being recommended by many authorities in the current situation for those who are unable to directly hear a Megillah reading due to medical concerns. Of course, this is not so easy as the average person does not have a Kosher Megillah and they are in short supply this year.

There is an additional variation:

If someone is listening (directly) to a Megillah reading and misses a word (e.g., due to Haman noise or any other reason), he/she can repeat just that word, plus catch up to the Baal Koreh if that means missing another word in the process. That is ideally done from a Kosher Megillah rather than a printed Megillah, as then every word is read (most by the Baal Koreh, a few by the regular person) from a Kosher Megillah. This is permitted (just heard from my Rabbi) for words or phrases from a printed Megillah, provided the beginning and end are heard from someone reading from a Kosher Megillah and the majority is heard from someone reading from a Kosher Megillah, which matches the Halachos of what makes a Kosher Megillah (unlike a Sefer Torah where even a single letter makes it Pasul).

That being said, it is not a requirement and in fact, my Rabbi recently noted that he always follows along in a printed Megillah so that he can fulfill his requirement of correcting the Baal Koreh if needed, which he could not do if he were following along in a Kosher Megillah.

As to exactly why hear does not apply to phone/Zoom/radio, that is an interesting question. I heard, anecdotally, many years ago that they would have somebody read Megillah over the radio in Israel for the Egged bus drivers. I don't know whether that was a real thing or not, because aside from the question of whether radio counts as "hear", (a) a bus driver's shift (night or day) would typically allow for a real Megillah reading either at the beginning or the end of their shift, and (b) I can't imagine that a bus driver could actually listen to the whole Megillah without numerous interruptions. But clearly this issue is not a new one for medical, work-related and other reasons.

The first telephone systems had a simple microphone and speaker but no analog-digital conversion. A modern phone system (wired or cellular) has analog-digital conversion, packetization, multiple transmission media types and sometimes deliberate sound transformations - e.g., cut off the highest frequencies. Zoom (or any audio or video conferencing system) adds another complication - other users' sounds can be mixed in at any time, possibly even blocking the primary channel. Radio has similar complications. The end result is that while conceptually it is "sound in, sound out", the reality is far more complex, and each new generation of technology makes it more complex internally even while making things easier and better (connect "anywhere") in other ways.

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