The following is a discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the week.
For final rulings, consult your Rav.
The voice is Yaakov's voice (27:22)
Amplified Sound Waves
Can one fulfill a mitzvah in which is incumbent upon
him, e.g., listening to havdalah or to the reading of Megilas
Esther, by listening to the words recited over a microphone or a
There are two basic issues, one scientific, the
other halachic, that need to be clarified in order to answer
this question. The scientific point to be determined is the
status of the sound waves emitted when speaking into a
microphone, concerning which there are two theories:
The sound which is heard is an extension of the speaker's voice; it is merely being amplified and carried a greater distance;
The sound is completely detached from the speaker, since the microphone "creates" new sound waves which are then transmitted to the listening audience.
The halachic issue that must be clarified is whether the
mitzvah in question can only be fulfilled with the authentic,
original voice of the speaker, or can one discharge his
obligation by means of an electrical impulse heard
simultaneously with the original sound.
Some earlier authorities (1) were of the opinion that the sound
heard over the microphone, etc., is the original speaker's
voice. It is permitted, therefore, in their opinion (2) to listen
to the megillah over a microphone or to havdalah over the
Other authorities (3) maintained that both the scientific and
halachic questions are difficult to resolve and cannot be
clearly decided. Thus in their opinion it remains questionable
if mitzvos can be performed by means of a microphone or
telephone. It follows, therefore, that only under extenuating
circumstances--when no other possibility exists--is it
permitted to fulfill a mitzvah by means of a microphone or
But the majority of the authorities (5) who have studied this issue, including Harav S.Z. Auerbach (6) who has researched it extensively with the aid of a team of technical experts (7), have ruled conclusively that the sound waves emitted by a microphone or telephone are definitely not the speaker's original, authentic voice. In addition, they rule unequivocally that one's obligation cannot be discharged unless the original speaker's voice is heard, even if an electrical impulse is heard simultaneously with the original sound. Accordingly, one cannot--under any circumstances (8)--fulfill a mitzvah by listening to
sound waves from a microphone or a telephone (9).
In practice, therefore, it is clear that when another
possibility exists, mechanical voice amplifiers should not be
used to fulfill a mitzvah. For example, a woman who is home
alone and has no one to make havdalah for her, should rather
recite havdalah herself (10) than listen to it being recited by
someone else over the telephone. Even if she cannot or will not
drink wine, grape juice or beer, it is better for her to recite
havdalah over coffee (11), tea [with or without milk] (12) or milk
alone (13) [and--according to some poskim (14)--grapefruit,
orange or apple juice] than to listen to havdalah recited over
the phone (15).
If, however, one finds himself in a situation where otherwise
he cannot recite havdalah or hear the megillah at all, e.g. in a
hospital, one would have to rely on the poskim who permit
listening to blessings etc., over the telephone (16).
A related issue is whether or not it is permitted to answer
amen to a blessing or kaddish heard over a microphone, telephone
or during a live telecast transmitted by satellite. Some
poskim (17) permit this since they remain undecided about the
halachic status of amplified sound waves, as explained above. In
addition, some poskim (18) permit it based on the ancient
precedent set in the great synagogue in Alexandria (19), where
most people did not hear the blessings being recited because of
its vast size, but were nevertheless permitted to answer amen
when signaled to do so by a flag waving.
Harav Auerbach, though, rejects this comparison and rules
clearly that it is prohibited to answer amen upon hearing a
blessing in this manner. He agrees, however, that one who is in
the vicinity of the speaker, even though he only hears the
speaker's voice over a microphone, etc., is permitted to answer
amen, as was the case in Alexandria where everyone was inside
the shul and part of the tzibbur that was davening.
1 Minchas Elazer 2:72; Minchas Aharon 18 (quoted in Tzitz
Eliezer 8:11); Chazon Ish is quoted in Minchas Shelomo 9 as
having agreed orally with this view as well.
2 Their argument is partially based on the fact that sound waves
--even without being transmitted by a microphone--are carried
through the air before they are heard by the listener. The fact
that the microphone amplifies those sounds and furthers their
distance should not be considered halachically problematic.
3 Harav T. P. Frank (Mikraei Kodesh, Purim 11 and in Minchas
Yitzchak 2:113); Igros Moshe O.C. 2:108; O.C. 4:126. [See,
however, Igros Moshe E.H. 1:33 and O.C. 4:84.] Harav Y.Y. Henkin
(Eidus l'Yisrael, pg. 122) also does not render a clear decision
on this issue.
4 Tzitz Eliezer 8:11. See also Shevet ha-Levi 5:84.
5 Da'as Torah O.C. 689:2; Gilyonei ha-Shas, Berachos 25a; Eretz
Tzvi 1:23; Kol Mevaser 2:25; Mishpatei Uziel 1:5; Minchas
Yitzchak 1:37;3:38; Sheorim Metzuyanim B'halachah 193:6; Kinyan
Torah 1:75; Yechaveh Da'as 3:54; Moadim u'Zmanim 6:105. See also
Teshuvos P'eas Sadcha 126 who quotes such a ruling from Reb
6 Minchas Shelomo 9.
7 Harav Auerbach and Yechaveh Da'as add that those who have
dissented were not familiar with the relevant technology.
8 See Hebrew Notes concerning using a microphone when the
speaker's voice would be heard even without it.
9 Harav Auerbach makes clear that the same ruling applies to
hearing-impaired individuals who cannot hear without a hearing
aid. Igros Moshe O.C. 4:85 is hesitant if a hearing aid works
exactly like a microphone.
10 Women are obligated in havdalah and may recite the havdalah
themselves. Although there is a well-established custom that
women do not drink the wine form the havdalah cup, this custom
is disregarded when a woman needs to fulfill her obligation of
havdalah--Mishnah Berurah 296:35; Aruch ha-Shulchan 296:5.
15 In this situation it is permitted also for her husband [or
anyone else] who already recited or heard havdalah to repeat the
havdalah specifically for the woman--see Mishnah Berurah
296:36. The blessing over the candle, though, should be omitted.