Due to fears of the coronavirus, I was thinking of staying home and listening to the Megillah over the phone. Is that a viable option?

Microphones and Telephones

Before we discuss a situation like the coronavirus, let’s first address listening over the telephone under ordinary circumstances.

With the advent of microphones and telephones, there was considerable debate about whether mitzvahs that require listening could be fulfilled through such devices. Some permitted it, while others did not.1

Today, with the benefit of a better understanding of how these technologies work, the majority consensus is that one cannot fulfill one’s halachic obligations through a telephone or microphone.2

In fact, we find a number of strong letters on the subject from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who, among other things, trained and worked as an electrical engineer for the U.S. Navy during World War II:

. . So too, there is no room for listening to the Megillah through a telephone or radio or a similar device. For what is heard is not a man’s voice at all (it is not even like the case of one who sounds a shofar in a pit [ed: and people hear the echo—which is also not valid]). It is obviously most novel, even strange, to suggest that an indirect effect (“koach kocho”) and a fundamental transformation of the sound should serve as a substitute for speech.

Though there are later halachic authorities, including some of the great rabbis of the generation [that say one can hear through these devices], it is evident from their own responsa that those who explained to them the nature and workings of the telephone made a very basic mistake [in how it works].3

In short, one needs to hear the Megillah directly from a person, and it does not suffice to hear it through a microphone, telephone or similar device.

Time of Need

Having said that, let us now turn to a situation like the coronavirus, where there may be difficulty in hearing the Megillah.

Ideally, one should do his or her utmost to hear the Megillah live and in person, which one can do with proper precautions.

But what if someone is actually quarantined? In that case, it may be possible to hear the Megillah through a door or window. However, there are situations when that isn’t an option.

In that case, there is a halachah that if one doesn’t have a kosher Megillah, he or she should read the Megillah from a printed (or online) Megillah without a blessing so that the mitzvah of hearing Megillah not be forgotten.4 This would seem to be the preferred option if one is quarantined, since at the very least a human voice would be reading the Megillah.5

May these be days of joy and health for everyone!