Halacha for Sunday 9 Adar 5781 February 21 2021

Megillah Reading- Coronavirus

Every member of the Jewish nation is obligated to read the Megillah on the day of Purim. One must read it during the night and once again the next day, as the verse states, “My G-d, I call out to you during the day and you do not answer; during the night I have no rest.” This verse is written in the chapter of Tehillim (Psalms) called “Lamnatze’ach al Ayelet Ha’Shachar” and the Gemara in Yoma (29a) refers to Queen Esther as the “Ayelet Ha’Shachar”. Therefore, we derive laws from this chapter regarding the Megillah which was co-authored by Mordechai and Queen Esther since they were the ones to institute the reading of the Megillah on the day of Purim.

Listening is Like Reading
However, since not everyone is an expert in Megillah reading along with the fact that not everyone owns a kosher Megillah written on parchment, we customarily fulfill our obligation of Megillah reading through the law of “one who hears is tantamount to one who recites.” This means that one who hears another person reading from a kosher Megillah fulfills one’s obligation and it is as though one has read the Megillah himself. Therefore, when the Chazzan reads from a kosher Megillah while having in mind to read on behalf of the congregation and the congregation has in mind to fulfill their own obligation as well by listening, it is considered as if they have actually read the Megillah on their own.

Speaking During Megillah Reading
During the time when the Megillah is being read, one may not interrupt by speaking at all until after the blessing at the conclusion of the Megillah reading has been recited. One who did indeed speak during Megillah reading while the Chazzan carries on with the reading of the Megillah does not fulfill his obligation and his status is like one who missed a portion of the Megillah reading, as will be explained later on.

One should listen carefully to the reading of the Megillah and one should exercise special care not to miss hearing even one word from the reading of the Megillah, for according to many Poskim (including the Rashba, Ran, and others), if one misses hearing even one word of the Megillah, one has not fulfilled one’s obligation.

One Who Misses a Portion of the Megillah Reading
However, if it happens that one missed hearing a few words of the Megillah because of noise and the like, one may read those words from within the Megillah one is holding, even if it is not a kosher Megillah; rather, even if it is a printed one, one should quickly read the words one missed until one reaches the place where the Chazzan is currently reading, at which point one should once again remain silent and listen to the Chazzan’s reading. (One will fulfill one’s obligation as long as one has heard most of the Megillah reading from the Chazzan and has only read a minority of it on his own from the printed Megillah in one’s hands).

One Who is in Quarantine
If one is in quarantine and cannot hear the Megillah being read in the congregation, one should ask someone who knows how to read the Megillah to come over and read it for him from a distance, even from the next room. This is especially the case when the Megillah reader has already contracted COVID-19 and still has antibodies or if one has already received both vaccine doses and a week since the second has passed, in which case reading from a distance or a nearby room is almost of no concern. If one cannot arrange this though, one should procure a kosher Megillat Esther and read it by one’s self. If one does not know the cantillation tunes, one may read the Megillah without them. In this case though, it is proper for someone else to sit next to him and follow along from a Chumash and fix all the grammatical mistakes. Another idea is for one to turn on a recording of someone reading the Megillah professionally and one may read along in one’s own voice with the sound of the recording. In this way, one will not make any grammatical or punctuation mistakes.

The above applies equally to both men and women, for they are equally obligated in this Mitzvah.

The Blessings on the Megillah
Before the Megillah is read at night, three blessings are recited: “Al Mikra Megillah,” “She’asa Nissim La’Avotenu,” and “Shehecheyanu”. When the Megillah is read again the next morning, the “Shehecheyanu” blessing is omitted (besides for a situation where one did not have a chance to read the Megillah at night, for whatever reason).

After the Megillah is completed, it is rolled up and then the “Harav Et Rivenu” blessing is recited. This blessing can be found in all Siddurim and Chumashim. One reading the Megillah alone should not recite this blessing, for it was only enacted to be recited in a congregation. Nevertheless, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l writes (Chazon Ovadia-Purim, page 91) that this blessing does not require specifically ten men; rather, ten women suffices to recite this blessing as well.

Tomorrow, G-d-willing, we shall discuss the law regarding someone who cannot procure a kosher Megillah to read from.

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