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 Arrives Late to the Synagogue
If one arrives late to the synagogue and realizes that the Chazzan has already recited the blessing preceding the reading of the Megillah, the great Rishon Le’Zion, Hagaon Rabbeinu Yitzchak Yosef Shlit”a, writes (in his Yalkut Yosef-Chapter 687) that it is preferable for one to go home and read the Megillah with its appropriate blessings as opposed to hearing the Megillah being read with the congregation but without its blessings. Certainly though, this ruling applies only when one is capable of reading the Megillah at home; however, if one cannot, one should merely hear the Megillah being read by the Chazzan. If the Chazzan is already several verses into the Megillah by the time one arrives at the synagogue, one should read these verses quickly to himself until one catches up to the place where the Chazzan is at which point, one should be silent and listen to the Chazzan. However, this is likewise contingent upon the fact that one hears most of the Megillah being read by the Chazzan, as we have explained above.
Some customarily bang on tables and the like when the evil Haman’s name is mentioned during the reading of the Megillah as a form of obliterating the name of Amalek. In the past generation, this custom has been grossly exaggerated with all manners of loud noises, including setting off firecrackers and other things which can truly scare people. This causes several problems, including the fact that as a result, many people cannot listen to the Megillah reading properly. If the need arises, the Gabbai should announce that the congregation should only bang during the reading of the first and last “Haman,” at which point the Chazzan should pause for a few moments until the noise dies down and he should then proceed with the reading of the Megillah. Maran zt”l was very particular about this, even in his younger years, and there was banging in the synagogue only during the first and last “Haman” in order to prevent mass disturbance during the Megillah reading.