Q: Aside for using electricity on Yom Tov, is there any other concern with hearing the shofar being blown over a microphone?
A: The Mishna in Rosh Hashana1 states that if one were to hear a shofar that was blown in a cave he would not be yotzai as it is not the sound of the shofar but rather the sound of the echo that one is hearing. Many want to compare this to a microphone which would thereby disqualify one from being yotzai.2 R’ Moshe Fienstien zt”l3 wanted to permit using a microphone based on the exact concept of hearing someone else speak. When someone talks to another, one sound wave turns turns into another and so forth. It seems like whenever someone hears another talking one is actually not hearing the authentic voice but rather a later sound wave that came from it. Hence, if one can be yotzai from hearing someone right next to him in lieu of the fact that the sound entering his eardrum4 is indirect, then one should be able to be motzie others with a microphone as well.
Q: May one fulfill his obligation of listening to the megillah via a microphone?
A: Although allowing such a practice would definitely alleviate many problems that the elderly experience (i.e. in nursing home facilities etc.), most Poskim are of the opinion that one would need to hear krias megillah from the one laining and not a microphone. Since R’ Moshe Feinstien zt”l5 wanted to be lenient (as mentioned above), one should ask a shailo if this situation becomes relevant.
Q: Assuming that listening to a bracha/shofar/megillah is not considered to be hearing it from the original voice, may one listen to kol isha being sung over a microphone?
A: The Poskim6 clearly state that a woman is singing on a microphone would in no way mitigate the prohibition of kol isha.7 Therefore, although her voice may be electronically altered, the prohibition remains nonetheless.
Q: May one use a microphone on Shabbos?
A: The Poskim offer a variety of different issues that may arise when using a microphone on Shabbos which would thereby prohibit its use:
1. many hold that creating electricity is either the melacha of boneh8 (starting a new current), makeh b’patish9 (completing a current), or h’avara10 (igniting a current)
2. when stopping from speaking one would be extinguishing the electricity thereby possibly transgressing the melacha of kibui11
3. the poskim were concerned that since the nature of a microphone is to plug it in immediately before use, one may forget himself and plug it in before speaking into it
4. there is a general g’zaira of playing instruments on Shabbos lest one come to fix them if they break.12 The reason for this decree is because instruments are delicate and fragile by nature, hence very susceptible to damage. Since microphones frequently malfunction13 and require repair, the same g’zaira may apply.
Q: May one be yotzai listening to havdala over the telephone?
A: While some Poskim permitted this under extenuating circumstances14 (woman just gave birth in a hospital etc.), the overall consensus is that one would not be yotzai over the phone. In fact R’ Shlomo Zalmen Aurbauch zt”l15 deliberated extensively on the mechanical nuances of the telephone and the conclusion that was reached was that the voice that is heard is definitely not the authentic voice of the speaker. Hence, one’s obligation to hear havdala cannot be discharged over the telephone. Therefore, if a possibility exists for a woman to make havdala for herself, she should do so rather then be yotzai over the telephone. If she can not, or will not make the b’racha over wine, it is still better to make it over tea, coffee,16 or even milk alone,17 and satisfy the view of all Poskim.
Q: May one answer amen to a b’racha that was made over the telephone?
A: Tosefos in Succah18 mentions that there was a large shul in Alexandria where most people did not hear the b’rachos being made, but were nonetheless permitted to answer amen when signaled to do so by the waving of a flag. Because of this practice, the Poskim permit one to answer amen to a b’racha if one is in the same room as the person making the b’racha/reciting kaddish etc. even if one does not hear the actual voice. If however, one is not in the same room (as is the case of a telephone or during a live telecast being broadcast via satellite) then the same argument that is mentioned earlier (in regards to hearing megillah over a microphone and havdala over the telephone) with R’ Moshe Fienstien zt”l permitting it, and R’ Shlomo Zalmen zt”l prohibiting it would be applicable. Therefore, if one can avoid making a b’racha over the phone, one should definitely do so, and thereby avoid all previously mentioned arguments.
2See Minchas Yitzchok 1:37, She’arim Metzuyanim b’Halacha 129:25, Moadim Uzmanim 6:105
3Igros Moshe O.C. 2:108
4Form there it vibrates to the small bones which signals the sound to the cochlea which travels to the hair cells of which represent different pitch an frequency which then reach the auditory nerve and then finally to the brain. As heard from Mr. Evan Bernstien, expert audiologist and CEO of Advance Care Audiology
5See Igros Moshe O.C. 4:83
6Chelkas Yakov 1:163, Shevet Halaivi E.H. 3:181, Az Nidbaru 9:9
7As brought down by Rabbi J. David Bliech in the Journal of contemporary Jewish thought
8Sh”ut Tzitz Eliezer 6:6
9Minchas Yitzchok 3:41
10Chelkas Yakov 2:41
11Igros Moshe O.C. 4:84
12Mishna Baitza 36b
13Even with today’s superior technology one still sees professionals in million dollar performances having issues with the proper functioning of their microphones
14Igros Moshe O.C. 4:91:4
15Minchas Shlomo 9
17Aruch Hashulchan 272:14, Igros Moshe O.C. 2:75