You raced into shul all out of breath, attempting to catch the last megillah reading in town. You sink into your seat, all huffing and puffing just to hear, “Gam Vashti hamalka…” The Megillah reading is already underway. What can you do? What does a hard-of-hearing individual do if he misses parts of the Megillah? Kids love banging and popping cap guns to signify obliteration of the wicked Haman, and the noise caused you to miss a few words. What should you do? And if the only kosher Megillah is old and faded is it still kosher? When reading to oneself, how loud does one have to read? And what are the differences between Torah reading and reading of the Megillah? Why are blessings recited upon reading the Megillah in private, but no blessing is recited for reading the Torah scroll in private? Why must the Torah be read from a kosher scroll, while the Megillah can be partially read from a non-kosher Megillah? Of this and more in the coming article.
Megillah Reading vs. Torah Reading
As an introduction to the topic, we will outline the differences between the regular Torah reading in shul and the Megillah reading on Purim.
- The reading of the weekly portion in the Torah is, according to most halachic opinions, a public obligation. Therefore, one who has a kosher Torah scroll at home cannot fulfill the obligation to read from it in private, and cannot recite a blessing upon reading. In shul, too, if there is no quorum present, no blessing can be recited upon reading from the Torah scroll.
Those who see it as a private obligation understand that it is the individual who has the obligation to hear a public reading from the Torah. With Megillahs Esther, though, the obligation is for every individual to hear the Megillah read. While hearing it in public is recommended, the obligation remains on the individual. This allows for reciting a blessing upon reading it in private. Since the individual is obligated to hear or read it, ladies, too, are included in the obligation. (See Shulchan Aruch OC 146:2; Mahari Engel, Tzyunim L’Torah, klal 9; Igros Moshe, OC IV chapter 23; Tzitz Eliezer XVIII chapter 5; and others.)
- The Torah is defined a sefer – book, but the Megillah is called an igeres – letter, as defined in the pasuk: “Now, Queen Esther… wrote down… the second Purim letter” (Esther 9:29). The halachos of an igeres are different from the halachos of a sefer: while a sefer is a perfected creation in which every word is in its place and has nothing missing or superfluous, with a letter people don’t tend to be so careful. Therefore, some halachos of the Megillah are more lenient than the halachos of the Torah (OC 690).
Can an old Megillah whose letters are faded still be used for public reading? While there is a halacha (OC 690:2) requiring the Megillah to be read from a kosher scroll which contains every single word with not a single letter missing or rubbed out, bedi’eved, if most of the Megillah was kosher, even if a small portion is missing or faded, one may fulfill his obligation by reading from it.
According to the Rama (OC 690:2) this ruling has two stipulations: 1) That the beginning and end of the Megillah must be complete, 2) full sections must not be missing from the Megillah. While a Megillah without a word or a few letters is still called a Megillahs Esther, one that is missing the beginning, end, or a full section is no longer a Megillas Esther.
The Mishna Brura (Biur Halacha 690:2) defines ‘most of the Megillah’ as the majority of the words. A word which is missing a letter or has one illegible letter is considered non-existent. Therefore, for a Megillah to be kosher be’dieved most words in the Megillah must be complete.
A Megillah in which most of the words are still whole, has the beginning and end, and no missing parts can be used be’dieved where there is nothing better.
The hearing impaired who sometimes miss words here and there, or even healthy people who hear Megillah in a place where kids bang loudly for Haman may find themselves wondering what they can do in order to hear every word of the Megillah. And what happens when someone needs to go to the bathroom in the middle of the Megillah – does he have to hear it all again, or can something be salvaged?
Megillahs Esther must be read in its entirety (Mishna Brura 690:48). Missing one word – whether because the reader didn’t read it, or because the listener couldn’t hear it – render the reading halachically unacceptable, and must be repeated.
Since halacha requires one to read (or hear) the majority of the Megillah from a kosher scroll, if the missing (minority) words are made up from a non-kosher Megillah or by heart, the mitzva has still been fulfilled. Therefore, the Mishna Brura maintains (footnote 19) that one who missed several words from the Megillah, or even several psukim, should make them up from his non-kosher Megillah (Chumash or printed Megillah). One who has his own kosher Megillah should preferably make up the words or psukim from a kosher Megillah.
What should you do if you ran into shul for Megillah just to find they started reading one full minute ago?
Since halacha disqualifies a reading only if most of the Megillah is read from a non-kosher scroll, seemingly the missing parts can be made up by reading the missing parts from a Chumash. However there remains the Rama who stipulated that the missing parts cannot be the beginning, end, or a whole section. What can be done in this case?
The Achronim are disputed on this. According to the Bigdei Yehsa (690, Magen Avraham 8) the reading is disqualified and one has to hear or read the Megillah again. However, the Mate Yehuda (690:4) maintains that missing the beginning, end, or entire section only pertains to the Megillah itself, because when they are missing the Megillah does not qualify as a Megillahs Esther. When reading, however, if the missing parts are inserted by reciting them by heart or from a printed Megillah – even if they are the beginning, end, or a whole section, the mitzva has been fulfilled, and reading or hearing it again is unnecessary. The Mishna Brura’s decisive ruling (690:3) follows the latter opinion and there is no need to hear or read the Megillah again in this case.
Therefore, one who ran in late to the Megillah reading (many a woman runs in late and misses the first parts) and finds the reading already underway should hurry to recite the blessing and begin reading on his own until he catches up with the ba’al korei. He (or she) do not have to look for another Megillah reading unless they were unable to catch up with the ba’al korei before he reached the middle of the Megillah.
Most of the Megillah
The Megillah has approximately 3045 words. The half point is in the pasuk “Im motsasi chien… If I have found favor in the king’s eyes, and if it pleases the king to grant my petition and to fulfill my request…” (Esther 5:8). In letters, the Megillah has approximately 12112 letters. Until the afore mentioned pasuk there are approximately 6000 letters. The middle of the Megillah, both in letters and in words is approximately the beginning of chapter 5. Therefore, one who comes late for the Megillah and cannot find another minyan should recite the brachos himself and begin reading quickly from his own Megillah. He will have fulfilled the mitzva as long as he caught up with the ba’al korei by the beginning of the 5th chapter. From there on he must hear the rest of the Megillah read from a kosher Megillah. From here on, he can no longer afford to make up words from his own Megillah anymore.
In Hilchos Krias Shema we learn (OC 62:3) that preferably one must hear what he is saying. Whispering the Shema is not enough – he should be able to hear with his ears what he is saying.
Be’dieved, if one whispered the Shema it in an inaudible whisper he is not obligated to recite it again. This halacha applies to Shema as well as all the other brachos (OC 206:3): while preferably one should recite all his blessings out loud, if he whispered them he need not repeat them.
[As for Shemone Esrei, the Shulchan Aruch rules (101:2) that while it should be whispered, it still must be audible to one’s self. The Mishna Brura quotes the Beis Yosef in Bedek Habayis who, in turn quotes the Zohar: the Shemone Esrei should preferably be whispered inaudibly. The Magen Avraham and the Gra understand this Zohar differently: according to their understanding, even the Zohar agrees that optimally one should be able to hear what he is saying. The Mishna Brura rules that even for Shemone Esrei one should whisper loud enough for himself to hear.]
Audibly Whispering the Megillah
The mitzva of reading the Megillah is in order to publicize the miracle as we recite the blessing “She’asa nissim – who did miracles” upon reading it. Seemingly, whispering it in an inaudible voice would be unacceptable. Since the Beis Yosef mentions this opinion (OC 689:3) one should try to act accordingly.
The Pele Yoetz attempts to define how loud is considered audible (Chessed L’alafim 62:1): is audible loud enough to actually hear, or loud enough to theoretically hear (without the surrounding noises)?
The definition is important when reading the Megillah in a noisy environment – whether because of a passing truck or crying babies, or even if he has earplugs in his ears. Wherever, for some external reason, one is unable to hear himself, is his reading halachically acceptable?
This question is also relevant for a hard-of-hearing person who stands near the ba’al korei to hear but still occasionally misses a word. Does he have to make up the missing words in a tone loud enough to be audible to him, or is it enough for his voice to be loud enough to potentially be audible?
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, while personally inclined towards necessitating actual hearing, ruled that one’s voice must only be potentially audible without the background noises. Rabbi Shmuel Wosner ruled likewise (Sha’arei Habracha 10:8).
This ruling follows the Mishna Brura who writes that while the Beis Yosef opines one must be able to hear what he is saying, the Achronim disagree with him. While preferably one should follow the Beis Yosef, be’dieved he can follow the more lenient opinions even for Megillahs Esther (Mekor Chayim and Shaarei Teshuva 689:2). Rav Eliyashiv’s ruling followed this opinion as well (Balaila Hahu, page 10).
Shaarei Teshuva (689:2) mentions that hearing impaired individuals who hear only when people yell into their ears can read the Megillah to themselves in a normal tone of voice, despite not being able to hear what they are reading. Although they are not considered having heard the Megillah, they fulfilled the mitzva be’dieved (against the Beis Yosef’s above-mentioned approach).
Since the main halacha does not obligate actually hearing the words one says, the hearing impaired can hear the Megillah in shul with the congregation even if he will miss several words and have to fill them in without hearing himself.
Preferably, one should hear the entire Megillah read from a kosher scroll which is fully written and legible. One should hear all the words read from this Megillah. This is the manner of fulfilling the mitzva l’chatchila.
Be’dieved, if the Megillah is old and some of the letters are missing or faded, as long as most of the words are complete, the first and last psukim are fully written, and an entire section is not missing, the Megillah is kosher (although not mehudar). (A complete section refers to the parashah sections in the Masoretic text which are designated by various types of spacing between them, as found in Torah, Nevi’im, or Ketuvim scrolls. These sections are marked in a chumash with a peh or samech at the end of the section to indicate if the parasha is p’tucha – open, indicating that the rest of the line is to be left empty, or stuma – the next parasha begins on that same line with a space of 9 letters before beginning the next section.)
One who missed hearing part of the Megillah can make it up by reading it himself and catching up with the ba’al korei. This is true even if the part missing is the beginning, middle or end, and even if it is an entire section missing, provided the made-up portion is less than half of the Megillah. While preferably one should make up the missing words from a kosher Megillah, when that is not possible, he can make them up by reading from a printed Megillah or even by heart (if he remembers the words).
A latecomer should recite the blessings himself and read the Megillah until he catches up with the ba’al korei. He should catch up with the congregation before chapter 5.
One who fell asleep after the 6th chapter can make up the missing parts from a printed Megillah.
When reading to himself, one needs to hear what he is reading. Some opinions require actually hearing even when a shul is noisy. When reading loudly will inconvenience others one can rely on those who maintain that what’s important is the possibility of hearing, not actually hearing. A hearing impaired individual can also be lenient in the matter.
Practically, a latecomer who is afraid his loud reading will bother others should stand outside and catch up, then enter the shul once he is all caught up so nobody will be bothered by his loud voice.