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Shabbat Parashat Devarim 5771

Ask the Rabbi: Saying Tefillat Haderech by Microphone

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: I often take an intercity bus ride with a group of peers. One person has been reciting Tefillat Hederech over a microphone, and everyone answers Amen. Are we properly fulfilling the mitzva by microphone?  

Answer: Tefillat Haderech is an obligatory prayer for protection from danger, instituted in beracha form under certain set circumstances (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 110: 4-7). As such, there is strong reason to believe that it follows the basic rules for fulfilling the obligations of other berachot and prayers.

One of the most basic rules of being yotzei (fulfilling) an obligation by means of another person is that the latter must be obligated in the mitzva (Rosh Hashanah 29a). Even answering Amen requires one to hear the beracha from a person whose beracha is meaningful (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 215:3 regarding a small child’s beracha). Therefore, all agree that one is not yotzei and does not answer Amen to that which he hears on a recording, as he does not hear something being said now by a person.

Almost all poskim agree that one cannot fulfill the mitzva of hearing shofar via microphone or other electronic means because one must hear the direct sound of a man blowing a shofar (see Rosh Hashana 27b). The ruling regarding Megilla reading via microphone is less clear. Although one does not hear the actual voice of a valid ba’al koreh, it is better than a recording in two ways. First, the sound is produced directly based on the sound waves from the ba’al koreh, not by means of someone else pressing a button. Secondly, the reproduction is heard at the same time the ba’al koreh reads. Therefore, although most poskim believe one cannot fulfill the mitzva via microphone, the lenient position is somewhat tenable (see Tzitz Eliezer VIII, 11; Minchat Shlomo I, 9 in the name of the Chazon Ish; Igrot Moshe OC II, 108).

The gemara (Sukka 51b) minimizes the importance of hearing the voice of the person reciting, if one knows what is being said. It discusses a huge structure in Alexandria where the audience could not hear, and instead flags were waved to inform people when to answer Amen. However, Tosafot (ad loc.) limits this precedent to cases where participants were not attempting to fulfill any mitzva at the time. Nevertheless this does indicate that one can answer Amen without hearing the voice in a case where one knows what beracha it is and does not need to be yotzei (see Shulchan Aruch and Rama, OC 124:8).

The much stronger position is that one cannot be motzi others via microphone, including in Tefillat Haderech. On the other hand, while few Orthodox shuls use a microphone for Megilla, it is commonplace for people to say Tefillat Haderech over a microphone. Can the two practices be reconciled? The answer is: arguably yes. Firstly, it is generally assumed that the level of obligation of Tefillat Haderech is of a lower level than that of set tefillot, thus making leniency in a case of machloket easier. On a bus, there is often another reason for leniency. Rav Ovadya Yosef (Yechaveh Da’at III, 54) assumes that whoever could hear without the microphone can be yotzei even if he hears primarily the microphone. While one can take issue with this assumption, it is a reasonable one (see Bemareh Habazak, I, 26). Most times most people could hear without a microphone, just not so well or every word. (For Megilla, there is a need to hear every word.)

It seems halachically preferable for people to say (along) their own Tefillat Haderech, especially those who could not have heard without the microphone, although doing it noticeably when the group does not could cause problems of yohara (looking haughty). We note that regarding many drives, there is actually a machloket whether Tefillat Haderech should be said, at least with its beracha ending. One may answer Amen based on the Alexandria precedent and if the beracha should not have been made, an unjustified Amen is less severe than saying the beracha oneself. Therefore, having one be motzi others has a slight element of advantage, and we can find some support for the common practice (as is our usual preference).

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Hemdat Yamim

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