With thousands of Israelis in self-imposed quarantine, with and without coronavirus symptoms, Chief Rabbi David Lau explained over the Ynet website what is the proper way of hearing the Megillah in isolation, as well as how to keep the other main mitzvahs of the Purim holiday: Mishloach Manot (a.k.a. shalach manos, gifts of food and drink that are sent to family, friends and others on Purim day), and giving to charity.
Rabbi Lau urged the public not to worry about the coronavirus and come to the synagogues on Purim to hear the Megillah, but makes it clear that this does not apply to individuals who are supposed to remain in isolation according to the health ministry’s guidelines. Of course, they must not attend the synagogue Megillah reading, and should use the variety of halachic solutions to enable them to keep the commandment.
“Anyone who is in isolation and lives on the ground floor or on the first floor near a synagogue, can hear the Megillah reading through an open window,” said the chief rabbi, and added that if the reading is done in the patient’s building’s courtyard and there are only nine men, he may not be counted for the minyan. But if there is already a minyan, the patient may count himself with them.
Isolated individuals who are not in earshot of a Megillah reading on Purim, should be given a Megillah wrapped in transparent plastic, and he can read it aloud for himself through the plastic cover – and he is not required to use the traditional tune. When he is done, the plastic may be disinfected without harming the parchment.
Rabbi Lau stressed that it is not possible to keep the commandment of hearing the Megillah by listening to the live Megillah reading on a cell phone, on radio, or on television, because the mitzvah is to hear the voice of the person reading the scroll. He explained that “when it comes to telephone or radio and television broadcasts, the sound is converted into an electrical signal and then transformed back into a sound, and since this is not the original voice, one would not keep the mitzvah.”
“Women are obligated to hear the Megillah reading just like men, which is why a woman under quarantine should be provided with access to a Megillah reading like a man,” Rabbi Lau said.
As to individuals in isolation fulfilling the commandment of Mishloach Manot, “according to Halacha, a person can appoint a messenger for the purpose of observing the mitzvah, so that when the messenger of the quarantined person delivers the goods to the intended recipient, it is as if the person himself did it. The messenger can also receive Mishloach Manot for the person who appointed him or her, and may also give out charity in their name.”
“The messenger can be a family member—man or woman, a child, a neighbor or a friend,” Rabbi Lau said. “What matters is the outcome – as soon as the messenger hands over the goods to the friend or the charity money to the poor in the name the sender, the sender has fulfilled the mitzvah.”