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The Mishnah in Megillah (2:2) says that one who reads the megillah while semi-asleep ('מתנמנם') is yotzei. The gemara comments (18b):

מתנמנם יצא וכו': היכי דמי מתנמנם אמר רב אשי נים ולא נים תיר ולא תיר דקרו ליה ועני ולא ידע לאהדורי סברא וכי מדכרו ליה מידכר׃

What's מתנמנם? Sleeping, but not sleeping, awake, but not awake. If you call him, he'll answer; he can't do a sevara, but if you remind him, he'll remember.

This may imply that one does not need to be focusing very well to be yotzei. Where is the cut-off where one is no longer yotzei? If a person is daydreaming, but he hear's the words in the background, is he yotzei? What if he's looking at something else, e.g. his cellphone? This is also relevant for other areas where you need to listen to be yotzei, such as Kiddush on Friday night.

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That Mishna is talking about one who reads, not one who listens. –  Double AA Feb 25 '13 at 0:36
    
I almost upvoted this, because it's an interesting idea I'd never considered. But as you have implied, it's the plain meaning of the Gemara, which in fact seems more restrictive than even the Mishnah. So, if you know how to translate the Gemara, and you understand its plain meaning, what's the question? Are you asking if we Pasken that way? –  Seth J Feb 25 '13 at 0:37
    
@SethJ, the gemara doesn't spell out clearly how much the person is focusing. Someone checking his phone may be less "hearing" it than someone half-asleep. Also, see DoubleAA's comment. –  Ariel K Feb 25 '13 at 4:58
    
@DoubleAA שומע כעונה, no? –  Hacham Gabriel Feb 26 '13 at 18:38
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@HachamGabriel If you are שומע. –  Double AA Feb 26 '13 at 18:40

3 Answers 3

As mentioned in the comments, the Mishnah is just talking about one who reads the megillah. Someone who is falling asleep while listening will not be able to hear every word. The Shulchan Aruch is clear on this:

קראה מתנמנם, הואיל ולא נרדם בשינה, יצא. אבל אם שמעה מתנמנם, לא יצא.‏

This still doesn't answer the question of how much focus you need to be yotzei. The Be'er Heitiv (ibid. #11) cites the Rashba that says you are yotzei if you hear the words even if you are not "כון" for every word. This sounds like you still are focused overall, but what if you're spaced out?

The Piskei Teshuvos quotes someone who says you are not yotzei if your mind is wandering even if you can hear the words somewhat in the background. He cites another opinion that you will be yotzei if you're following along even if you are spaced out. Some suggest getting a real Megillah and reading along so you will for sure be yotzei.

(I wonder if one can just read along in a chumash, since it shouldn't be too hard to hear at least half the megillah from the chazan even when reading.)

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The Ben Ish Chai Writes in Tetzaveh Hilchos Purim 3:

אות ג קראה מתנמנם הואיל ולא נרדם בשינה יצא אבל השומע אם מתנמנם לא יצא וצריך להזהר בד"ז שהוא מצוי תמיד דאלו השומעים יתנמנמו, ולכתחילה אם ראו את הקורא שקרא איזה פסוקים מתנמנם מכריחין אותתו שיחזור ויקראנה, דלא אמרינן קראה מתנמנם יצא אלא בדיעבד היכא דסיים קריאת המגילה כולה:

If one is dozing off while hearing ,he is not yotzeai and he writes this is always found that people listen while in a dozing off state and they should be careful.

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Although not a definitive answer to the question, HaRav Baruch Hirshenfeld, Rosh Kollel in Cleveland Heights, says (taken from a recent Torah Tavlin parsha sheet):

Listening to the Megillah.

Probably the single most important and relevant halacha in the laws of Purim is related to the Megillah reading. Every Jew - both man and woman - has the challenging obligation of hearing every single word of the Megillah. One who does not hear every word does not fulfill his obligation in Krias HaMegillah.

However, there is a leniency which can make the task markedly easier. If a person hears the majority of the Megillah read from a kosher Megillah scroll and fills in the rest of the words (that he or she might have missed) even from a printed Chumash or Megillah, one has fulfilled the mitzvah. Although one should hear it all from a kosher Megillah, it is still valid if it was only a majority and the the rest is read from a printed sefer. Therefore, one listening to the Megillah, who has any doubt about whether he or she heard every word, can say it even by heart (without looking into any text) and has fulfilled the obligation. This is very helpful, especially for ladies in the Ezras Nashim (ladies’ section) who might not hear clearly or miss a word here or there.

Important Hint: Some people have a hard time concentrating on the Megillah and their minds tend to wander and/or dream away. In fact, they might become so oblivious to the Megillah laining that they might not hear it at all or they’re in doubt if they did indeed hear the Megillah laining. The best and most classic way to remedy this is simply to keep one’s finger on the place from the beginning of the laining till the end. This helps in two ways. The physical participation with the reading keeps one’s mind focused and alert. Also, if at any given time one’s finger is on the place, he or she must have heard well, and even if their mind may have wandered, they know they still heard the kriah.

The last paragraph implies that if you do not do the finger following advice, then you cannot know for sure if heard the Megillah when you space out, and therefore you should repeat the words that you may have missed.

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