Question: May one answer Amein to a brachah that he hears over the phone or over Zoom?
Short Answer: According to many contemporary poskim, we follow the ruling of Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l and not the ruling of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l, and allow one to recite Amein when hearing a live brachah recited over the phone, and by extension, over Zoom.
I. The Power of Amein
The Gemara (Shabbos 119b) extols the virtues of one who recites Amein with full strength. Such a person has the doors of Gan Eden opened for him. Indeed, the Gemara (B’rachos 53b) notes that the reward of one who recites Amein is even greater than the person who recites the actual brachah (to which the Amein is recited). Moreover, the Chayei Adam (6:1) writes that one who hears a brachah and does not recite Amein “receives a large punishment.”
The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 215:2) accordingly rules that one who hears even part of a brachah, must recite Amein. The Biur Halachah (ibid) adds that if the listener knows what brachah is being recited and does not plan on being yotzei with the brachah, he may answer Amein to the brachah even if he doesn’t hear any part of it but just knows that it is being (or was) recited.
On the other hand, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 124:8) codifies the ruling of the Gemara (B’rachos 47a) – according to the interpretation of the Abudraham – that an Amein must be recited immediately after the brachah. Indeed, if the Amein is recited more than an amount of “toch k’dei dibur” (the time it takes to say three or four words) after the completion of the brachah, it is invalid and improper.
II. The Phone Brachah
Although a listener is not yotzei from a brachah that he hears over the phone, may he answer Amein? This is a famous dispute between Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and Rav Moshe Feinstein.
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Minchas Shlomo 1:9:4) cites the M’tzudas David and Minchas Eliezer who suggested that one may answer Amein over the phone. They cite a proof that one does not actually need to hear a live brachah in order to respond Amein from the Gemara (Sukkah 51b), which discusses the large synagogue in Alexandria that was so large that the people in the back could not hear the chazan. Nevertheless, they were able to answer Amein because the gabbai waived a flag as a sign that the chazan had recited a brachah and that it was time to say Amein.
Rav Shlomo Zalman, however, suggests that the Gemara about Alexandria is distinguishable. Over there, the listeners were present in the same room, and thus part of the same tzibur, as the person/chazan reciting the brachah. On the other hand, one who listens to a brachah over the phone is not part of the tzibur or connected in any way to the one who is reciting the brachah. Indeed, he is also not hearing the actual voice of the one making the brachah, but rather a voice that has been made into an electrical signal. Rav Shlomo Zalman thus rules that one may not say Amein to a brachah that he hears over the phone.
This is likewise the opinion of the Be’er Moshe (3:166). The Avnei Yashfe (1:9) cites Rav Elyashiv as ruling similarly, but for a slightly different reason. Since the whole concept of technology is strange and not truly the voice of the individual making the brachah, no Amein should be recited, just as if you somehow knew that your friend was reciting a brachah at exactly that second in a different town, you would not answer Amein. See also Moadim U’Z’manim (6:105).
Rav Moshe rules differently (Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:108 and 4:91:4). He writes that one can be yotzei b’diavad hearing Megillas Esther through a microphone, as it is possible that halachah views the electric signal that is created via the microphone as the actual voice of the person reciting the Megillah. Rav Moshe applies this leniency to answering Amein on all brachos that one hears over the phone. Because we are unclear whether this is the actual reciter’s voice, he rules that one should answer Amein over the phone “mi’safeik” – because of this doubt in halachah.
Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l agrees with the ruling of Rav Moshe. See sefer V’Zos HaBrachah (p. 189).
III. Zoom & COVID-19
Rav Asher Weiss shlita, in a t’shuvah (entitled Aniyas Amein) about COVID-19 [available on the Kol Corona website] rules like Rav Moshe Feinstein and allows one to recite Amein over a phone or Zoom. Interestingly, he cites a proof from the synagogue in Alexandria without referring to the Minchas Shlomo’s distinguishing of this source.
Indeed, Rav Hershel Schachter shlita, in a shiur that he gave about COVID-19 (transcript available at https://rabbidunner.com/coronavirus-qa-with-rav-hershel-schachter/), ruled like Rav Moshe, as well. Rav Schachter wondered whether we even consider any “delay” in hearing the brachah over Zoom as a halachic “delay.” Since the person recites Amein immediately after hearing the brachah, it is possibly not considered an impermissible delayed Amein.
Notably, the OU website, in addition to mentioning the ruling of Rav Schachter, writes – without citing any source – that Rav Chaim Kanievsky agrees that one may answer Amein over Zoom. See https://outorah.org/p/71596/.
IV. Tape Recorder
Importantly, according to all poskim (see Piskei T’shuvos 216:4), Amein may not be recited when hearing an Amein from a non-live brachah such as from a recording.
Next Week’s Topic: With many shuls needing extra space for proper social distancing, may a shul convene an additional minyan of men in the women’s section and request that women stay home?