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Use of the microphone on Shabbat.


The permissibility of using a microphone and loudspeaker on Shabbat in general, and for the sake of sacred speech in particular, is discussed extensively in the contemporary responsa literature. The responsa cover issues such as the forbidden use of electricity on Shabbat and the rabbinic injunction against producing sound, which is a safeguard against the construction of musical instruments on the Sabbath.

In this poster we deal solely with the question of the use of electricity involved in amplified speech. The contents of the poster should not be considered to be rulings of halakhah (Jewish law). Our purpose is solely to survey the halakhic and scientific aspects of the subject. For questions of practical halakhah, the leading rabbinic authorities should be consulted.


Sound Waves

Every sound is a wave of moving air. When we speak, our vocal cords vibrate and create concentric waves of moving air that radiate in all directions. Musical instruments likewise produce sounds by vibration, whether this be a vibrating string, as in a piano or guitar, or a vibrating reed or column of air, as in wind instruments. The rate of vibration determines the pitch. The higher the frequency, the higher the note, and the lower the frequency, the lower the note.

The Human Ear

Sound waves entering the auditory canal create vibrations in the eardrum. These vibrations are transmitted by the chain of auditory bones in the middle ear to the cochlea, a spiral structure in the inner ear containing fluid that vibrates in response to sound waves. The resulting motion of the cochlea stimulates nerve cells to send corresponding electrical messages via the brain stem to the brain, which the brain then interprets as sound.

The Microphone

The microphone works on the same principle as the ear. The microphone is a device that converts sound waves, which are variations of air pressure, into an electronic signal.


The Dynamic Microphone The dynamic microphone works by using a dynamo, a machine that converts mechanical energy into electricity. This kind of microphone contains a wire coil that moves inside a magnetic field. The motion of the coil creates voltage between the ends of the coil. The coil is attached to a thin polyester diaphragm (several microns thick) which is sensitive to changes in air pressure. Sound waves hitting the diaphragm cause the coil to vibrate. The resulting patterns of electric current match the acoustical energy of the sound waves that produce them.

The Condenser Microphone

The condenser microphone works by using a capacitor. A capacitor has two conductive plates with a voltage between them. In the condenser microphone, one of these plates is made of flexible material and acts as the diaphragm, and the other is made of rigid material. The diaphragm vibrates when struck by sound waves, changing the distance between the two plates. Electrical changes matching the acoustical energy of the sound waves are thereby created.

Use on Shabbat

The operating principle of the dynamic microphone means that the sounds we produce create new voltage. Creating new voltage falls under either the category of "building" or of "creating something new." It is generally considered forbidden to use this kind of microphone on Shabbat, even if it is turned on before Shabbat.

Rabbi Shlomo Goren

Former Chief Rabbi of Israel: The operating principle of the condenser microphone means that our speech does not create new voltage or electric current. Rather, preexisting current is increased or reduced. Changing the intensity of electric current is not a forbidden action on Shabbat. It is therefore permissible to use a condenser microphone on Shabbat, provided it was turned on before Shabbat started.

Rabbi Levi Yitshak Halperin

Institute for Science and Halacha: The act of changing the intensity of electric current is forbidden. We should guard ourselves against any action that adds current, which is in the forbidden category of "creating something new" on Shabbat according to the view of Beit Yitshak. True, the consensus of authority is that adding to a preexisting intangible such as scent or electric current is permissible on Shabbat. However, in this case adding current is comparable to making a new scent (which is forbidden), because it now becomes possible to make audible sound.

Rabbi Professor Ze'ev Lev Founder: Jerusalem College of Technology:

The act is permissible [when the electrical circuits were already closed before Shabbat]. There is no problem of "creating something new" for a number of reasons:

1. The concept of "creating something new" as prohibited by Beit Yitshak cannot be extended to this case, because the electric circuits were already closed before Shabbat.

2. Our case is comparable to that of removing and replacing an etrog from a garment where it had been already placed before Shabbat. That action is entirely permissible, despite the fact that it causes the intensity of the scent to fluctuate.

3. The circuit is already electrically charged. The act merely adds supplementary pulses, which amounts to augmenting and not creating current.

For Further Research

Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. "The law of using the microphone, telephone, and loudspeaker on Shabbat and weekdays." Minhat Shlomo # 141.

Rabbi Shlomo Goren. "Use of the microphone on Shabbat on navy vessels." Meishiv Milhamah, vol. I.

Rabbi Levi Yitshak Halperin. "Halakhic problems with the use of the microphone in the synagogue on Shabbat and weekdays." Mada vHalakhah, vol. 9, issue I.

Rabbi Shaul Israeli. "On the use of loudspeakers for mitzvot on Shabbat and moed." Havat Binyamin (I).

Rabbi Professor Ze'ev Lev. "Giving rise to electric current on Shabbat." Techumin, vol. 2.

Rabbi Yisrael Rozen. "The microphone and loudspeaker on Shabbat." Techumin, vol. 15.

Menachem Kampinski studied at Yeshivat Merkaz Ha'Rav Kook in Jerusalem with Rabbi Avraham Shapiro, of blessed memory. Kampinski wrote two books on Rabbi Avraham Yitshak Kook: Bein Shnei Kohanim Gedolim (2007) and Me'Rozhin L'Tsiyyon (2010). He is currently studying in the graduate program on science, halakhah, and education at Bar-Ilan University.

Yechiel Chilewski was born in Uruguay in 1976 and made aliyah in 1996. After completing a BA in Jewish history and Jewish thought at the Hebrew University, he received rabbinic ordination from the Beit Ha'Midrash Ha'Sefaradi in Jerusalem. He is currently studying for an MA in Bar-Ilan University's science, halakhah, and education program. Chilewski has taught Jewish studies in Jerusalem, Columbia, and Costa Rica. He has worked as a guide at Yad Vashem, where he did his army service, and at the Tower of David Museum. He lives with his wife and three children in Maaleh Mikhmash.

Nurit Greenberg was born in Israel and is the mother of six children. After receiving a BEd in Bible and Computer Science and an MA in Education, she taught at various religious girls' high schools. Since 2001 she has lectured on topics in computer science, communication, and education at the Jerusalem College of Technology. Since 2003 she has been the coordinator of the Department of Education at the Machon Tal women's branch of JCT.

Orly Lifshits was born in Israel and is the mother of seven children. She earned a BA in nutrition and a teacher's certificate for teaching science. A science teacher at the municipal religious high school for girls in Ramat Gan, she also does volunteer counseling for new brides.
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Author:Kampinski, Menachem; Chilewski, Yechiel
Publication:B'Or Ha'Torah
Geographic Code:7ISRA
Date:Jan 1, 2010
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