Shabbat Parashat Matot-Masei| 5764
Ask the Rabbi
Question: Is it permitted to use a hearing aid on Shabbat, or does the electrical mechanism make it forbidden or problematic?
Answer: While there is what to discuss from a halachic perspective, all of the major poskim who discussed it, permitted use of a hearing aid. They were well aware that a hearing aid is used in cases of significant need and that the public understands that it as an exceptional situation. This helps explain why it wasn’t forbidden or frowned upon despite the fact that it has a similar mechanism to that of a microphone, which most poskim forbade. There are some poskim who included the need as an integral part of the lenient ruling (see Tzitz Eliezer VI, 6) and others who made the absolute need a condition of the ruling (Minchat Yitzchak quotes Rav Henkin z.t.l., who suggests that only those who cannot hear at all without the hearing aid should use it). However, as we know, people who wear hearing aids do so only when the need is substantial, and the minhag has developed to allow them to use them freely on Shabbat. We feel that this practice should be continued, certainly considering its impact on quality of life and the enjoyment of Shabbat. We will deal now with some of the issues that arise. [We only have the liberty, in this context, to deal with these issues in a superficial manner and request from our readers not to extrapolate from our discussion to other applications].
The first issue that is dealt with is of creating circuits, which could be a problem of boneh (building) or metaken manne (fixing a utensil) or a related rabbinic prohibition. Indeed this is a problem (in one form and reason or another) when one turns on a battery-operated device or shuts it off. Therefore, one should leave the hearing aid on all of Shabbat.
Another issue is the fact that speaking causes an increase in electrical current. It is far from clear that increased current in an existing circuit is considered creating something new. Even if it was, there is room for leniency, because the change occurs to something that has no real substance, and the change is fleeting in duration (Tzitz Eliezer, ibid.).
There is a general question regarding devices that produce sound, whether they are included in the prohibition of using musical instruments (see Rama, Orach Chayim 338:1). There are several ways to deal with the issue in our context. One is to say that the sound that is created is not heard by those standing around but only by the person who wears the hearing aid in his ear. Also, he who speaks does not come in direct contact with the instrument (see Chelkat Ya’akov OC 120). The fact that it is not generally audible has other advantages (see Shulchan Aruch, OC 252:5).
A further question is whether, as a battery-operated device that is usually used by turning on and off, a hearing aid shouldn’t be muktzeh. Tzitz Eliezer has a variety of ways to deal with the issue. In summary, he feels that it is, at worst, a kli shemelachto l’issur (a utensilwhich is generally used by doing an action that is forbidden on Shabbat). Even such an item may be moved in order to use for a permitted purpose or because its place is needed (Shulchan Aruch, OC 308:3).
In summary, while this response is not an exhaustive one that deals with the subject in depth or deals with every pertinent question that relates to the use of a hearing aid, we hope to have explained the general basis for its use on Shabbat. We think it also displays the interest of the poskim to find room for leniency in a case like this, where the need is great, and despite the fact that one could have raised objections on several fronts.
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