For Taanis Bechoros this year, can one join a Siyum via telephone or live hookup?
*See our corresponding Sefer “The Laws & Customs of Pesach” Chapter 10 Halacha 2 for the full details of this subject!
The fast: On Erev Pesach, it is customary for the first-born to fast until nightfall in commemoration of the miracle of them being saved from the plague of death of the firstborns in Egypt. [Practically, today the custom is for all those obligated to fast to participate in a Siyum Misechta and exempt themselves from the fats, as will be explained in below. Nonetheless, one who did not participate in the Siyum Misechta, is obligated to fast as stated above.]
Who is obligated to fast, or participate in a Siyum to exempt their fast? All firstborns, whether from a father or mother, are to fast or participate in a Siyum. A father who is not a firstborn, is to fast on behalf of a young son who is a firstborn. It is not customary for women to fast even on behalf of their firstborn son, and they likewise are not accustomed to participate in a Siyum, although some who are meticulous do so even today.
Participating in a Seudas Mitzvah, such as a Siyum/Bris: The custom is to participate in a Siyum Misechta, Bris Mila or other Seudas Mitzvah in order to exempt the fast. Nonetheless, the participant is to fast until the Seudas Mitzvah takes place.
It does not help to join a Siyum Misechta via radio, telephone or live hookup. Accordingly, one should not rely on joining a Siyum Misechta through the telephone or radio and is rather to be physically present by the Siyum and try to eat a Kebeitza of food or drink a Revius during the Siyum.
The law this year due to coronavirus outbreak: Based on the above, all those who will be unable to participate in a Siyum Misechta this year due to the coronavirus outbreak, are to make their own Siyum Misechta at home. It is not required for one to learn a long Misechta which will take a long time, and one can study even a small Misechta, such as Miseches Tamid, Miseches Kallah, Sofrim, and Avos Derebbe Nasan. If one is unable to make a Siyum Misechta due to whatever reason, then one is to consult with a Rav in his locality as to whether he should nevertheless fast, or should simply avoid eating Mezonos and Hamotzi, or is to redeem the fast with charity, due to the current crisis. This applies even if one feels that he is able to fast, and certainly applies if he will have difficulty fasting.
It is not possible to join a Siyum Misechta via telephone or live hookup. Hence, all firstborns, or fathers of firstborns, who assess that this year they will be unable to make it to a Siyum Misechta due to the Covid-19 restrictions, are to make their own Siyum at home. If one is unable to make a Siyum Misechta due to whatever reason, then one is to consult with a Rav in his locality as to whether he should nevertheless fast, or should simply avoid eating Mezonos and Hamotzi, or is to redeem the fast with charity, due to the current crisis. This applies even if one feels that he is able to fast, and certainly applies if he will have difficulty fasting.
On which Misechtos can a Siyum be performed?
One may make a Siyum celebration, with a Seudas Mitzvah, after completing any of the following:
 Admur ibid; Michaber 470:1; Tur 470; Tosefos Pesachim 108a; Rosh 10:19; Miseches Sofrim 21:3
Other opinions: Some Poskim rule it is not necessary to actually fast, but one is to simply avoid eating a meal, such as Hamotzi or Mezonos. [Rav Yechiel, brought in Mordechai and M”B 470:2]
 Admur 470:8; M”A 470:4; Olas Shabbos; Maharash Halevi 3; Peri Chadash 470; Chavos Yair 71 in name of Rashal; M”B 470:10; Aruch Hashulchan 470:5
Other opinions: Some Poskim rule that one may not exempt himself from fasting by joining a Siyum Misechta. [See Teshuvah Meahvah 2:261 in name of Nodah Beyehuda; Shut Rav Akiva Eiger Kama O.C. 34; Haalef Lecha Shlomo 317; Maharsham 25; Arugas Habosem 139]
 Mayan Omer 50 that so replied Rav Ovadia Yosef; Shaareiy Yosher 2:64; So is evident from the following Poskim who all rule eating by the actual Siyum is required: Maharam Brisk 1:133; Mikraeiy Kodesh 2:22; Chazon Ovadia p. 98; Teshuvos Vehanhagos 1:300; See Michaber 568; See Shach 246:27 in name of Mahram Mintz 2:119; Taz 246:9 in name of Rashal in Yam Shel Shlomo end of Perek Merubah Bava Kama 37 that it is a Mitzvah even on other people to rejoice together with the Baal Hasimcha, which implies that if they are not physically with him then they are not included within the Siyum celebration; See Biur Halacha 551:10 “Vesiyum Misechta” for the conditions necessary to be considered part of the Siyum.
The reason: As only those who are physically present by the Siyum to rejoice with the person who finished the Misechta are considered a participant of the Seudas Mitzvah which exempts him from fasting. This is in addition to the debate in Poskim as to whether one must also eat some food by the actual Siyum in order to be exempt from the fast, in which many Poskim rule that if one did not eat any of the food served, then he is not exempt from the fast even if he was present by the actual Siyum. [Maharam Brisk 1:133; Mikraeiy Kodesh 2:22; Minchas Yitzchak 9:45 [Lechatchila]; Chazon Ovadia p. 98; Teshuvos Vehanhagos 1:300; See Michaber 568] At the very least it should be required for the person to be present by the Siyum and at least fulfill the Mitzvah of learning the end of the section with him. Thus, participating virtually through radio, internet, or telephone, loses out on all aspects, as there is no meal participation, and even the Torah which he hears is not considered to be Motzi him with the Mitzvah of Talmud Torah, as one can only be Yotzei Talmud Torah if he hears the words said from the direct mouth of a Jew, in contrast to a telephone or radio which is a mimicked voice. See Daas Torah 689 based on Halachos Ketanos; Mahraiy Engel Brachos 25; Rav SZ”A in Minchas Shlomo 1:9 “One cannot be Yotzei anything from a microphone and speakers or the radio and telephone, and those who puzzle at this ruling simply do not understand the mechanics of these machines, thinking erroneously that there is some kind of magical transportation of the persons actual voice. I have lengthened in this Teshuvah to negate this mistake, as they do not know the truth, and I have spoken with people knowledgeable of this matter, and they all agree with me.”; Eretz Tzvi 1:23; Mishpitei Uziel 1:5; Minchas Yitzchak 1:37 and 3:38; Yechaveh Daas 2:68; 3:54; Chazon Ovadia Megillah 56; Mishneh Halachos 4:85; Kinyan Torah 1:75; Beir Moshe 3:166-168; Piskeiy Teshuvos 689:3; Rebbe in Igros Kodesh 23:304 and Likkutei Sichos 21:496, printed in Shulchan Menachem 3:319,“What is heard is not a man’s voice at all (and does not even resemble the case of one who sounds a Shofar in a pit). It is obviously most novel, even strange, to suggest that an indirect effect (koach kocho) and a basic transformation of the very nature of speech, should serve as a substitute for speech. Even though the recent scholars who have ruled otherwise include reputed poskim, it is evident from their very responsa that those who explained them the nature and workings of the telephone made a basic mistake.”; Rav Yaakov Yosef Z”l completely invalidates using it, and states the Poskim who permitted made a mistake in their understanding of these systems; The following lenient Poskim all agree that one is initially to be stringent: Igros Moshe 2:108; 4:126; Tzitz Eliezer 8:11; Sheivet Halevi 5:84 that it is forbidden to hear from the above systems even though it is possible that one is Yotzei
Other opinions: Some Poskim rule that by a Siyum, it suffices to simply hear the Siyum, and he may then go home and eat. [Beis Avi 2:16; Rav Elyashiv, brought in Piskeiy Teshuvos ibid footnote 58] See Maadnei Shlomo 1:2 and Shalmei Moed p. 416 that Rav SZ”A once permitted a person to notfast Taanis Bechoros on the basis of joining a Siyum over the telephone
 See Minchas Yitzchak ibid
 See M”A 576:2 that during a pandemic one is not to abstain from eating and drinking
 As rules Rav Yechiel, brought in Mordechai and M”B 470:2
 See Peri Hasadeh 4:57; Poskim in Piskeiy Teshuvos ibid footnote 52
 Igros Moshe O.C. 1:157; See Rama 669; Askinu Seudasa Miluim 1
 Minchas Pitim Y.D. 246:26; Pnei Yehoshua Brachos 17a; Halef Lecha Shlomo 386; Igros Moshe O.C. 1:157; Teshuvos Vehanhagos 1:300
 See Piskeiy Teshuvos 470:9
 Rama ibid
 Pischa Zuta in name of Hadras Kodesh; Rebbe in meeting with Pnei Menachem of Ger, printed in Hisvadyus 5744 13th Adar Rishon
 Mentioned in Hisvadyos 5749 4:86; 5750 1:97; Rebbe in meeting with Pnei Menachem of Ger, printed in Hisvadyus 5744 13th Adar Rishon
 Rebbe ibid
 Rebbe in meeting with Pnei Menachem of Ger, printed in Hisvadyus 5744 13th Adar Rishon
 Pnei Meivin 103; Betzeil Hachochma 4:99
 Peri Hasadeh 3:91; Binyan Shlomo 59; Betzeil Hachochma 4:99; Afrakasa Deanya 1:154-3; Mentioned in Hisvadyos 5749 4:86; 5750 1:97; See Yabia Omer 1:26
 See Piskeiy Teshuvos 470:9
 Rebbe ibid
 Yabia Omer 1:26
 Beis Avi 2:52; Mishneh Halachos 6:166
 Likkutei Sichos 32:271
 Shearim Hametzuyanim Behalacha 113:10 in name of Tiferes Shmuel 55