The Mishnah in Megillah (2:4) states:
All are fit to read the megillah [and thereby allow others to fulfil their obligation by listening to their reading] except for a cheresh, shoteh (fool) and a minor.
There are generally two ways to understand the definition of a cheresh:
A person that cannot hear or speak; or
A person that can speak however cannot hear.
According to the first definition, a person that cannot hear or speak is not a bar da’at (literally-man of understanding), and therefore is classified in the Mishnah along with, a fool and a minor - other categories of people without halachic da’at. However, according to the second understanding, a cheresh has full halachic da’at; the reason he is unable to read the megillah is because he is not fit to carry out mitzvot that are dependent upon hearing. In this case, the reason they are mentioned together with a fool and a minor is because he is similar to them in that they all cannot allow others to fulfil their obligations with their kri’ah. Tosfot (Megillah 19b) states that it is obvious that the Mishnah is referring to the second type of cheresh (due to the fact that he is physically able to read aloud from the megillah). However, the limiting factor in this case is his inability to hear.
The Gemara in Masechet Megillah (19b) states that the ruling of the Mishnah is subject to a Tanaic argument. There is a machloket regarding a person who read kriyat sh’ma and did not hear what he read. One Tana holds that he has fulfilled his obligation, and one rules that he has not fulfilled his obligation.
The Tana that holds that he has not fulfilled his obligation of kriyat sh’ma would also hold that since the cheresh cannot hear his own kriyat megillah he has not fulfilled his own obligation and therefore cannot fulfil the obligation of others even b’dieved. On the other hand, the Tana that holds that a person has fulfilled his obligation of kriyat sh’ma even if he has not heard his own voice, will rule that this Mishnah is ruling that a cheresh cannot read the megillah lechatchila. However, if he went ahead and read for others, b’dieved, he has fulfilled his own obligation as well as the obligations of those who heard him read.
The Rambam (Hilchot Megillah 1:2) states that if a cheresh was reading the Megillah, those who heard him read have not fulfilled their obligation. The Rambam sees no difficulty with the fact that someone who read kriyat sh’ma yet didn’t hear the words is yotze. The Kesef Mishnah writes that kriyat megillah is different as there needs to be an aspect of pirsumei nissah (publicising the miracle) and therefore, there is an extra level of stringency added by the Rambam.
The Bach (Orach Chayim 689) adds that the cases of reading the sh’ma and kriyat megillah are very different. The person reading the sh’ma, although he did not hear his words, has the ability to hear his words, he has therefore fulfilled his obligation. A cheresh on the other hand, does not have the ability to hear his words, and therefore he cannot fulfil his obligation with his reading of the Megillah.
The Rashbatz (Brachot 15b) cites a novel ruling. Since a cheresh is unable to hear what he is saying, unto himself he can fulfil his obligation only b’dieved. However since he is able to be motzi himself, we view this fact irrespective of whether he did this b’dieved or lechatchila, and therefore he is able to fulfil the obligations of those listening to him even lechatchila.
The practical difference between the Rambam and the Rashbatz would be their willingness to appoint a cheresh as a ba’al koreh. The Rambam would be very reluctant to do so as according to him a cheresh can only discharge the congregation’s obligation in a b’dieved manner. However, the Rashbatz would argue that appointing a cheresh makes no difference to the kehillah, and they would still be yotze lechatchila with his kriya (even though the cheresh himself will only be yotze b’dieved).
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