Reading the Megillah

Listeners are invited to participate.

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Excerpted with permission from Every Person's Guide to Purim (Jason Aronson).

The Scroll of Esther, known as the Megillah, is chanted in the synagogue on the eve of Purim and again the next morning. It is the last of the five scrolls that form part of the third division of the Bible, known as the Ketuvim, or Writings.

Megillat Esther tells the story of the salvation of the Jews of the Persian Empire. The Scroll of Esther is universally known as the Megillah, not because it is the most important of the five scrolls, but due to its immense popularity, the prominence that is given to its public reading, and the fact that it is the only one that is still generally read from a parchment scroll. At one time, it was normative for every Jewish household to possess a Megillah, and much time and skill were devoted to the production of beautifully illuminated texts and elaborate wooden and silver cases that would house the scroll.

The primary synagogue observance connected with Purim is the reading of the Book of Esther, called the Megillah ("scroll"). It is traditionally read twice: in the evening, after the Amidah prayer of the Maariv service and before the Aleinu. It is also read in the morning after the Torah reading.

The Megillah is read from a parchment scroll that is written the same way a Torah is written--by hand, with a goose quill. If there is no such scroll available, the congregation may read the Book of Esther froma printed text, without the accompanying benedictions.

purim megillah

Reading the Megillah
Photo Credit: Rbarenblat

The Book of Esther is chanted according to a special cantillation used only in the reading of the Book of Esther. [This cantillation parodies the tropes used for reading at other times of the year.] If no one is present who knows this cantillation, it may be read without the cantillation, as long as it is read correctly. According to the Code of Jewish Law (Orach Chayim 690:9), it may be read in the language of the land. In practice, however, the usual custom is to chant the Megillahfrom the scroll in its original Hebrew.

Before the reading, the custom is to unroll the scroll and fold it so that it looks like a letter of dispatch, thus further recalling the story of the great deliverance.

Customs for Reading of the Megillah

The Megillah must be read standing and from the scroll, not by heart. During the reading, there are four special verses, called "verses of redemption" (pesukei ge'ulah), which are [traditionally] said aloud by the congregation and then repeated by the reader. [Esther 2:5, 8:15-16, 10:3]

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Rabbi Ronald H. Isaacs

Rabbi Ronald H. Isaacs is the spiritual leader of Temple Sholom in Bridgewater, New Jersey. He has served as the publications committee chairperson of the Rabbinical Assembly.