The Megillah

The Scroll of Esther – ‘the’ Megillah, or Megillat Esther

The Megillah, also known as Megillat Esther or the Scroll of Esther, tells the story of Purim as told in the Bible in the Book of Esther. The copy of the story read in synagogue is written on parchment and must be on a single sheet. It need not be bound, but is usually kept in a wooden binder. It is common for Megillah scrolls to have colourful elaborate designs and decorations on them. There is no risk of mocking God in doing so, because the Megillah is the only book in the Bible that does not mention God’s name.

The Megillah 1
A Scroll of Esther, rolled up. Unlike a Torah Scroll, it has only one binder.

During Purim the Megillah is read at the end of the Maariv service (evening prayer) and again during Shacharit (Morning Service) the following morning. In religious communities, a special reading of just the Megillah is usually done in the morning for women as it is easier for them to attend synagogue later in the morning rather than early in the morning for the Shacharit (Morning Service) together with the men.

Because Purim is a joyous festival, the Megillah, in line with the rest of the Purim activities, is often performed and sung in an entertaining manner. In an Orthodox synagogue, a traditional tune is maintained throughout the reading and a special voice may be put on for each character when he or she speaks. The verses from Esther 1:7, 3:15 and 7:4 are all sung to the tune for Lamentations. Then the congregation reads verses 2.5 and 8.6 out loud. In some congregations the reading of the Megillah is extremely informal.

Every time Haman’s name is mentioned during the reading, the congregation must block it out, by making noise. A traditional toy used for making a noise to stamp out Haman’s name with is called the raashan or gregger.

One of the few mitzvot (commandments) associated with Purim is that one must hear the entire Megillah. For this reason, the reader must stop every time noise is made and wait for it to subside before continuing with the reading – this enables those present to hear the entire Megillah.

The Megillah 2
A traditional wooden gregger or noise-maker used on Purim
to block out the name of Haman when it is read in the Megillah.

Video

This video by Aish HaTorah tells the story of Purim as recounted in the Megillah