User-Friendly Megillah

What is Purim?

The Purim holiday commemorates the story of Esther, reminding the Jewish people of their survival from those that sought to kill them. The Jewish heroine, Queen Esther of the Persian Empire, is celebrated for thwarting the plans of the king’s diabolical advisor, Haman to execute the Jews. Purim (Festival of Lots) is named for the lots that Haman cast when deciding who would fulfill his evil plot.

What is the Megillah?

The Megillah (scroll) is one of five. Megillat Esther (scroll of Esther) is the one that is read on Purim.

The Problem

If you’ve ever celebrated Purim, you know that one of the most fun traditions we have is listening to the reading of the Megillah! The best part is hearing all of the children yell “boo” and shake their groggers to drown out the mention of Haman’s name. And nothing is more rewarding than being the Megillah reader, because you know exactly when those key moments are coming, and can sing in silly voices as you pretend to be Queen Esther or her uncle, Mordechai.

Wouldn’t you like the opportunity to read from the Megillah? The problem is that reading from the Megillah is hard! This means that each year, only a few individuals know how to read it and if you live in one of the many small congregations around the country, you may only find one person who is trained for the job. In fact, if you’ve ever looked at the Megillah scroll, you can see exactly what makes the job so hard. The scroll has no vowels or trope (cantillation) markings… until now!

Our Solution

We’ve commissioned Soferet (Jewish Scribe) and educator Julie Seltzer to write a fully kosher (fit for ritual use) Megillat Esther with tropes and vowels! This beautiful Megillah will make it easier for more individuals in any given community to participate in the act of reading from the Megillah on Purim.

Julie (julieseltzer.net) has been writing Torah scrolls since 2009, when she was Scribe-in-Residence at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, CA. Julie recently completed working on her fourth Torah scroll, and is grateful to be part of a growing network of female and progressive scribes (stamscribes.com). She runs interactive educational workshops all over the nation, offering a hands-on glimpse into the world of Torah scrolls.

Other Uses for the Megillah

This Megillah is not only a ritual object to use once a year. It will serve as a very important educational tool to be used year round as people learn to read from it. Most people who choose to learn to read the Megillah do so from a book, where the font and layout is completely different from a parchment scroll. With a voweled and troped Megillah, our students will have the opportunity to practice from the real thing! With high resolution scans of the Megillah made available to other students and communities, this will serve as an invaluable tool for those all around the country.

Not only will this project teach students, help congregants gain confidence, and be an overall improvement to the holiday, but we also hope to spread awareness that such a Megillah is possible. The more Jewish communities that have the chance to look at our Megillah with vowels and tropes, the more will be inspired to have their own commissioned.

Why isn’t this done more often?

We are definitely not the first to do this! For centuries, Megillot have been altered to make them more beautiful as a way of fulfilling the act of hidur mitzvah, which means to “beautify the commandment.” In most Jewish museums, you will find an old Megillat Esther with intricate artwork all around the sides. Even in these Megillot, vowels and tropes are likely hard to find. However, we do know that even if we’ve never seen one, some of the great Rabbis of old did debate this topic and write down their thoughts, which means someone was certainly using vowels and tropes at some point in time.

We can think of three pretty simple reasons for not seeing more of these Megillot:

  • 1. It can be nice to make the Megillah feel more like a Torah, and the Torah is not permitted to contain vowels or tropes.
  • 2. The Megillah pre-dates the existence of vowels and tropes, which didn’t come around until the 9th century. For many, it is easier to copy what already exists than to innovate.
  • 3. It is an expensive process. The more time a scribe has to take to create a scroll, the more expensive the scroll will be.

The Halakhah (Jewish Law)

If the Rabbis debated the topic and we’ve never seen a Megillah with vowels or tropes, is it actually permissible by Halakhah (Jewish law)? The answer is yes! The most straightforward answer can be found by the Mishnah B’rurah 691:25 who says: “If [the Megillah] is voweled – and if there is nobody who knows how to read with cantillation by heart, then it is permissible to write into the Megillah the cantillation marks.” Of course, he is not alone in this view. For a full source-sheet containing all of the Halakhot (laws) on how to write a Megillat Esther, feel free to check it out here.

Success! Thank you for a wonderful campaign!

If you missed your opportunity to donate to this campaign, but would like to support future projects like this, please consider making a donation to our general fund.

Our Goal: $5,400 - Campaign Total: $5,463!

A HUGE תודה רבה (Thank You) goes out to each of our 50 donors:

The Whole Megillah ($1,800+)

  • (1) Anonymous Donor

Purim Shpiel ($720+)

Esther ($540+)

MordeCHAI ($180+)

  • Dave Ginsburg
  • Lauren Klein
  • Marcie Marcovitz
  • Norton Townsley
  • Patrick Gerl
  • Sandra Kass
  • (1) Anonymous Donors

Mishloaḥ Manot ($72+)

  • Bart Kogen
  • Caleb Orillion
  • Ellen Cobb
  • Elliot Goldman
  • Evan Schlessinger
  • Julie Slater
  • Melissa Sandler and Rabbi Adam Schaffer
  • Men's Club of Agudath Achim
  • Michelle Brooks
  • Rabbi Miriam Potok
  • Sandra Bryant
  • Sanford Katz
  • (5) Anonymous Donors

Grogger ($36+)

  • Ben Zion Kogen
  • Matt Baram
  • (8) Anonymous Donors

Hamantaschen ($18+)

  • Allison Levine
  • Joanne Adler
  • Joe Marcin
  • Michael Rosenzweig
  • Murray Seitchik
  • Rabbi Chaim Eliezer Edelstein
  • Tyler Gage
  • (7) Anonymous Donors