The Five Megillah of The Ketuvim

Come in and explore the five megillahs of the Ketuvim, ancient scrolls passed down through the generations to spread the ancient wisdom and history of the Jewish people.

With the year advancing steadily amid the turmoil the world is experiencing, it is an excellent time to look back to our history and better understand our ancient traditions and truly come to know where we come from and the rituals and knowledge that brought us to where we are today. We look today at the five megillot of the Ketuvim. For those unsure what a megillah is precisely, it is a detailed accounting of an event contained within a book, or in this case, on ancient scrolls written down many centuries ago.

These scrolls date back many centuries and have been protected over the years as historical accounts of many of the Jewish people’s most meaningful events. From the beautiful accounts of Ruth’s conversion to the somber remembrance of the destruction of Jerusalem, the five megillot are precious memories left behind by those who came before.

Continue to explore:

  • * What are The Five Megillah?
  • * The Song of Songs
  • * The Book of Ruth
  • * The Book of Lamentations
  • * Ecclesiastes
  • * The Scroll of Esther

What are The Five Megillah?

Although the definition of a megillah is that of a detailed book, within the Hebrew tradition, it is mainly associated with the five “megillot,” scrolls which are read over the course of the year throughout many Jewish communities. The megillot are a part of the biblical canon. In most of the editions of the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible), these five megillahs are found in the same order as they are recited throughout the year in synagogues around the world, beginning with the Passover holiday. Let us explore a bit of each of these texts further.

The Song of Songs

Known in Hebrew as the Shir ha-Shirim, the song of songs is the first of the megillot to be read in the year. It is read aloud in synagogues, or sometimes publicly depending on the community, on the sabbath of the Passover holiday. The song is unique within the Tanakh, as it is mainly focused on the love between two individuals, and their completion together when joined intimately. It is a celebration of sexual intimacy. Within Jewish tradition, Passover is a mark of the coming grain harvest, which has a connection with fertility and the deep link between humanity and the food we grow to sustain ourselves. The song and Passover are symbolically linked.

The Book of Ruth

Although it is read in only some communities, the book of Ruth is still a fundamental text. It is read in the morning, or sometimes night, of the Shavuot holiday. It tells the story of Ruth, a woman living in the country of Moab. A family of Israelites emigrated over to Moab, and one of their sons, Mahlon, eventually met Ruth and married her. When the family decided to return to Bethlehem, Ruth refused to be left behind, citing that she would never be parted from them. She accepts the Israelite people and their God as her own and goes on to live in Bethlehem with them. It is very popular amongst those who convert into Judaism.

The Book of Lamentations

The book of lamentations, or Eikhah, is recited on the ninth of av, or Eykhoh, which is the day that the first temple was destroyed. The temple of Solomon, as it was known, was a holy temple in ancient Jerusalem destroyed during the siege of Jerusalem. The holiday is used to remember the destruction of the second temple in 70Ce as well.

The lamentations are a series of five poems written in mourning of the city of Jerusalem. In 586 B.C., the city was laid to waste by Babylon after God was said to have deserted it. It was eventually redeemed, and God returned. Regardless, the poems are somber and are a way to remember all those who perished during the loss of the city.

Ecclesiastes

Ecclesiastes is read on the sabbath of the Sukkot holiday. It follows the writings of one of the kings of Jerusalem, thought to be the legendary King Solomon, although modern theologians have rejected this. It speaks of the senselessness of many of humanities actions since regardless of your station in life, you eventually pass on. It focuses on the simple things, such as eating, and enjoyment in the work you have to do, which the king ascribes as gifts from God himself. The most crucial lesson written is to fear God, follow the commandments he has set down, as that is the primary duty of all who live.

The Scroll of Esther

Traditionally read in the synagogue during Purim, the scroll of Esther is the most famous of the five megillahs. It is the scroll commonly referred to when people speak of megillah. It tells the story of the heroine Esther, who saved the Jewish people during the time of the Persian Empire. The villain Haman had set out to destroy the entire Jewish people and was stopped by Esther and her ally Mordechai. It was set to paper so that none would forget their great deeds and the saving of the Jewish peoples, which happened on the day of Purim, hence the holiday celebrations.

There seems to be some confusion as to whether the accounting was written by Esther herself, but within the Talmud Bava Batra, it is noted that the megillah was created by the anshei knesset hagdolah after being requested to by Esther so that none would forget.

Megillah Within the Community

The five megillot are sung within synagogue with cantillation and are breathtaking to listen to. The book of Esther is a central focus of many communities, and there are blessings both before the ceremony and after. Some communities do recite blessings for the four sacred texts as well, having adopted the custom of Vilna Gaon. For now, though, the scrolls of Esther and lamentations are the two megillot traditionally read year after year. Only the Ashkenazim consider it to be part of their tradition to speak the other three every year on the three pilgrimage festivals.

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