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Hamesh Megillot
The Five Scrolls

Edited from Wikipedia, Five Megillot, accessed 29 August 2020.

The Five Scrolls (Hebrew: חמש מגילות‎ [χaˈmeʃ meɡiˈlot], Hamesh Megillot or Chomeish Megillos) are parts of the Ketuvim (“Writings”), the third major section of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible). The Five Scrolls are the Song of Songs, the Book of Ruth, the Book of Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and the Book of Esther. These five relatively short biblical books are grouped together in Jewish tradition. An early testimony that these five scrolls were grouped together is in the Midrash Rabba[1]. This midrash (commentary) was compiled on the Torah and on the Hamesh Megillot.

Liturgical Use

A cabinet containing the five megillot in order from right to left. (Esther is in the wooden case on the left.)

All five of these megillot (“scrolls”) are traditionally read publicly in the synagogue over the course of the year in many Jewish communities. In common printed editions of the Tanakh they appear in the order that they are read in the synagogue on holidays, beginning with Pesach (Passover).

The Song of Songs (Hebrew: Shir ha-Shirim; שיר השירים) is read publicly in some communities, especially by the Ashkenazim,[2] on the Sabbath of Pesach. In most Mizrahi Jewish[3] communities it is read publicly each week at the onset of Shabbat. There is also a widespread custom to read it at the end of the Passover Seder. Italian Jews read it at the Maariv (Evening Prayer) of the first and second day of Passover.

The Book of Ruth (רות) is read in some communities, especially by Ashkenazim, before the reading of the Torah on the morning of Shavuot (Weeks, or Pentecost). Others read it in the Tikkun (all-night Torah study) at night, or not at all.

The Book of Lamentations (Hebrew: Eikhah or Kinnot; איכה) is read on the Tisha b'Av (ninth of Av) in all Jewish communities.

Ecclesiastes (Hebrew: Kohelet; קהלת) is read publicly in some communities, especially by Ashkenazim, on the Sabbath of Sukkot (Tabernacles). In other communities it is not read at all.

The Book of Esther (Hebrew אסתר) is read in all Jewish communities on Purim. The public reading is done twice, on the evening of Purim and once again the next morning.

When read in the synagogue, these five books are canted (sung or chanted) with cantillation[4]. In most communities, Esther is the only book accompanied by blessings before and after. But certain communities adopted the custom of the Vilna Gaon to recite blessings before the other four megillot as well.

As indicated above, however, only two of the megillot are traditionally read in all Jewish communities, Esther on Purim and Lamentations on the Ninth of Av. The practice of reading the other three books on the Shalosh Regalim (Three Pilgrimage Festivals) is widespread but by no means universal. To read them is a venerable custom among Ashkenazim, but many Sephardim (Sephardic Jews from Spain and Portugal) do not associate the three books with the three festivals. The association is thus weaker also among Hasidic Jews[5] who were influenced by Sephardic customs.

Bo0ks in this Section


  1. Midrash Rabba (or Midrash Rabbah) can refer to part of or the collective whole of specific aggadic midrashim (commentaries) on the books of the Torah and the Five Megillot, generally having the term "Rabbah" (רבה‎), meaning "great," as part of their name. These midrashim include: Genesis Rabbah, Exodus Rabbah, Leviticus Rabbah, Numbers Rabbah, Deuteronomy Rabbah, Canticles Rabbah, Ruth Rabbah, Esther Rabbah, Lamentations Rabbah, and Ecclesiastes Rabbah. The designation “Rabbah” was first applied to the midrash (commentary) to Genesis, and then applied to the midrashim to the other books of the Torah (Vayikra Rabbah, Shemot Rabbah, etc.) which were copied, with Bereshit (Genesis) Rabbah, even in later manuscripts. This collection eventually came to be called "Midrash Rabbot" (i.e., "Midrash of the Rabbot"), to which the midrashim most in use in connection with prayers — to Shir HaShirim, Ruth, Esther, Lamentations, and Ecclesiastes — were subsequently added. [RETURN]

 2. Ashkenazim are the Jewish people of central or eastern European descent. More than 80 percent of Jewish people today are Ashkenazim; they preserve Israelite rather than Babylonian Jewish traditions and some still use Yiddish. [RETURN]

 3. Mizrahi Jews, Hebrew plural Bene Ha-Mizraḥ (“Sons of the East”), also called Oriental Jews, the approximately 1.5 million Diaspora Jews who lived for several centuries in North Africa and the Middle East and whose ancestors did not reside in either Germany or Spain. [RETURN]

  4. Hebrew cantillation is the manner of chanting (canting) liturgical readings from the Tanakh in synagogue services. The cants are written and notated in accordance with the special signs or marks printed in the Masoretic Text of the Tanakh, to complement the letters and vowel points.

These marks are known in English as “accents” (diacritics), “notes” or trope symbols, and in Hebrew as taʿamei ha-mikra (טעמי המקרא‎) or just teʿamim (טעמים‎). Some of these signs were also sometimes used in medieval manuscripts of the Mishnah. The musical motifs associated with the signs are known in Hebrew as niggun or neginot (not to be confused with Hasidic nigun) and in Yiddish as trop (טראָפ‎): the word “trope” is sometimes used in Jewish English with the same meaning.

The cantillation marks which guide the canting (chanting or singing) of the text written in the printed texts of the Five Scrolls are drawn from the same set of markings as the notes in the Humash (Torah or Pentateuch). However, the tune in which they are read varies depending on the scroll. Esther is read in a happier tune than the sad tune of Lamentations. Traditionally, Ecclesiastes, Ruth, and Song of Songs are read with the same festive tune. [RETURN]

 5. Hasidism, sometimes spelled Chassidism, and also known as Hasidic Judaism, is a Jewish religious group that arose as a spiritual revival movement in the territory of contemporary Western Ukraine during the 18th century, and spread rapidly throughout Eastern Europe. Today, most affiliates reside in Israel and the United States. Israel Ben Eliezer, the "Baal Shem Tov", is regarded as its founding father, and his disciples developed and disseminated it. Present-day Hasidism is a sub-group within ultra-Orthodox ("Haredi") Judaism, and is noted for its religious and social conservatism and social seclusion. [RETURN]

Originally posted on Shabbat, 29 August 2020

Page last updated on Monday, 18 January 2021 12:15 PM
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Anxiously awaiting Mashiach’s return