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Unrolling the Scroll: Hidden Blessings of the Megillah

Yeshiva University Libraries. MS. 304

“Esther,” the name of the heroine of the Purim story, means hidden.  Some of the megillot, the scrolls which tell the story of Esther and Purim, contain hidden blessings. A little known genre of Jewish folk art is the format of the presentation of the blessings recited upon reading the Megillah.  Some Megillah scrolls reveal a paratext in the form of the blessings recited as part of the formal communal recitation of the Megillah.

Here are two examples from the collections of the Yeshiva University Library’s Special Collections: one is a lone piece of parchment with the blessings, a companion to the megillah it is housed with, since both are decorated in the same style.

The Megillah itself, as depicted in the photograph, opens with the design of a flower, which also serves as a method to hold the megillah open without obscuring or damaging the text.

Yeshiva University Libraries. MS. 304

In another example,  the blessings are an integral part of the scroll; they are written in micrography in the form of a flower, a rosette, which serves as a decorative element, perhaps a reference to the Purim poem “Shoshanat Yaakov,“ the rose of Jacob,  and also an allusion to the Jewish people. A few lines of the poem are also embedded in the geometric flower. "Shoshanat Yaakov" is sung by the community after the conclusion of the Megillah reading.

Yeshiva University Libraries

The blessings are not in a user friendly format; in order to read them from the scroll, the reader would need to turn the scroll in various directions, a fitting way of reading on Purim when the megillah mentions the situation of the Jews as being upside-down, “ve-nahafokh hu.”

Best wishes for a Happy Purim!

Posted by Shulamith Z. Berger