Reading the Megillah

Listeners are invited to participate.

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At certain key points in the Book of Esther, it is a custom for the reader to raise his or her voice, adding drama to the story. [Esther 1:22, 2:4, 2:17, 4:14, 5:4, 6:1. In this last verse the king cannot sleep and commands that the book of records of chronicles be read to him. This is considered to be the turning point in the Esther story.]

Another interesting part of the chanting of the Book of Esther is the four verses (Esther 9: 7-10) enumerating the ten sons of Haman. The custom, already mentioned in the Talmud (Megillah 16b), is for the reader to chant the names of Haman's sons in one single breath, in order to signify that they died together. Another reasons for this custom is the fact that we should avoid the appearance of gloating over their fate, even though it was deserved.

Congregational Participation

It is a widespread custom for the listeners at the Megillahreading to make noise, usually with special noisemakers called graggers, or in Hebrew ra'ashanim, whenever Haman's name is mentioned. Some congregations also encourage the use of wind and percussion instruments as noisemakers.

The custom of blotting out the name of Haman appears to be the outgrowth of a custom once prevalent in France and Provence, where the children wrote the name of Haman on smooth stones, then struck them together whenever Haman was mentioned in the reading so as to rub it off, as suggested by the verse "the name of the wicked shall rot" (Proverbs 10:7).

Many modern-day congregations today are known to hold concurrent readings of the Megillah, each reading specially tailored to a particular age group or level of understanding. The singing of Purim songs during the reading of the Megillah, dressing up in costume, and other acts of frivolity are also part of today's modern Megillah reading festivities.

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Rabbi Ronald H. Isaacs

Rabbi Ronald H. Isaacs is the spiritual leader of Temple Sholom in Bridgewater, New Jersey. He has served as the publications committee chairperson of the Rabbinical Assembly.