Shiur #13: Is Megillat Esther Patterned after a Sefer Torah?

  • Rav Moshe Taragin
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Talmudic Methodology
Yeshivat Har Etzion

Shiur #13: Is Megillat Esther Patterned after a Sefer Torah?

By Rav Moshe Taragin



            The Megilla is referred to as being both a sefer (book - Megillat Esther 9:32) and an iggeret (letter - Megillat Esther 9:26).  The gemara in masechet Megilla (19a) notes this paradox when exploring the manner by which the various leaves or plates of a Megilla are sown.  The first term evokes a parallel to a halakhically prepared scriptural work (as opposed to printed matter), which would require binding by sinews from kosher animals only.  The latter term suggests a more informal status, with no particular stipulation for binding materials.  The compromise struck by the gemara demands that a Megilla contain a minimum of 3 sinews of a kosher animal, since it is considered a sefer.  However the rest of the Megilla may be bound by cloth straps or strings since it is also referred to as an iggeret - a name which downplays the comparisons to scriptural documents.  There is some debate amongst Rishonim as to the exact placement and function of these 3 sinews from a kosher animal, yet it is clear that a minimum number of sinews is sufficient to capture the flavor of a sefer.  The remaining pages may be attached with other materials since a Megilla is basically a letter (iggeret) rather than a formal scriptural scroll. 


            This is the basic reading of the gemara - one which views a Megilla as a generic text with certain scripture-like applications and conditions.  In fact, the same gemara demands inks and parchments typically employed for scriptural preparation (deyo as ink and kelaf or gevil as parchment).  These laws are derived from a separate source thereby adding to the list of ‘scriptural’ requirements for a Megilla.  Given its inclusion within the canon of Scripture and the requisite halakhot of Scripture which apply to Megillat Esther, it is only natural that it be prepared in the same fashion that Scripture is prepared.  Given its reference as iggeret, a slight compromise is struck allowing binding with different materials. 




            The Ramban develops a different principle, endowing Megillat Esther with a partial status of SEFER TORAH.  The Ramban takes the word ‘sefer’ as an allusion to a Sefer Torah and views the Megilla as a cross between a Sefer Torah and an iggeret.  The fact that the gemara demands proper inks and parchments merely reinforces his notion that a Megilla possesses a partial Sefer Torah status.  A gemara in Megilla (16b) convinces him of this concept: the gemara demands that a Megilla text be ‘graphed’ with engraved outlines known in halakha as sirtut (literally engraved indents in the actual parchment indicating the division of lines).  The gemara derives this rule from a phrase in Megillat Esther (9:30) which refers to the Megilla as ‘divrei shalom ve-emet’ striking a comparison between a Megilla and ‘amitah shel Torah’ (the Truth that is Torah).  Just as a Sefer Torah (according to most Rishonim) must have engraved outlines, similarly must a Megilla.  This further convinces the Ramban that a Megilla possesses a quasi-Torah status. 


The Ramban establishes a litmus test to determine whether the Megilla should conform to standards of a Sefer Torah.  Internal or structural elements should be patterned after a Sefer Torah: the materials of writing, engraved outlines and manner of binding separate pages should all resemble a Sefer Torah.  Nevertheless, the actual execution of the mitzvah - READING the Megilla - is NOT patterned after a Sefer Torah.   For example, the reader from the Torah must be standing whereas the reader of a Megilla may sit.  Similarly, the Ramban believes, a Megilla is not read as a scroll but rather as an unfolding text - similar to a letter or any other large informal text.  Yet another area of discrepancy between a Sefer Torah and Megilla is the manner of reading.  Whereas Torah text is read carefully, with proper sentence punctuation, an iggeret or letter - and consequently a Megilla too - is read without concern for punctuation.  Even if the musical cadence ceases before the actual sentence concludes, the reading is valid since this mirrors the informal manner of reading a letter. 


In fact, the Ramban cites the Rambam who believes that a Megilla parchment does not have to be prepared with kavana lishmah (appropriate intent) as a Sefer Torah’s parchment requires.  The lishmah demand mandates a level of cognitive intent to install kedushah during parchment preparation.  As this addresses the type of PARCHMENT and not the actual TEXT, the fidelity to Sefer Torah is suspended.  The actual text must resemble a Sefer Torah but, both the manner of reading, as well as the type of background parchment deviate from the strict standards of a Sefer Torah (to capture the role of letters and letter writing in the story of the Megilla).  The Ramban, himself, disagrees with the Rambam arguing that the parchment may be considered intrinsic to the actual text and would warrant preparation in a manner similar to the preparation of a Sefer Torah. 




A more extreme stance is adopted by various other Rishonim.  They take the analogy to Sefer Torah literally and impart the full range of Sefer Torah laws to Megillat Esther.  The most prominent is Rabbenu Tam cited by the Mordechai and the Rif.  One consequence of this analogy is the invalidation of a Megilla upon which illustrations or berakhot were drawn.  Many communities had a custom to decorate the Megilla by drawing Megilla-related scenes on the margins.  Similarly, the berakhot recited prior and subsequent to the recital, were also reproduced on the Megilla scroll.  Even though the Rashba allows this practice (further highlighting the informal iggeret-like nature of the Megilla), the Mordechai - presumably operating under the influence of Rabbenu Tam, prohibited such additions for they would compromise the requisite status of Sefer Torah within the Megilla. 


Another student of Rabbenu Tam - the Shibolei Haleket - asserted the full comparison to Sefer Torah and demanded several sub-textual elements necessary in a Sefer Torah.  For example, the letters of the Megilla must be autonomous and unattached to adjacent letters (mukaf gevil) while the classic crowns affixed to specific Torah letters must also be incorporated in a Megilla.  These textual features assure a full status of Sefer Torah!  Presumably, according to Rabbenu Tam, the parchment of a Megilla would be prepared with lishmah intention similar to the parchment of a Sefer Torah (see the Beit Yosef Orach Chayim 691). 


Yet another similarity between Megilla and a Sefer Torah is developed by the Maharik who requires that a Megilla be written by verbally reading a word from an extant Megilla and proceeding to transcribe the word.  A Sefer Torah must be written in this manner and evidently, according to the Maharik, so must a Megilla since it resembles a Sefer Torah in every detail - intrinsic and extrinsic.