Purim 2019

Laws of Purim – Reading the Scroll of Esther


י״ז במרחשון ה׳תש״פ (15 בNovember 2019)


1. The prophets ordained to read the Scroll of Esther on Purim night and to read it again during the day (Megilla 4a, Shulchan Aruch 687:1). Everyone is obligated to read it including men, women and converts (Shulchan Aruch 689:1). Even priests who are in the middle of their service during the Second Temple era had to stop their service and come to hear the reading of the Scroll of Esther. One is required to stop his Torah study to hear the reading of the Scroll of Esther (Megilla 3a, Shulchan Aruch 687:2). We educate minors to read it (Shulchan Aruch 689:1). But children who are very young and might disturb the public and prevent them from hearing the reading and fulfilling their obligation, should not be brought to the synagogue (Mishna Berura 689:1, note 17).

2. One may read the night-time reading of the Scroll of Esther all night long, and the day-time reading can be read any time during the day. (Shulchan Aruch 687:1).

3. Before reading the Scroll in the night, one first recites three blessings. These are: 1. Blessed are You, L-rd, our G-d, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to read the Megillah. 2. Blessed are You, L-rd, our G-d, King of the Universe, who did miracles for our ancestors in those days at this time. 3. Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, for keeping us alive, and sustaining us and letting us reach this occasion. (Megilla 21b, Shulchan Aruch 692:1). For the morning reading, one doesn’t repeat the last blessing but the custom of Ashkenazi Jews is to also recite the blessing during the day (Shulchan Aruch ibid.).

4. After reading the Scroll of Esther, one recites the blessing: Blessed are You, L-rd, our G-d, King of the Universe, the Almighty Who fights for us, judges our claim, takes vengeance for us, pays back our enemies who want to kill us and punishes our foes for us. Blessed are You, L-rd, Who punishes all the foes of His people Israel; He is the G-d Who is a savior.” (Gemora and Shulchan Aruch ibid.).

5. After the final blessing, the custom is to proclaim loudly three times: “Accursed is Haman, blessed is Mordecai! Accursed is Zeresh! Blessed is Esther! Accursed are all the evildoers who hate G-d! Blessed are all the righteous who love G-d! And also Harbonah is remembered for good.” (See the tractate of Sofrim 14:3, Shulchan Aruch 690:16. Chazon Ovadia Purim pg. 94). This statement is not referring to Harbonah since he was actually a lackey of Haman, but to the prophet Elijah who changed his appearance to that of Harbonah. He then came before King Ahasuerus, and due to what he told the king, Haman was hanged. This is cited in the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 10:9) on the verse “and the king said, ‘Do you dare to vanquish the queen when I am in the house?!’:
“And Haman heard this thing, and his face fell. What did Elijah do? He appeared as if he was Harbonah, and told him: My master the king, behold the gallows that Haman made for Mordecai, who spoke well for the king, standing in Haman's house, fifty cubits high!” As Rabbi Pinchas said, “One must say the we remember Harbonah for the good.”

6. The last blessing after the Scroll is just a custom. Therefore, it is not recited if a quorum of ten men are not present. An individual reader does not recite the final blessing (Shulchan Aruch 692:1 in the annotation). If the Scroll is read before ten women, they may recite the blessing. (Chazon Ovadia Purim pg. 91).

7. One should read the scroll from a kosher scroll written in ink on parchment (Shulchan Aruch 691:1). One who listened to a reading in which a kosher scroll was used, and he had in mind to fulfill his obligation and the reader had in mind to exempt the listener, he has fulfilled his obligation (Shulchan Aruch 690:3).

8. One who read most of the Scroll by heart, or read most of it from an invalid Scroll of Esther such as one printed on paper, did not fulfill his obligation. But if he heard or read a small part of the Scroll that way, he has fulfilled his obligations. Therefore, one who holds an invalid scroll in his hand and heard one reading from a valid Scroll, and due to noise and the like did not hear a word or sentence, should quickly read from the scroll of paper in his hand until he reaches the place where the prayer leader is at, and will thereby fulfill his obligation (Mishna Berura 690:19).

9. It is the synagogue sexton’s sacred duty not to allow the public and children to make noise during the reading if it will cause people not to hear the words. When they make noise at the mention of Haman's name, the prayer leader should make sure that all the public heard the word 'Haman'. If, despite all, a person did not hear some words, he should say the words he didn’t hear by himself and then he will have fulfilled his obligation as we explained in the previous section. Our custom is not to make noise when mentioning Haman's name besides the first and last time he is mentioned in the Scroll (Ohr Hachaim, section of Tetzaveh 10). But when they call out after the reading “Accursed is Haman, accursed is Zeresh”, they can make any noise that they please.

10. One who dozes off during the reading of the Scroll of Esther, if he himself is doing the reading, has fulfilled his obligation because each time he woke up, he continued from the place where he left off (Mishna Megilla 2:2, Shulchan Aruch 690:12). But if he was hearing the Scroll of Esther from someone else who was reading, he has not fulfilled his obligation because he didn’t hear all of it (Shulchan Aruch, ibid.). He has to re-read in its correct order beginning from the verse where he fell asleep or hear it from someone else. (See Chazon Ovadia Purim pg. 83, note 62).

11. One is not allowed to speak during the Scroll of Esther reading until after the final blessing. If one talked while the reader was reading the Scroll, he has not fulfilled his obligation, and he should go back and read the same verse and continue on from there as we explained in paragraph 8.

12. One who hears the Scroll of Esther read by a prayer leader whose voice was audible through a loudspeaker because of the large size of the synagogue: If he is sitting in a place where even without a loudspeaker he would have heard the prayer leader, he has fulfilled his obligation because the sound waves emitting from the throat of the reader would have reached his ears, and the loudspeaker only facilitated his hearing it. But if he is sitting in a place where he wouldn’t have heard the reading without the loudspeaker, he did not fulfill his obligation because the sound waves of the reader’s voice didn’t reach his ears, but only the sound waves of the loudspeaker. Because of this, one cannot fulfill his obligation by listening to the reading by radio even if it was broadcast live (Chazon Ovadia Purim pg. 56).

13. The reader should read the names of Haman's ten sons and the word “aseret” (ten) that follows them in one breath, to publicize that they were all killed and hung together (Megilla 16b, Shulchan Aruch 690:15).

14. The custom is for the entire public to say together loudly and happily the four verses of redemption: “There was a Judean man in Shushan the capital, whose name was Mordecai the son of Jair the son of Shimei the son of Kish, a Benjamite,” (Esther 2:5). “On that night, the king's sleep was disturbed, and he ordered to bring the book of the records, the chronicles, and they were read before the king.” (Esther 6:1). “And Mordecai left the king's presence with royal raiment, blue and white and a huge golden crown and a wrap of linen and purple, and the city of Shushan shouted and rejoiced.” (Esther 8:15). “The Jews had light and joy, and gladness and honor.” (Esther 8:16). In Jerusalem, they also add the last verse in the Book of Esther: “For Mordecai the Jew” etc. (Chazon Ovadia Purim pg. 84).

15. In some communities, when the prayer leader says the verse “to assemble and to protect themselves, to destroy, and to slay, and to cause to perish” (Esther 8:11), he repeats the words “to destroy, to slay, and to cause to perish” [leaving out the first and]. Similarly, when saying the phrase “no one stood up before them” (Esther 9:2), the phrase is restated “no one stood up to them” [the beit prefix is exchanged with a lamed prefix]. It is proper and right to repeat these phrases so that the two versions of the text are said. If one didn’t repeat these phrases, he has still fulfilled his obligation. However, in the verse “Now it came to pass when they said [this] to him daily, and he did not heed them” (Esther 3:4) one should not repeat the second version [b’amram instead of k’amram] because one version is specifically intended to be read [k’amram] while the other is only to be written  [b’amram]. (Chazon Ovadia Purim pg. 115 and note 69).

16. The custom is for the reader to unroll the entire scroll and then fold it like a letter before he begins reading it, to highlight and publicize the miracle, as it is described in the Scroll of Esther (9:29) “Now, Queen Esther, the daughter of Abihail, and Mordecai the Jew wrote with full authority to confirm the second Purim letter.” And when he finishes the reading, he opens and rolls it up and only then recites the blessing. The reason for this is because it is not respectful to leave the Scroll of Esther, which is one of the Holy Writings, unrolled until after the blessing after the reading. And since rolling it up is a gesture of respect, it is not considered an improper interruption. (Chazon Ovadia Purim pg. 74 and comment 44).

17. During the day reading of the Scroll of Esther, when reading the passage: The “Jews had light and joy, and gladness and honor” (Esther 8:16) one should touch both the hand and head tefillin and kiss them since Haman’s decree outlawing the commandment of tefillin was rescinded, as the Gemara says (Megillah 16b) “‘and honor’ — this refers to tefillin” (See our commentary to Esther 8:16). And when reading “to confirm the second Purim letter” (Esther 9:29), one should slightly move the scroll (Chazon Ovadia Purim pg. 108).

18. Some say one should not hold the Scroll parchment with one’s hands, but only with a handkerchief, while others permit it. It is good to observe this and wash one’s hands before holding the scroll (Chazon Ovadia Purim pg. 76).

19. One who recited all the blessings and read the Scroll of Esther in public, and now is reading the Scroll to women at home, repeats all the blessings, including the third blessing of “for keeping us alive” (Chazon Ovadia Purim pg. 65).

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