Monday, March 2, 2009

How Many Lines Should a Megilla Have? A Megillat Esther Buyers' Guide

Purim is fast approaching and many among us are running around looking for a new Megilla, or another Megilla case, another Pirush about Megillat Esther or, of course, a smashing costume. For those who are looking for Megillot, this post will clarify the many types of Megillot out there.

Although everyone has seen a parchment Megilla before, very few people can actually tell a good one from a bad one. Many times I will hear that "Wow, that's a good Megilla - all the columns start with the word Hamelech!", referring to the popular Hamelech Megillot. I guess people think that it requires great skill to always start a column with Hamelech, but that's a mistake.

Let's first get the facts straight - anyone can write an Hamelech Megilla. It requires no special skill, since the scribe must copy the words from a printed Tikkun, which means that the scribe doesn't actually arranges the words - he simply copies it. Today's Tikkunim are perfect and any Sofer can have a Hamelech Tikkun.

The מגילת אסתר המלך are indeed very popular among Ashkenazi Jews and these Megillot usually have 28 or 21 lines (see pictures in the end of this post), simply because that's the best way to come up with the word Hamelech always at the top. But the Yemenite Jews favor non-Hamelech Megillot since they hold that it's better to start every column with a new passuk (verse), so the Baal Koreh will not have to stop in the middle of the passage when moving to the next column.

Most congregations use a 42- lines Megilla for the synagogue's reading, since that's the same size of a Sefer Torah and probably because it's easier to read from in public (less columns). I've also seen a 14-lined Megillah.

But the Vilna Gaon, one of the greatest Sages of the past centuries, was very against all the aforementioned types of Megillot. In all these Megillot - 14, 21, 28 or 42 lines - the names of the Ten sons of Haman are written in a larger size, in accordance to the Halacha that these names should be written in two columns and in a page of their own. The only way to do that is by enlarging the font size (see picture in the right, a 28-lines Hamelech Megilla with the large names in the left side) and the Gaon saw that as a big problem since we have a Mesorah (tradition) which states all the odd-sized letters in the Tanach and nowhere there's a mention for writing the names of Haman's sons in big.

So what Megilla did the Gaon use? The Gaon offered a solution - the 11-lines Megilla, in which the names of the ten sons of Haman fit perfectly, without having to enlarge them at all (see picture in the right - my own 11 line Megilla). The only drawback - the columns do not start with Hamelech.

This Megilla is more expensive since it requires much more parchment than the other ones. My upcoming post, "My Progress #3", will show you more pictures of my own 11-lines Meggila, which almost ready just in time for Purim.

Whatever Megilla you choose, be it 11, 14, 21, 28 or 42 lined, is good and the most important thing is a nice writing and a reliable sofer. But it's always good to know the different options you have and with this information you will buy the Megilla that is right for you. Purim Sameach!

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