Scrolls, the Five

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SCROLLS, THE FIVE (Heb. ḥamesh megillot), a designation for the five shortest books of the Hagiographa (Heb. Ketuvim): Song of *Songs, *Ruth, *Lamentations, *Ecclesiastes, and Esther. Although in modern printed Hebrew Bibles the Five Scrolls constitute a unit, this was not originally the case. Thus, in an ancient tradition, recorded in Bava Batra 14b, in which the order of the books of the Hagiographa are listed, the megillot are placed in chronological order among the other books of the Hagiographa. The order is given as follows: Ruth, Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Lamentations, Daniel, the Scroll of Esther, Ezra, and Chronicles (see *Bible, Canon). In manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible the megillot are grouped together. The Leningrad manuscript (1008), on which the Biblia Hebraica of Kittel, from the third edition onward, is based, groups the megillot together in chronological order. In other printed Hebrew Bibles the megillot are grouped according to the order of the festivals on which they are read by the Ashkenazim in the synagogue:

(1) The Song of Songs is read in the Ashkenazi ritual on the intermediate Sabbath of *Passover, or on the seventh day of that festival (eighth in the Diaspora), if the latter coincides with a Sabbath. It is read at the Shaḥarit service prior to the reading of the Torah. In the Sephardi ritual it is read before the Minḥah service on the afternoon of the seventh day of Passover (eighth day outside Israel). In certain communities, the Song of Songs is also read after concluding the Passover Haggadah on seder night. The association of the Song of Songs with Passover is thought to be due to the traditional rabbinic exegesis which interprets the Song as an allegory of the love between God and Israel; Passover is the springtime of this love (Song 2:11–13) and the "honeymoon" of God and Israel (Jer. 2:2). In many congregations the Song of Songs is also read on Friday evenings before the Kabbalat *Shabbat service, at which the "bride," the Sabbath, is welcomed.

(2) Ruth is read on *Shavuot, in most rites, at the Shaḥarit service prior to the reading of the Torah. In the Diaspora, it is read on the second day of Shavuot. In the Sephardi and Italian rituals, it is divided into two parts and recited on both mornings (or afternoons). The association with Shavuot is based on the seasonal reference to "the beginning of the barley harvest" (Ruth 1:22); on the traditional belief that King David – whose genealogy concludes the book (Ruth 4: 17–22) – was born and died on Shavuot (Tos. to Ḥag. 17a tj, Beẓah 2:4, 61c); and on the parallel drawn between Ruth's embracing the Jewish faith and Israel's accepting the Torah at Mount Sinai on Shavuot.

(3) Lamentations, a dirge over the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, is read on the Ninth of *Av as part of the synagogue service. It is recited in the evening and in the morning (see Tur, oḤ 559).

(4) Ecclesiastes is recited on the intermediary Sabbath of *Sukkot, or on the eighth day of the festival (Shemini Aẓeret), if the latter coincides with a Sabbath. It is read during the morning service before the reading of the Torah. In some Oriental rites, it is read in the sukkah. Ecclesiastes (11:2) has been interpreted by some commentators as an allusion to the duty to rejoice during the eight days of Sukkot (cf. Deut. 16:15). The warning (Eccles. 5:3–4) not to defer the fulfillment of vows (including donations to the poor and to the sanctuary) was also thought to be particularly appropriate at the last festival of the annual cycle. Others have suggested that the somber and pessimistic outlook of Ecclesiastes fits the atmosphere of autumn.

(5) Esther is read as the central rite in the *Purim festival in both the evening and morning services.

The custom of reading the Five Scrolls originated in various periods. The Scroll of Esther was read already in the Second Temple period; the reading of Lamentations is mentioned in Ta'anit 30a; and the post-talmudic tractate Soferim (14:18) records only the custom of reading Esther, the Song of Songs, and Ruth, although in an order different from the modern practice. The introductory blessing ("who has sanctified us by Thy commandments and commanded us to read…") is recited only before the reading of Esther. Likewise, only the Scroll of Esther must be written on parchment. In Jerusalem, however, the blessing is said prior to the reading of all the scrolls (with the exception of Lamentations), and all are read from a parchment scroll.

Musical Rendition

the song of songs, ruth, and ecclesiastes. Discussions about the sanctity of Song of Songs are already reflected in Mishnah Yadayim 3:5. In Sanhedrin 101, it is explicitly forbidden to "treat the Song of Songs ke-min zemer," i.e., as if it were a (secular) song. The choice and positioning of the masoretic accents in the text of the Song of Songs seem to imply that a definite convention in their musical execution, perhaps in the form of ornate psalmody, was present in the minds of the masoretes. It is difficult to use these data as evidence that the original folk-song tunes of the Song of Songs could still have survived in talmudic times, but it is at least clear that a folksong tradition was still attached to it. The presently observable traditions, however, show that most of the melodic formulas for the rendition of the Song of Songs, Ruth, and Ecclesiastes are late developments, and that they are often indebted to previously existing melodic conventions connected with other books of the Bible or parts of the liturgy. Differences between the melodies or formulas are found not only as regards the various communities but also within many communities for the communal or solo singing of the text, as demonstrated especially in Yemen. The adaptation of secular tunes for the Song of Songs is mentioned as late as 1870 (Mikra Kodesh by R. Mordecai Abbadi of Aleppo). In many communities there are common melodies for several of the scrolls, such as one melody for Ecclesiastes and Ruth. In the Polish-Lithuanian tradition there is one melody for the Song of Songs, Ruth, and Ecclesiastes, and this melody shows the clear influence of the masoretic cantillation of the Pentateuch. In some Near Eastern communities such as Aleppo, the maqāma tradition of the surrounding area is also reflected clearly (Idelsohn, Melodien 4, no. 338 for Ruth and no. 339 for Ecclesiastes).


The traditional view that Esther should be read "like a letter" has greatly influenced its musical rendition. There is also the traditional practice of changing the motives or the tempo where especially gladdening or sad events come to be narrated. A.Z. *Idelsohn's analysis of the Babylonian melody for Esther showed that it is very near to that used for Ruth, with the addition of motives from the Song of Songs – the borrowing of motives in Ashkenazi tradition is especially developed (talsha and munnaḥ-legarmi from Lamentations, and talsha gedolah and darga from the reading of the "21 books," and kadma veazla, with certain changes, from the prayer mode of the High Holy Days (see *Cantillations). Idelsohn's division of the Esther melodies by style into two basic areas – Yemen, Persia, Syria, London Sephardi, and Carpentras, as against Iraq, Eastern Sephardi, and Morocco – needs further study. In addition to the melodic relationships between Song of Songs, Ruth, and Ecclesiastes, the following are also to be noted: Song of Songs and Esther (Morocco) and Ruth and Esther (Iraq).


As Idelsohn showed, the scale of the singing of Lamentations is peculiar, and it was his opinion that it had no parallel in the traditional Jewish repertoire. This scale is also found among the Syrian (Maronite and Jacobite) Christians and among the Copts in Egypt: in ascending order it progresses G-sharp, A, B-natural, C, D, E-flat; all the internal cadential movements end on A, and the final endings are on G sharp. In many Jewish traditions there are slight changes in the melody from chapter to chapter, and the last chapter especially has a melody of its own.

The masoretic accents of the scrolls do not always find expression in their melodies. Some readings resemble more the simplest forms of psalmody and do not take the accents into account at all. In others a psalmodic fundament is at least clearly discernible (cf. Song of Songs in Morocco, Idelsohn Melodienii, no. 173, p. 56). In Idelsohn's opinion the lyrical atmosphere of some of the scrolls, such as Ruth and Song of Songs, does not permit an emphatic rendition of the text. This would be the reason why the more melodic accents – such as shalshelet and merkha kefulah – do not appear in the scrolls, and that some others, such as zarka, are used very sparsely. Against this, it must be said that the choice of the accents was not dictated by the contents of the text but by its structure.
The nine mss. collated for this table are the following in the British Museum:
(1) Add. 9400; (2) Add. 9403; (3) Add. 19776; (4) Harley 5706; (5) Add. 9404; (6) Orient. 2786; (7) Harley 5773; (8) Harley 15283; (9) Add. 15282.
The fifth column represents the order adopted in the first, second and third editions of the Hebrew Bible, as well as that of the second and third editions of Bomberg's Quarto Bible (Venice 1521, 1525), in all of which the five Megillot follow immediately after the Pentateuch
Nos. 1, 2, 3Nos. 4, 5, 6Nos. 7, 8No. 9Editions
Song of SongsEstherRuthRuthSong of Songs
RuthSong of SongsSong of SongsSong of SongsRuth


J.L. Baruch and T. Lewinski, Sefer ha-Mo'adim, 2 (19522), 26; 3 (19532), 118–29; 4 (19522), 226–35; 6 (1955), 35–82; 7 (19572), 170–201; Idelsohn, Melodien, introd.; idem, Music, index; A. Herzog and A. Hajdu, in: Yuval, 1 (1968), 194–203.

[Avigdor Herzog]