An Unusual Megillah

By Marissa Brostoff

Published March 12, 2008, issue of March 21, 2008.
  • Print
  • Share Share

The Scroll of Esther is getting a makeover from some kids in Pennsylvania, a Reconstructionist scribe and a computer graphics program.

Biblical Scenes: A drawing by Jessica Berson shows Haman leading Mordechai through the streets (top left), and a work by Ashley Fisher-Tannenbaum depicts Esther going to the King.
Biblical Scenes: A drawing by Jessica Berson shows Haman leading Mordechai through the streets (top left), and a work by Ashley Fisher-Tannenbaum depicts Esther going to the King.
Scribe: Rabbi Kevin Hale was commissioned to create the megillah.
Scribe: Rabbi Kevin Hale was commissioned to create the megillah.

Congregation Or Hadash, a small Reconstructionist synagogue located in the Philadelphia suburb Fort Washington, has commissioned a sofer to create a megillah that incorporates drawings by students in its religious school. The scribe, Rabbi Kevin Hale, used a computer program to graft the children’s images onto fine rice paper that was then affixed to parchment.

“We are creating the first truly Reconstructionist megillah,” said Rabbi Joshua Waxman, who leads Or Hadash. (To boot, Hale is the first ordained Reconstructionist sofer.) “It’s a kosher scroll, and we use the traditional text, but we engage with it and try to inject our own voices into it and experience it as something fresh.”

The megillah project was conceived partly as a celebration of the congregation’s 25th birthday. But Waxman was adamant that it would not be an ordinary present.

“It’s easy to commission something,” Waxman said. “It would have been easy to make a few phone calls to our more generous donors, but instead we invited everyone to help underwrite it for $1.80 a letter. I find it faintly distasteful when synagogues virtually auction off ritual items — you know, ‘You, too, can own the Song of the Sea for $15,000.’”

To Waxman and some of his congregants, it also seemed too easy to let a sofer do all the work. So, religious-school students were encouraged to submit illustrations of scenes from the Purim story, including “Vashti saying ‘no,’” “Mordechai at the gate refusing to bow down,” and “Haman being led to the stake.”

The result, a range of 20 colorful drawings by artists between the ages of 5 and 14 was compiled by Hale and grafted onto parchment next to the appropriate portions of text.

“It’s really an illuminated manuscript,” Hale said.

Further enlivening the text, Hale inscribed the names of key characters of the story in different colors. Haman’s name — which, Waxman pointed out, is often set aside in traditional megillot to give cantors a chance to work up the contempt with which they must utter it — is in red; Esther’s is in green, and Mordechai’s is in blue.

Despite the unusual features of this megillah, those involved with its production say that it’s kosher.

“The rules for writing a kosher scroll are more flexible in this case, because nowhere in the megillah is the name of God mentioned,” said Gail Morrison-Hall, an art teacher and Or Hadash member who coordinated the scroll-making project.

The scroll was set to be unveiled at a celebration at the synagogue March 16, four days before Purim. Hale, who lives in Leeds, Mass., was slated to be on hand to teach a crash course in scroll-writing for the congregation’s kids.

“Who knows, maybe it will inspire a future scribe,” Waxman said.

Marissa Brostoff is the Forward’s editorial assistant.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.