One of the World’s Oldest Megillos Esther Finds Its Home at the National Library of Israel

The Megillah.

One of the world’s oldest known Megillas Esther has recently been gifted to the National Library of Israel in Yerushalayim, home to the world’s largest collection of textual Judaica, where it has also been made available online for the first time.

Scholars have determined that the newly received Megillas Esther was written on the Iberian Peninsula around 1465, prior to the Spanish and Portuguese Expulsions at the end of the 15th century. These conclusions are based on both stylistic and scientific evidence, including Carbon-14 dating.

The megillah is written in an elegant, characteristic Sephardic script. The first panel, before the text of the megillah, includes the brachos recited before and after the reading of the megillah, and attests to the ritual use of this megillah in a pre-Expulsion Iberian Jewish community.

According to experts, there are very few extant Megillos Esther from the medieval period in general, and from the fifteenth century, in particular. Sifrei Torah and Megillos Esther from pre-Expulsion Spain and Portugal are even rarer, with only a small handful known to exist.

Prior to the donation, this scroll was the only complete fifteenth century megillah in private hands.

The medieval scroll is a gift from Michael Jesselson and family, continuing long-standing family support of the National Library of Israel and its collections. Michael’s father, Ludwig Jesselson, was the founding chair of the International Council of the Library and a strong leader and advocate of the Library for decades.

According to Dr. Yoel Finkelman, curator of the National Library of Israel’s Haim and Hanna Salomon Judaica Collection, the new addition is “an incredibly rare testament to the rich material culture of the Jews of the Iberian Peninsula. It is one of the earliest extant Esther Scrolls, and one of the few 15th century megillot in the world. The Library is privileged to house this treasure and to preserve the legacy of pre-Expulsion Iberian Jewry for the Jewish people and the world.”