15th-century Megillat Esther, among oldest in world, gifted to National Library of Israel

A rare scroll of the Book of Esther, believed to have been penned in the mid-15th century in the Iberian Peninsula, has been donated to the National Library of Israel and made available online ahead of this year’s Purim festival.

The artifact is one of the world’s oldest known scrolls recounting the Purim story, the library says.

It 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,” said Yoel Finkelman, curator of the National Library of Israel’s Haim and Hanna Salomon Judaica Collection, in a statement.

The Book of Esther, which tells the story of Jewish deliverance during the Achaemenid Persian Empire in around the 5th century BCE, is traditionally read from a handwritten scroll as part of the Purim holiday. In 2021 the one-day holiday begins Thursday night in most places, and a day later in some locations, including Jerusalem.

The Iberian scroll is written in brown ink on leather in a characteristic Sephardic script, which resembles that of a Torah scroll, the library said. The first panel of the parchment, which comes before the text of the Book of Estherincludes the traditional blessings recited before and after the reading of the megillah, and “attests to the ritual use of this scroll in a pre-Expulsion Iberian Jewish community.”

“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,” Finkelman said.

The donation was made by Michael Jesselson and family, the library said. It had been the world’s oldest known Book of Esther in private hands.

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