As regards to the reading of the five megillot and their related blessings, Masechet Soferim (14:3) states as follows: “When reading Ruth, Shir HaShirim, Kohelet, Eichah, and Megillat Esther, one recites beforehand the blessing of ‘…al mikra megillah – [Blessed are You…who has commanded us] to read the megillah’ even though it is among the Hagiographa (Ketuvim).” (The mishnah adds this last statement due to the halacha cited in the mishnah that immediately follows (14:4): “One who reads from the Hagiographa is required to say, ‘Blessed are You…who has commanded us to read from the Holy Writings (Kitvei HaKodesh).’ ”
The Nachalat Yaakov, the main commentary to Masechet Soferim, cites a dispute (ad loc.) about this matter among halachic authorities. The Rema, for example (Orach Chayim 490:9, quoting the Beit Yosef), notes that our custom is not to recite a blessing on any of the megillot other than Megillat Esther.
The Nachalat Yaakov explains: “This ruling is probably due to the fact that these other megillot are [generally] not written on [and read from] a scroll. Rather, they are read from a book that includes other books of Scripture. In earlier times, when megillot were written on scrolls, we read the blessing beforehand, as Masechet Soferim suggests.”
Rabbi Yosef Grossman (Otzar Erchei HaYahadut, p. 39) offers the following reason for not reciting a blessing on Megillat Eichah: “We read it from a book and not from a scroll as we would other megillot, and thus we do not say ‘al mikra megillah’ beforehand. The scribes were not accustomed to write it [on a scroll] since we hope and look forward each day to the possibility that our Tisha B’Av mourning will be transformed into a day of joy and happiness, with no further need to read Eichah.”
Shir HaShirim, however, gives us much pleasure. It would seem then that we would be required to recite a blessing before its reading.
In the final analysis, Rabbi Grossman cites the Vilna Gaon who rules that one should read from a scroll and make a blessing accordingly. However, since today by and large most people do not read from a scroll, we follow the Rema’s ruling and do not make a blessing. This is the nearly universal practice.
Is the lack of a blessing an indication that this special reading is not so important? Surely not. We see from the Gemara (Berachot 15a) that if one did not recite the appropriate blessing before performing a mitzvah, the performance is nevertheless considered accomplished.
In the merit of proper observance of the laws and traditions of Pesach, may we merit the Moshiach speedily in our days so we may fully observe Pesach in the rebuilt Jerusalem.
Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at email@example.com.