Why does a Torah scroll have two poles or rollers, while the Megillah (book of Esther), which is also read from a scroll of parchment, has only one roller (or none at all)?


The simple reason for having two rollers on either end of the Torah scroll can be found in the Talmud:

All [other] scrolls are [read] and wound from beginning to end. But a Torah is [frequently] rolled to the middle, so two rolls are made, one on each side. Rabbi Eliezer, son of Rabbi Tzadok, said: This is how the scribes in Jerusalem made their scrolls [with poles at either end, so that it could be rolled to the middle].1

The Talmud’s reason is practical. Since we read a different Torah portion each week, we have two poles so that we can save our spot in the middle of the scroll. Scrolls such as the book of Esther are read from start to finish, so we just need to roll them back to the beginning when we’re done, and one pole suffices.

There are some communities that have the custom of reading the weekly haftarah from books of Prophets written on a scroll of parchment similar to a Torah scroll. This scroll is also attached to two poles, since it too, depending on the week, needs to be rolled to different spots in the middle of the scroll.2

Touching the Parchment

According to Jewish law, we do not touch the parchment of the Torah scroll with our bare hands. Instead, we use a pointer, tallit, or the Sefer Torah’s sash to touch or kiss the Torah.3

Some explain that this is also why a Torah scroll needs to have two rollers, in order that we be able to hold and roll it when needed. Since the prevalent custom is to be more lenient about touching the parchment of the Megillah (and other works),4 we don’t need to have two rollers.5

Tree of Life

The wooden dowels upon which the Torah is rolled are called atzei chayim, “trees [woods] of life.” Now, according to Jewish law, the poles need not be made specifically of wood, and indeed it is praiseworthy to beautify them with silver. Yet the Lubavitcher Rebbe counseled that at least the bottom part of the pole, which one holds with his hands, should be made of wood. This is in keeping with the verse in Proverbs6 from which these poles get their name: “She [the Torah] is a tree of life to those who grasp her, and whoever holds on to her is happy.”7