Megillah is the Hebrew word for “scroll.” Megillot is the plural of megillah. Generically speaking, megillot could refer to any scrolls, but “the” Megillot refers to five specific scrolls referred to as the Festival Scrolls.
The Festival Scrolls are five books of the Old Testament associated with the Jewish feasts. Each one is read in the synagogues during one of the feasts. There is some variation about the specific time and place of reading within the various branches of Judaism. Here are the Five Festival Scrolls, or the Megillot:
• Song of Solomon (Song of Songs) is read on the Sabbath of Passover week.
• Ruth is read on Shavuot (Pentecost).
• Lamentations is read on Tisha B'Av, the ninth day of the month of Av, in mourning for the destruction of the first and second temples (586 BC and AD 70, respectively).
• Ecclesiastes is read on the Sabbath of the week of Sukkoth (Feast of Tabernacles or Feast of Booths).
• Esther is read on Purim.
The reason each book is associated with a feast is relatively straightforward in two cases. Esther tells the origin of the feast of Purim, which celebrates the deliverance of the Jews from the hands of Haman in Persia. Lamentations is Jeremiah’s lament at the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple at the hands of the Babylonians in 586 BC. However, the associations for the other books and feasts are not as straightforward.
The Feast of Tabernacles calls on Israel to remember their wilderness wanderings and requires people to live in temporary shelters for a week. Ecclesiastes also calls attention to the transitory, impermanent nature of life.
The Feast of Pentecost celebrates the traditional end of the harvest in Israel. Since Ruth is set during the time of harvest, the book is an appropriate choice.
Finally, Song of Songs (Song of Solomon) is read during Passover because, at one time, a popular Jewish interpretation viewed this book as an allegorical expression of God’s love for Israel. That love was demonstrated supremely in the Passover and the Exodus.