By: Rabbi Ari Enkin
Megillat Eicha, also known as the Book of Lamentations, is read publicly in the synagogue on the night of Tisha B’av. In some congregations, it is read from a handwritten scroll similar to the Megillat Esther which is read on Purim. There are also congregations in which the reader recites the blessing of “al mikra Megilla” before the reading begins when it is read from a scroll. In most other congregations, however, Eicha is read from a printed text, often by a number of different individuals who divide the reading of Eicha amongst themselves. It is universal practice not to recite a blessing upon a Megilla, even the Megillat Esther on Purim, when it is read from a printed text.
Nevertheless, even in congregations where the Megillat Eicha is read from a scroll, most do not recite a preliminary blessing. Among the reasons for this is the concern that a blessing should only recited prior to a Megilla reading that is halachically required. The reading of Eicha, however, is more of a custom rather than an outright obligation. So too, a blessing may only be recited on a Megilla that was written in accordance with all the specifications of writing a Torah scroll, something that is often difficult to ascertain, and not widely found. Finally, there is some disagreement as to how the blessing recited before the reading of Eicha should be worded. Therefore, based on these and other considerations, the more widespread custom is not to recite a blessing before reading Eicha on Tisha B’av.
Others, however, dismiss all these concerns and rule that a blessing should always be recited when reading a Megilla directly from a scroll on a day which the sages decreed that it is read. This was the practice of the Vilna Gaon from whom many congregations in Jerusalem adopted the practice. The only exception to this rule would be the Megilla of Kohelet which is read on Sukkot. It seems to be the consensus of authorities that a blessing is never recited on this reading. Eicha should be read in a sad and mournful manner. Even one who is alone on Tisha B’av night should read Eicha and kinot. This includes women, as well.
It is interesting to note that there is some discussion as to when Eicha was truly intended to be read – whether the night of Tisha B’av or during the day. As such, although common custom is to read Eicha at night, one should read it again during the day privately in order to satisfy all views.
There is actually a custom not to write Megillat Eicha upon a scroll. This reflects our belief that the redemption is imminent and such a scroll will not be needed. Writing Eicha upon a scroll, which is permanent in nature, could suggest a despair or disbelief that the Beit Hamikdash will soon be rebuilt, sending the mourning of Tisha B’av into the annals of history. This is similar to the custom of placing the kinot booklet into the geniza at the conclusion of Tisha B’av each year as an expression of our hope that it will not be needed again next year.
 Sofrim 18:5; OC 559:2.
 Sofrim 14:1; Magen Avraham 490.
 Mishna Berura 490:19.
 Beit Yosef, OC 559; Rema, OC 490:9.
 See Pri Megadim, MZ 490:6, EA 490:9; Shulchan Aruch Harav, OC 490:17; Teshuvot Harama 35. See also Rivevot Ephraim 3:358.
 See Piskei Teshuvot 559:1 for a summary of the different views on the issue.
 Mishna Berura 490:1; Maaseh Rav 175.
 Magen Avraham 490:9.
 Sofrim 18:5.
 Chayei Adam 135:19; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 124:1; Mishna Berura 559:5.
 Teshuvot V’hanhagot 2:250.
 Sofrim 18:5; Mishna Berura 559:2.
 Levush 559:1.
 Minhg Yisrael Torah, OC 559:2