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A Torah scroll is a very long piece of parchement with two poles ("atzei chayim") at either end, while a Megillat Esther is a not-as-long piece of parchment with one pole at the end of the book.

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Why the difference? Two poles seems the most convienient, as it allows you to save your place when you close it. Why not do that for the Megillah as well?

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This may have something to do with the Megillah being a "letter". –  HodofHod Jun 3 '12 at 16:17
    
@HodofHod A source that suggests that would be most interesting! –  Double AA Jun 3 '12 at 16:30
    
Well, it's the reason why Chabad doesn't use any polls at all.... –  HodofHod Jun 3 '12 at 17:04
    
@HodofHod Given the sources in msh210's answer, either that is much older than Chabad or it is a post facto justification. –  Double AA Jun 3 '12 at 17:32
    
Oh, I didn't suggest that Chabad is the originator, only that the reason I've always heard for why there's no poll, and that it's folded while read, is that it's a letter. Could be post facto or not, I'm not sure what the source for the reason is. –  HodofHod Jun 3 '12 at 17:35
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2 Answers

(Note that not every m'gila has a pole at one end. Some do, though, as you note. See Mishna B'rura 691:16.)

Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chayim 691:7) explains:

A sefer Tora (Torah scroll) requires two poles because we read from it constantly; for n'viim and k'suvim one pole suffices.

I suspect the intent is that a sefer Tora needs the greater stability that the poles provide because it's used so often; see also the comments on this answer. (AHS notes further (there) that one possible reason for a m'gila to have no pole at all (rather than one) is that it's used so very infrequently.)

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+1 I wonder though if you look at the earlier sources if you'll find a more concrete and explicit distinction. Right now it's still a little speculative extrapolation on your part. –  Double AA Jun 3 '12 at 7:04
    
Not that I see as of yet. –  msh210 Jun 3 '12 at 7:17
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As a more practical manner the m'gila is unrolled in its entirety when it is read. This is easier with one or no poles. –  soandos Jun 3 '12 at 9:03
    
I suspect that the Aruch HaShulchan is saying that because it is used constantly, it would be a pain to have to roll it all the way up every time you stepped away from it, which is something you'd have to do if it only had one pole. If it has two poles, you can close it while still maintaining your place. –  Menachem Jun 5 '12 at 1:30
    
plus, there is a lot more to roll in a sefer torah –  Menachem Jun 5 '12 at 1:43
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It seems that Torah scrolls didn't always have 2 poles but that it was added for greater maneuverability. See this Hakirah article (p.210 - 211) for some speculation on when and why this change was made.

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