Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Making Noise at the Mention of "Haman"

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

There is an ancient and beloved custom to bang and make all forms of noise each time the name of "Haman" is mentioned during the course of the Megilla reading. Children are especially excited at this once-in-a-year opportunity in which they take advantage of their rabbinical dispensation to disrupt the services, using all forms of noise makers and other toys to help get the job done. There is in fact, a hidden agenda for this custom --- it ensures that the children will remain attentive to the Megilla reading in anticipation for the next mention of "Haman" and is also an incentive for them to remain awake for all of the Purim evening festivities.[1] It may just be, in fact, that the privilege to make noise at the mention of Haman belongs exclusively to the children.[2]

The origins for making noise at the mention of "Haman" during the Megilla reading seems to originate in the Midrash which teaches us that we are required to verbally disgrace and curse the name of a wicked person each time it is mentioned. The source for this idea derives from the verse: "The name of the wicked will rot".[4] In fact, disregarding the opportunity to degrade the name of a wicked individual is viewed by some halachic authorities as a Biblical transgression.[5] The Jerusalem Talmud instructs us to conduct ourselves in this manner as well.[6]

Click here to read moreThe use of equipment, known as "graggers", for accomplishing this task seems to have originated in France. It is recorded that before Purim children would gather stones and write the word "Haman" upon them. Each child prepared two such stones and would bang them together each time the name of Haman was mentioned during the Megilla reading.[12] The bashing of these stones slowly wore out the word "Haman" which had been written upon them, in this manner participating in the mitzva to "wipe out Amalek".[13] Similarly, there those who have made it a practice to write the word "Amalek" or "Haman" on the bottom of their shoes throughout the year as a form of compliance with this idea. Some sofrim, Torah scribes, are in the habit of testing the eraseability of their parchments by writing, and then erasing, the word "Haman" upon them – using it as another opportunity to fulfill the mitzva of wiping out Amalek.[14]

The Abudraham[15] cites the stone whacking custom and calls it an implementation of the verse "The name of the wicked will rot"[16] in addition to the mitzva of wiping out Amalek. Indeed, it seems that using a gragger or other noise maker with the word "Haman" written upon it that slowly rubs out is to be preferred.[17] Writing Haman's name on the graggers is intended to recall that not only is there a mitzva to physically destroy Amalek, but many authorities contend that there is also a mitzva to erase any reference of his name wherever it may be written, as well.[18]

The custom of using stones as graggers later evolved into using of planks of wood, as is recorded in later sources.[19] It is taught that making noise when hearing Haman's name is a segula for foiling the evil schemes of modern day anti-Semites who plot against us.[20] So too, we are taught that each time one bangs at the mention of Haman, God takes Haman out from his place in Hell to be beaten up.[21] There is also mention of a popular custom which existed in many communities which was to construct mannequins of Haman to be burnt in a festive Purim bonfire.[22]

Make no mistake, the custom of making noise during the Megilla reading was not a universally welcomed one. There have been a number of authorities in the past that opposed the custom and refused to participate in it.[23] There were others who would limit their participation by merely stomping their feet on the floor and clapping their shoes together when Haman was mentioned.[24] Many of these authorities considered the Hamanic eruptions to be a hefsek, an interruption of the sort that one must avoid when in the process of discharging a mitzva.[25] As such, there have been those rabbis throughout the ages who have tried to have the custom banned entirely.[26]

Among the arguments that were cited in favor of eliminating the custom was a fear of the Christians who might assume that the noise emanating from the synagogue were the Jews rallying in preparation for a riot against them. Likewise, it was worried that the Christians would use it as a pretext for a pogrom.[27] In fact, it was the Christian clergymen[28] themselves who tried having this custom banned, asserting that it's entire intention was to mock their prophet. It is also noted that the noise and interruptions throughout the Megilla reading causes the congregation to loose their concentration and focus on the requirement to listen attentively to every word of the Megilla.[29] Yet other authorities contended that the noisemaking during the Megilla reading is a violation of the year-round prohibition on frivolity in the synagogue.[30]

This position did find some support in certain communities. In 1783, the officers of the Spanish-Portuguese congregation in London ruled that anyone causing any disturbances during the Megilla reading was to be evicted from the synagogue. Likewise, in 1866, the community of Posen, Poland, circulated a list of congregational regulations which included a ban on the use of graggers at Purim.[31] Fortunately for this writer and his ADD children however, these and other similar attempts to eliminate the highly anticipated gragger detonations were disregarded in most of the Jewish world. Making noise at each of the 54 times Haman is mentioned in the Megilla is pretty much standard in most communities.[32] It is worth mentioning that there were Jewish communities in which the custom of making noise during the Megilla was completely unheard of, specifically in the Yemenite and Kurdish communities.[33] There is reason to believe that making noise during the Megilla is a custom that was never officially accepted by Sefardic Jewry and is merely the result of Ashkenazi influence.[34]

There is a legend which teaches that Haman was actually circumcised and assumed the status of an "Eved Canaani", a Jewish owned Gentile slave, which by extension means that Haman would have also observed most mitzvot of the Torah![35] Furthermore, we are told that if one would like to meet the descendants of Haman, they can be found in the yeshivot of Bnei Brak.[36] Some authorities suggest that banging when Haman's name is mentioned is actually an instinctive reaction, and an expression of protest at being forced to pay attention to the name of Haman as part of the obligation to hear every word of the Megilla.[37]

While most congregations allow banging each time Haman is mentioned, others have the custom to do so only when his name is mentioned along with an accolade, such as "Haman Ha'agagi" or "Haman Hara".[38] Some only bang when hearing Haman's name during the segment which discusses the demise of Haman's ten sons.[39] Yet others have the custom to do so only at the first and last mention of Haman in the Megilla,[40] or only those references to Haman which discuss his downfall.[41]


[1] Sefer Haminhagim of R. Isaac Tirna
[2] Rema 690:17, Maharam Schik Y.D. 116
[3] Korban Ha'ani p.125, cited in Shut Reiach Hasadeh 1:14
[4] Mishlei 10:7
[5] Midrash Rabba Vayera, Esther Rabba 7
[6] Megilla 3:7
[12] Sefer Hamanhig;Hilchot Megilla,
[13] Devarim 25:19
[14] Kav Hayashar 99
[15] Tefillat Purim p. 112
[16] Mishlei 10:17
[17] Rema O.C. 690
[18] Rashi;Devarim 25:19, Torah Temmima;Ki Teitzei, Beit Yosef O.C 690
[19] Archot Chaim;Seudat Purim
[20] Keter Shem Tov (Gagin) 2:543
[21] Ruach Chaim (Palagi) 696:9, Mechilta;Bo
[22] Minhag Yisrael Torah 690:3
[23] Mekorei Haminhagim 62, Maharil'Purim;12
[24] Mishna Berura 690:59, Maharam Schik Y.D. 217, Ben Ish Chai;Tetzavh, Siddur Yaavetz
[25] Pri Megadim E.A. 690:21
[26] Pri Hasadeh 3:42, Ben Yamin 1
[27] Jacob Reifman, Minhag Hakot Haman bi'Purim," in Hamagid, Lyck, 1858, fo. V2, no. 11
[28] Flavius Augustus Honorius (395-423) and Theodosius II (408-450)
[29] Pri Megadim E.A. 690:21, Yafeh L'lev 2:690
[30] Meilitz Yosher;Minhagei Amsterdam 7b
[31] Michael M. Zarchin, Jews in the Province of Posen, Dropsie College, Philadelphia, 1939
[32] Sedei Chemed;Purim
[33] Halichot Teiman;Purim, Mitzfunot Teiman p. 136, Shetilei Zeitim 690:17, all cited in Reiach Hasadeh 1:14
[34] Reiach Hasadeh 1:14
[35] Torat Moshe (Chatam Sofer);Shir Ma'on;Megilat Esther 3:4.
[36] Sanhedrin 96b
[37] Shut Milei D'avot 3:13, cited in Minhag Yisrael Torah 690:3
[38] Aruch Hashulchan 690:24, Sefer Haminhagim Chabad
[39] Ketzot Hashulchan 690, Nahar Mitzrayim;Purim, Minhagim of Worms 2:259
[40] Ben Ish Chai;Tetzaveh
[41] Emek Bracha Purim p.246

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