the name of Haman with noise, whenever it is heard during the synagogue
reading of the Megillah (Scroll of Esther), is an ancient custom. According
to tradition, Haman was a descendant of Amalek, and as the "memory
of Amalek" is to be blotted out (Deut. 25:19, Esther 3:1, I Samuel
15:8-9), so too is the name of Haman to be beaten out physically or blocked
out with noise. In many communities the rabbis tolerantly sanctioned a
degree of indecorous conduct in the synagogue during the reading of the
Megillah, and allowing Jews this emotional outlet. In other communities,
however, the custom was frowned upon as undecorous by the authorities,
and restricted accordingly.
We have records from
the thirteenth century documenting that it was customary in several Oriental
communities for children to draw the name or figure of Haman on two smooth stones
or pieces of wood and to knock them against each other until the inscription
noisemaker, inscribed with the Hebrew words arur Haman (cursed
German, 18th century
It was also customary to
write Haman's name on the soles of one's shoes; the congregants would then stamp
their feet at every mention of Haman during the reading of the Megillah. Leon
de Modena (1571-1648) wrote that in Venice, the Jews, while reading the Megillah,
would "clap their hands at the name of Haman, as a testimony of their utter
obhorrence and detestation."
The grager (Yiddish for rattle),
dating to thirteenth-century France and Germany, has generally replaced the
Oriental custom of feet stamping, except in Persia. (The Hebrew word for noisemaker
is ra'ashan, from the word ra'ash, meaning noise.)
An engraving of a Purim service in a synagogue, published in Nuremberg in 1724,
shows a number of the congregants holding what appear to be hammers. A more
sedate and dignified manner of "wiping out" the name of the wicked
Haman was employed by Jews in the Sephardi synagogue in London during the early
part of the nineteenth century. They would write Haman's name on pieces of paper
and, whenever it was read from the Megillah, they would erase it with an eraser.
To avoid delay and
confusion by constant interruptions at the reading of the name of Haman, the
custom in Egypt was to allow the beating of Haman only at the reading of the
names of his ten sons and at the end of the Megillah.
Silver noisemaker (New York, 20th century), incised
with a scene of Haman leading Mordecai on the king's horse and with
The beating of Haman
was not a universally accepted practice, and in some communities it was considered
a flagrant violation of synagogue decorum. Fear of the possible hostile reactions
of Christians was also an important factor in urging its restricted use.
Differences of opinion as to its propriety were sharp in certain congregations
and sometimes resulted in violent quarrels.
Synagogal regulations were
enacted prohibiting any noises during the reading of the Megillah. In 1783,
the Ma'amad (Board of Trustees) of the Spanish-Portuguese congregation in London
ruled that anyone causing a disturbance was to be evicted from the synagogue.
1866, the Kehillah of Rogasen in the province of Posen, Poland, promulgated
a set of rules concerning synagogue demeanor and included the prohibition against
using Haman gragers on Purim.
The ancient custom of blotting out the name of Haman persists to this day.
Fifty-four times Haman's name is read in the Megillah, and fifty-four times
the reading is interrupting with resounding noise, and then again when the names
of his ten sons are read.
Rama, Shulkah Arukh, Orah Hayyim, Hilkhot Megillah 680.17. [back]  Leon de Modena, The Ceremonies and Religious Customs
of Various Nations of the Known World, London 1733, vol. I. [back]  N.D. Doniach, Purim, JPS 1933. [back]  Raphael Aaron ben Shimon, Nahar Mizraim, "Hilkhot
Purim" 10. [back]  Jacob Reifman, Minhag Hakot Haman bi'Purim,"
in Hamagid, Lyck, 1858, fo. V2, no. 11. [back]  See An English Purim, by Gabriel Acosta. [back]  Michael M. Zarchin, Jews in the Province of Posen,
Dropsie College, Philadelphia, 1939. [back]
Isaac and Lady Wolfson Museum in Hechal Shlomo, Jerusalem.