Adar - Purim - graggers (noisemakers)

Blotting out 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 was obliterated.[1]

Wood noisemaker, inscribed with the Hebrew words arur Haman (cursed is Haman)
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."[2]

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.[3]

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.[4]

Silver noisemaker (New York, 20th century), incised with a scene of Haman leading Mordecai on the king's horse and with other decorations.

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.[5] 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.[6]

In 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.[7]

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.


footnotes [1] Rama, Shulkah Arukh, Orah Hayyim, Hilkhot Megillah 680.17. [back]
[2] Leon de Modena, The Ceremonies and Religious Customs of Various Nations of the Known World, London 1733, vol. I. [back]
[3] N.D. Doniach, Purim, JPS 1933. [back]
[4] Raphael Aaron ben Shimon, Nahar Mizraim, "Hilkhot Purim" 10. [back]
[5] Jacob Reifman, Minhag Hakot Haman bi'Purim," in Hamagid, Lyck, 1858, fo. V2, no. 11. [back]
[6] See An English Purim, by Gabriel Acosta. [back]
[7] Michael M. Zarchin, Jews in the Province of Posen, Dropsie College, Philadelphia, 1939. [back]
footnotes Photos: Sir Isaac and Lady Wolfson Museum in Hechal Shlomo, Jerusalem.




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