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Blotting Out Haman on Purim Responsa in a Moment: Volume 5, Issue No. 5, March 2011

Purim
Responsa by David Golinkin
Symbols and Rituals

לעילוי נשמת
דודתי המחנכת
מרים גולינקין ז”ל
שנלב”ע י”ב אדר תשנ”א
כתוצאה ממעשיו של
המן מודרני

Question:   There is a widespread custom to make noise every time Haman’s name is mentioned in the Megillat Esther (The Book of Esther), a total of 54 times.  What are the sources of this custom?  Doesn’t it cause a halakhic problem of not being able to hear the Megillah?

Responsum:

As I have explained elsewhere (see Golinkin in the Bibliography), this custom has its roots in the biblical commandment “you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven” (Deut. 25:19) since Haman was a descendant of Agag the Amalekite (Esther 3:1 and 9:24).

I) Early Rabbinic Sources for Cursing Haman

The Amora Rav (ca. 220 c.e.) says in the Talmud Yerushalmi(Megillah 3:8, ed. Venice, fol. 74b):  “One must say:  ‘cursed be Haman, cursed be his sons’ “. He does not say, however, exactlywhen one should say this. The same statement is also found in the post-talmudic Tractate Soferim (14:3, ed. Higger, pp. 254-255) as something to be recited after the Megillah reading. A similar statement is found in Midrash Bereishit Rabbah (49: 1, ed. Theodor-Albeck, p. 497), which was edited in Eretz Yisrael in the fourth century: “Rav said: cursed be Haman and his sons”.

On the other hand, the printed versions of Bereishit Rabbah were already influenced by the later custom of cursing Haman during the Megillah reading (see below). They read: “When Rav arrived at ‘Haman’ on Purim, he would say ‘cursed be Haman and cursed be his sons’, in order to fulfill the verse ‘may the name of the wicked rot’ (Proverbs 10:7)” (see Bereishit Rabbah, ibid., in the variant readings and commentary).

II) Burning Haman in Effigy

A second custom observed by many Jews throughout history was to burn Haman in effigy on Purim. This custom may have stemmed from a literal interpretation of the verse in Deuteronomy to blot out the memory of Amalek/Haman. On the other hand, it may have been an outlet for Jews to blow off steam at their current persecutors by taking revenge on a puppet (see Horowitz). In any case, this was a widespread custom which may have started as early as the fourth century and continues until our day.

1. In the tractate of Sanhedrin 64a Rava (ca. 325 c.e.) says that the custom of passing one’s son through the fire in order to worship Molekh is like “mashvarta d’furia“, “like the jumping of Purim”.  This is the only place where this expression appears in all of Talmudic literature. The Geonim and Rashi explain that there was a custom in Babylon and Elam that young boys/men would hang Haman in effigy on their roofs 4-5 days before Purim. On Purim they would make a big bonfire and throw the effigy in the fire and jump through the fire (Arukh Hashalem, ed. Kohut, Vol. 8, p. 42, s.v. שוור ;  Ginzberg; B.M. Lewin, Rav Sherira Gaon, Jerusalem, 1972, p. 33; idemOtzar Hageonim, Vol. 5, Jerusalem, 1933, Megillah, Peirushim, p. 75;Otzar Hageonim to Sanhedrin, Jerusalem, 1966, p. 393; Davidson, p. 21 and note 33; Lewinsky, pp. 15-19; Abrahams; Gaster).

2. On May 29, 408 c.e., Emperor Theodosius II promulgated a law forbidding the Jews to burn an effigy of Haman on the cross on the holiday of Purim (Codex Theodosian 16:8:18 and see Linder and Rabello)  The purpose of that custom, says the law, was to hold Christianity in contempt.

3. In his Chronology of Ancient Nations, Al-Biruni of Khwarism (d. 1048) says that “There is great joy over the death of Haman on that day [= 14 Adar].  This feast is also called the Feast of Megilla and further Haman-Sur [=Haman-Suz, “Haman-burning” in Persian].  For on that day they make figures which they beat and then burn, imitating the burning of Haman.  The same they practice on the fifteenth (Friedlander, p. 257).

4. The Egyptian writer Makrizi (d. 1442) in his work on Cairo says regarding Purim:  “many a time some of them would make at this day a figure of Haiman the Vizier – they call him Haman – and when they had made a figure of him, they would play about with it and then throw it into the fire until it is burned” (Friedlander, pp. 257-258).

5. Rabbi Kalonymus ben Kalonymus lived in the early 14th century in Italy.  In his satire Megillat Setarim Massekhet Purim (Venice, 1552, fol. 24a) he says that a certain Rabbi Benjamin B’rebbe Yitzhak “made an Ira in his neighborhood on Purim … he went and gathered all the people in his neighborhood in front of his house and raised up a puppet and shouted in a loud voice Ira, Ira, Ira“.  Since Ira is Italian for “vengeance”, these Italian Jews were taking vengeance on an effigy of Haman (Davidson, p. 21 and note 33).

6. Johann Jakob Schudt (1664-1722) was a Christian orientalist. The second volume of his four-volume Judische Merkwurdigkeitenis devoted to a detailed description of the Jews of Frankfort. According to Schudt (Vol. II, Frankort on the Main, 1714, p. 309, quoted by Goodman, p. 323), the local Jews in Frankfort on the Main would make a house of wax with costumed wax figures of Haman, Zeresh and two guards. This was placed on the reader’s desk; when the reader began to read the Megillah, the wax house was set on fire. Interestingly enough, this custom is not mentioned in Jewish sources (Sperber, Vol. 8, p. 294).

7. According to Joseph Judah Chorny (Sefer Hamasaot, St. Petersburg, 1884, pp. 191-192, quoted by Davidson, p. 21, end of note 33 and Goodman, p. 323) “when the men [of the Caucasus] return home [from reading the Scroll of Esther in the synagogue], the women prepare a black piece of wood in the kitchen by the fire… The man… asks his wife what it is and she says ‘It is Haman’.  At once the man gets angry and begins to scream at his wife that she should burn it.  After kicking it, they all throw it into the fire”.

8. According to the Jacob Sapir, who spent many months in Yemen in 1858-1859 (Even Sappir, Hadrey Teiman, Lyck, 1866, Chapter 38, quoted by Ben Ezra, p. 173), the boys in Yemen hang “Haman” in the courtyard of the synagogue and throw arrows and stones at him until he falls apart, while cursing Haman and blessing Mordechai.

9. In Tripoli, Libya, ca. 1906 the boys used to go outside the city on Purim morning with twigs and branches, make a bonfire and burn Haman in effigy. They would jump over the fire as described in theMashvarta D’furia custom (see above, paragraph 1).  (Nahum Slousch, Masa’ee B’eretz Luv, part 2, Tel Aviv-Jerusalem, 1943, pp. 87-89, also quoted by Ben Ezra, pp. 172-173).

10. In Kurdistan, the girls also participated in this custom: they used to burn dolls of Zeresh and Vashti on Purim (Erich Breuer,Yehudei Kurdistan, Jerusalem, 1948, pp. 289-290, also quoted by Ben Ezra, p. 173).

11. Similar customs were observed in the twentieth century by the Jews of Damascus (Lewinsky, p. 18 and Lewinsky, Sefer Hamoadim, p. 119); Tunis (Lewinsky, p. 70-72); and Iran (ibid., pp. 75-76).

III) Blotting Out Haman’s Name During the Megillah Reading

This well-known custom developed in many different ways, so we shall present it according to the method of blotting out Haman’s name:

1. Make noise every time his name is mentioned:

Rabbi Tzidkiyahu ben Avraham (Italy, 13th century, Shiboley Haleket, ed. Buber, parag. 200, p. 157) found in the name of Rashi (France d. 1104) that “they stamp with their feet or stone upon stone, and they break pots when they hear [the names] Haman or Zeresh”. In other words, they made noise in order to prevent people from hearing these names. It should be noted, however, that Rashi mentions this custom not in connection with the Megillahreading, but rather when Haman and Zeresh are mentioned in thepiyyut after the Megillah reading.

2. Bang the walls when his name is mentioned so that the demons will bang Haman in Hell:

According to a manuscript of Sefer Assufot (fol. 95a, quoted by  Gudemann, Vol. 1, p. 121), “the ruler of Regensburg once asked R. Judah the Pious (d. 1217) why the Jews bang the walls every time Haman’s name is mentioned.  R. Judah replied: according to the number of bangs we bang, so do the demons beat him in Hell.  He then took the ruler to the gates of Hell to show him, and the latter said:  ‘if I were with you, I would help you’ “. While this sounds strange to the modern reader, this type of explanation is typical ofHassidei Ashkenaz, the pious ones of Germany, where they believed in a close connection between our world, Heaven and Hell.

3. Writing Haman’s name on stones which are banged against each other in order to erase his name:

This was the custom described by R. Avraham of Lunel in his Sefer Hamanhig written in Toledo in 1204. He says that this is the custom of the children of France and Provence (Sefer Hamanhig, ed. Refael, paragraph 18, pp. 242-243) in order to fulfill the verse “may the name of the wicked rot” (Proverbs 10:7).

This passage was quoted by R. David Abudraham (Spain, ca. 1340, Sefer Abudraham Hashalem, p. 209) and by R. Aaron Hacohen of Lunel in his Orhot Hayyim (Provence, ca. 1300, Vol. 1,Hilkhot Megillah, parag. 41, fol. 121a). The latter passage was quoted in an expanded form by R. Yosef Karo (Safed, ca. 1550,Bet Yosef to Orah Hayyim 690, s.v. katav b’Orhot Hayyim) and then in the Shulhan Arukh by the Rema (Cracow, ca. 1570, Orah Hayyim 690:17).

In all of these versions, the purpose of banging the stones is not to blot out Haman’s name by making noise but rather to eraseHaman’s name from the stones.

4. Clap hands in order to make noise when Haman’s name is read in the Megillah:

This custom is reported by R. Yehudah Aryeh Modena (1571-1648) in his Ceremonies and Religious Customs of Various Nations of the Known World (London, 1733, Vol. 1, p. 69, quoted by Goodman, p. 324).

5. Write Haman’s name on a large stone and break the stone with hammers during the Megillah reading:

This custom was illustrated by Calmet in 1731 in a copper engraving of a synagogue in Amsterdam where he also explains the custom in Dutch. A similar description is given in Latin by Buxtorf in his Synagoga Judaica (Basel, 1712, Chapter 29, p. 556) (see the engraving and quotations in Sperber, 2002, pp. 7-8).

6. Bang on benches with hammers:

Calmet adds that children do this as the name of Haman is mentioned “making a terrible noise” and the children appear in his engraving (Sperber, ibid.).  Children with hammers also appear in an engraving published in Nuremberg in 1724 (Goodman, pp. 324-325).

7. Write the word “Haman” on a hammer in chalk and then bang the hammer in order to erase the word:

Johann Bodenschatz (1717-1797) was a German Protestant theologian who devoted a four-volume work entitled Kirchliche Verfassung der heutigen Juden to describing the Jewish customs in Germany at his time. He mentions this custom in his description of Purim (Vol. 2, Erlengen, 1748, p. 254, quoted by Sperber, 2002, p. 8).  Interestingly enough, it is also mentioned by Rabbi Hayyim Falache who lived in Izmir, Turkey, in the nineteenth century (Moed L’Khol Hai, Izmir, 1865, No. 31, subparag. 91, fol. 68a, quoted by Sperber, Vol. 3, p. 158 and 2002, p. 9).

8. Write the word Haman on a bench and keep hitting it until it is erased:

Bodenshatz (ibid.) relates that this was the custom of the adults in Germany in his day.

9. Every time the hazzan mentions Haman, say yimah shemo[may his name be erased] or also shem reshaim yirkav [may his name rot]:

Bodenshatz (ibid.) also mentions this custom, which sounds similar to the printed versions of Bereishit Rabbah cited above.

10. Write Haman’s name on a piece of paper and erase it with a rubber every time his name is mentioned:

This was the custom in the Sefardic synagogue in London in the early 19th century (Goodman, p. 324).

IV) Homiletic Explanations for Blotting out Haman’s Name

As is the case of the dreidl on Hanukkah (see David Golinkin,Insight Israel:  The View from Schechter, second series, Jerusalem 2006, pp. 47-48), rabbis invented learned explanations and proof texts for this custom after the fact.

1.  The last three letters of the verseוהיה אם בן הכות הרשע  (“if the guilty one is to be flogged”; Deut. 25:2) spell המן, Haman  (R. Moshe Matt, Mateh Moshe, London, 1958, parag. 1006).

2. ומחה אמחה(“I will utterly blot out”; Exodus 17:14) is equivalent to זה המן  “this is Haman” in gematria (ibid.).

3. “וגם את הגוי… דן אנכי” (“but I will execute judgment on the nation they shall serve”; Gen. 15:14). דן  in gematria is 54, which is the number of times Haman’s name is mentioned in the Megillah(Riegler).

V) Opposition to Making Noise during the Megillah Reading

Given the fact that it is a mitzvah to hear every word of theMegillah, it is not surprising that many rabbis were opposed to noisemaking on Purim.

Many rabbis said that the noise bothers the reader and the worshippers (Yafeh Lalev 650:15 quoted by Riegler; Mishnah Berurah to Orah Hayyim 689, subparag. 18; Otzar Kol Minhagey Yeshurun, Lvov, 1930, p. 128), while others warn that that it arouses anti-Semitism or derision by the Gentiles (Yafeh Lalev,ibid.Maaglei Tzedek quoted by Low, p. 423, note 68 and Gudemann, Vol. 1, p. 121, note 3).

Others said that it destroys the benches and the floor of the synagogue and is also dangerous (Sede Hemed quoted by Riegler).

A lengthy diatribe against noisemaking on Purim is found in Melitz Yosher, Amsterdam, 1809, fol. 7b (quoted by Sperber, Vol. 3, p. 158, note 120 and Sperber, 2002, pp. 9-10).

In Candia, they excommunicated those who make noise on Purim in a formal ceremony with a sefer Torah and the blowing of the shofar(Ben Ezra, p. 173).

In 1783, the Ma’amad (Board) of the Spanish-Portuguese congregation in London ruled that anyone making a disturbance was to be evicted from the synagogue after the police became involved in a brawl in the synagogue (Lewinsky, p. 33; Goodman, pp. 325-326; Riegler).

In London in 1824 and 1827 they forbade children from using “Haman clappers” (Sperber, 2002, p. 10).

In 1866, the Kehillah of Rogosen in Posen, Poland prohibited usinggroggers on Purim (Goodman, p. 326).

In the late nineteenth century, Rabbi Rahamim Hayyim Yehudah Yisrael tried to abolish handclapping and feet stamping in the Sefardic community of Rhodes, but did not succeed (Sperber, Vol. 8, pp. 293-294).

In the United States, some synagogues try to regulate the noise with red and green signs or with a traffic light (Ben Ezra, pp. 173-174).

In some communities, they limited the noise to the reading of the ten sons of Haman (Ben Ezra, p. 173 quoting Kitzur Shela andNahal MitzrayimMinhagey Vermaiza, no. 218 quoted by Riegler ) or to the verses which deal with the downfall of Haman (Hemdat Yamim quoted by Riegler).

Nonetheless, prominent rabbis such as the Rema (Orah Hayyim690:17) and the Arukh Hashulhan (ibid. 690:24) defended the custom against its detractors.

In my opinion, it is certainly permissible to make noise when Haman’s name is mentioned, provided that the reader pauses and resumes reading after the noise subsides (Arukh Hashulhanibid.). May we all have a very happy Purim and find true simchah shel mitzvah, the joy of performing a mitzvah.

David Golinkin
Jerusalem
Ta’anit Esther 5771


Bibliography

Israel Abrahams, The Book of Delight and Other Papers, Philadelphia, 1912, pp. 266-268

Shlomo Ashkenazi, Dor Dor Uminhagav, second edition, Tel Aviv, 1987, pp. 98-104

Akiva Ben Ezra, Minhagei Hagim, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, 1963, pp. 171-174

Israel Davidson, Parody in Jewish Literature, New York, 1907, p. 21 and note 33

N. S. Doniach, Purim or the Feast of Esther: An Historical Study, Philadelphia, 1933, pp. 69-75

Israel Friedlander, “Bonfires on Purim”, JQR New Series 1 (1910-1911), pp. 257-258

Theodor Gaster, Festivals of the Jewish Year, New York, 1952, pp. 227-229

Louis Ginzberg, JQR Old Series 16 (1904), pp. 650-652, which was reprinted in his book Geonica, Vol. 2, New York, 1909, pp. 1-3

David Golinkin, “Are Jews Still Commanded to Blot Out the Memory of Amalek?” Insight Israel:  The View from Schechter, second series, Jerusalem 2006, pp. 59-67

Philip Goodman, The Purim Anthology, Philadelphia, 1973, pp. 322-326

M. Gudemann, Sefer Hatorah Vehahayyim, translated by A.S. Friedberg, Vol. 1, Warsaw, 1897, pp. 90, 121; Vol. 2, Warsaw, 1899, pp. 189-190

Elliott Horowitz, Reckless Rites:  Purim and the Legacy of Jewish Violence, Princeton and Oxford, 2006

Yom-Tov Lewinsky, Keitzad Hiku et Haman Bitfutzot Yisrael, Tel Aviv, 1947

Yom-Tov Lewinsky, Sefer Hamoadim, Vol. 6, Tel Aviv, 1956, pp. 117-120

Amnon Linder, The Jews and Judaism in the Laws of the Roman Empire, (Hebrew), Jerusalem, 1983

L. Low, Lebensalter, Szegedin, 1875, p. 297 and 423, note 68

Alfred Mordechai Rabilo, “The First Law of Emperor Theodosius II” (Hebrew), in:  A.M. Rabilo, editor, Mehkarim B’yahadut: Sefer Hayovel L’david Kotler, Tel Aviv, 1975, pp. 172-192

Ya’akov Reifman, “Minhag Haka’at Haman B’Furim“, Hamaggid2/11 (March 18, 1858), pp. 42-43

Mikhael Riegler, “Haka’at Haman” etc., Hatzophe, 14 Adar, 5751 (1991)

Daniel Sperber, Minhagei Yisrael,

Vol. 1, Jerusalem, 1989, pp. 16-18;

Vol. 3, Jeruslaem, 1994, pp. 156-159;

Vol. 4, Jerusalem, 1995, pp. 331-333;

Vol. 6, Jerusalem, 1998, pp. 242-246;

Vol. 8, Jerusalem, 2007, pp. 293-295;

Kietzad Makim et Haman, Ramat Gan, 2002

David Golinkin is President of The Schechter Institutes, Inc. and President Emeritus of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies. For twenty years he served as Chair of the Va’ad Halakhah (Law Committee) of the Rabbinical Assembly which gives halakhic guidance to the Masorti Movement in Israel. He is the founder and director of the Institute of Applied Halakhah at Schechter and also directs the Center for Women in Jewish Law. Rabbi Professor Golinkin made aliyah in 1972, earning a BA in Jewish History and two teaching certificates from The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He received an MA in Rabbinics and a PhD in Talmud from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America where he was also ordained as Rabbi. For a complete bio click here.

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