Purim Activities - Ra'ashan

Activity: Symbol of the Holiday - the Noisemaker

Name of the Symbol: Noisemaker [Ra'ashan]

The History of a Symbol:
Historical Development
Outside Influences

How Do We Eradicate the Memory of Haman?

Haman the Agagite, enemy of the Jews, was a descendant of Agag, king of Amalek, and was the seventeenth generation descended from Amalek son of Elifaz, first born son of Esau. The Biblical commandment to "blot out the memory of the Amalekites from under heaven" (Deuteronomy 25:19) was fulfilled in the time of Mordekhai and Esther: Haman the Agagite and his ten sons were hanged from the gallows.

Nevertheless, Jewish tradition found the Torahs formula, "The Lord's war with the Amelekites will continue generation after generation" (Exodus 17:16), echoed in the words of the Megillah, "And these days are remembered and kept, generation after generation" (Esther 9:28). Thus, was established the custom of war and revenge against Amalek and his descendants as the Megillah is read on Purim each year.

At first, this "war of revenge" was merely a war of words: The names of Haman and his ten sons are read in one breath, and their names are written in a single column (in the Megillah) to symbolize that their cause will have no hope of restoration.

Haman's downfall became the main theme of the Megillah's public reading--a development that brings particular joy to Jewish children and is barely tolerated by their parents.

In the early centuries of the Common Era, the custom of burning Haman in effigy or crucifying him and then burning him in effigy on Purim spread throughout various Jewish communities. However, the rumor spread in Christian countries that the Jews saw in the hanging, burning, or crucifying of Haman a symbolic crucifixion of Jesus. Thus, the Church banned this sort of "revenge" against Haman, and the practice was abandoned for many hundreds of years until it was revived in certain Ashkenazi communities as part of their Purim pageants.

"Keitzad Hiku Et Haman biTefutzot Yisrael", Yalkut Folkloristi lePurim, by Yom Tov Levinsky.

Around the World:

The custom of making noise at the reading of Haman's name has a very long history, and over the generations, various Jewish communities "eradicated the memory of Haman" in different and extremely curious ways.

How did the custom develop before taking on its final form in the traditional noisemaker? Let us see how Jews have "eradicated the memory of Haman" in Jewish communities throughout the world.

The custom of taking revenge upon Haman has existed from ancient times in many communities. Its source is the Talmud (Sanhedrin 64): "... mashvarta dePuria--a ring (or stirrup) of Purim."

The Geonic Period (Babylonia, approximately 500-1000 C.E.):

"The Ge'onim explained the custom, mashvarta dePuria, as follows: The young lads make an effigy of Haman and hang it from the roofs for four or five days. Then, on Purim, they make a bonfire and throw the effigy into it, and they dance around the fire and sing. They hang a ring over the fire, and they jump through the ring from one side of the fire to the other."

Teshuvot haGe'onim mehaGenizah (ed. Ginzburg). Ibid.

Rome (384-423)

"In the days of Honorius, ruler of the Western Roman Empire (384-423) and his nephew, Theodosius II, ruler of the Eastern Roman Empire, Christian zealots decided that it was not the evil one (Haman) the Jews were hanging and burning, but rather Jesus disguised as Haman. They therefore appointed special government officials to study Jewish customs on the "holiday of Haman" when the Savior is burned on the cross in order to mock the Christian religion.

5 Ibid.

In the Year 415

"In the year 415, the Jews of a village near Eminster set up a gallows in the shape of a cross and hanged a wooden figure of Haman from it and beat it. However, a rumor spread throughout the region that the Jews had crucified a Christian child. Matters came almost to a bloody confrontation between Jews and Christians, but the Caesar intervened and pacified the Christian zealots by imposing a heavy punishment on the Jews who had participated in the celebration.

6 Ibid.

The Christian historian Pokrat firmly believed that the Jews had indeed crucified a Christian child on Purim in memory of Haman.

7 Ibid.

Haman "Lives Again" in Shemishal

"We can see the great and heavy vengeance Jews take on Haman on Purim. Here is how they do it: They employ a Christian to allow himself to be led through the streets to cheers of victory. They hit him, whip him, pull out his hair, and mock him, and generally humiliate him."

(Galicia 1743. Document no. 136) 8 Ibid.

Haman and Zeresh Burn Like a Candle in Frankfurt

It was a custom in the Jewish community of Frankfurt to erect a unique structure on the platform at the time when the Megillah was read. It was a kind of transparent palace, artfully made of wax, and painted gold. Haman was their together with his wife Zeresh. When they began reading the Megillah, they would light Haman and his wife.

9 Ibid.

Scribes

Even when ancient Jewish scribes would write the text of the Megillah, they would eradicate the memory of Haman (see Figure 1).

10 Ibid.

One Breath

One also makes noise when the names of Hamans ten sons are read. And their names are read in one breath, because they were all hanged at the same time.

Mainz. 11 Ibid. (Mainz 1238) 11 Ibid.

The London Authorities

"In London, there were many among the Sefardic Jews who opposed the practice of "eradicating the name of Haman on Purim, lest the non-Jews accuse the Jews of mocking Jesus. And when their fellow Jews did not listen to them, the leaders (hama'amad) appealed in 1783 to the local authorities to prohibit the Jews from banging with symbols, hammers, and so forth.

12 Ibid.

A Marriage Contract for Haman

It is a custom among Sefardic communities to write a "Marriage Contract" (ketubah) for Haman and his wife Zeresh. Here is how it begins:
"May God make of you a curse and an oath, and may the woman fated to you be more bitter than death.
"On the 16th of the 1st month, the month of Nisan, in the third year after the name of Amalek was blotted out, 3,444 years since the creation of the universe, according to the reckoning we maintain here in Shushan, capital of Persia, we witnessed how the cursed, stupid, notorious wild boar, enemy of the Jews, etc., Haman the wicked, may his name be blotted out, declared to this broken- down, evil hag, Zeresh... "Behold you are denied to me", and "Be my bitch, in accordance with the religion of Balaam, and Balak son of Tzipor, may there names be blotted out."
Signed:
Witness: Deaf Snake son of a Fool
Witness: Brainless son of Embarrassment

(From the collection of Ya'akov Tzidkuni, who received the document from Yehudah Cohen of Salonika) 13 Ibid.

The list of Jewish customs is a long one:

  • * Burning Haman in Effigy
  • * Burning candles shaped like Haman and Zeresh
  • * Writing the name of Haman by scribes
  • * Reading the names of Haman's ten sons in one breath
  • * The marriage contract
  • * Paying a living person to be mocked as Haman

To it, we add two of the main customs of our own time.

  • In some places, it is the custom to recite a liturgical poem after the reading of the Megillah: "Blessed be Mordekhai and Esther; cursed be Haman and Zeresh."
  • In recent generations, the main custom is the noisemaker that has been accepted in both Ashkenazic and Eastern Jewish communities.

Here is the source of the custom:

"On the first night of Passover, Christian children would go through the streets of the Jewish neighborhoods and congregate around the synagogues with noisemakers "to eradicate the memory of Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus's twelve apostles who betrayed his master. On that night, the priests would also 'eradicate the memory' of Judas with great noisemakers or with sticks upon wooden boards from the Church steeples.
"Owing to the proximity of Purim to Passover, this custom spread among the Jews as well."

14 Ibid.

After studying the custom oferadicating the memory of Haman in all its variety throughout history, one can conduct a discussion in class on how the students feel about the custom. It is possible to highlight both the positive and the negative aspects of the custom:

Let us not rush to judge our ancestors. Let us rather try to understand the contexts in which the custom developed. It is true that at times, eradicating the memory of Haman took on a meaning that transcended remembering the imperative to blot out the name of Amalek and became an expression of the frustration of Jews towards the non-Jews. However, we must remember that at the time when the nations were literally and cruelly murdering Jews, the Jews possessed a symbolic way of defending themselves and expressing their anger: verbal beating and the noisemaker in their hands.

Activity: Eradicating the name of Haman

Foreword

In our own time, however, in a world full of hate, what place is their for a custom that may very well increase hatred? We see that in certain communities the Jews refrained from this custom in order to maintain proper relations with their Christian neighbors.

In Israel, this discussion has a somewhat different character, and students can take part in the Israeli discussion: The custom developed at time when Jews were a minority in the countries where they lived, but such a custom in the sovereign Jewish State of Israel raises many moral questions with regard to our Arab neighbors. Is such a custom desirable in the State of Israel?

Teachers and educators should not force their views upon students, but rather guide the discussion in various directions and give students the opportunity to express their feelings towards the custom and its meaning.

Activity Description

How is the Memory of Haman Eradicated in Jewish Communities Around the World?

Introduction:

The teacher presents the topic briefly (5 minutes).

Stage 1
  • The teacher/educator divides the class into a number of groups (4 or 5 students per group)
  • The teacher provides each group with sources and pictures on the development of the custom of "eradicating the memory of" Haman.
  • The students study the sources (20 minutes).
Stage 2
  • The students formulate a position concerning the custom in our day. The students should highlight both the positive and negative aspects of the practice.
  • A representative of each group reports to the class on the various opinions expressed in his or her group (15 minutes).
Stage 3

Each member of the class writes a short essay expressing his or her opinion (20 minutes). Those who oppose the practice write in red, and those who support the practice write in blue.

Conclusion

The teacher/educator gives a brief summary of the development of the custom and reads several student essays.



Translated from the Russian language pilot series of educational modules from the Jewish Agency CIS Syllabus Project [1996]:
Purim in the context of attitudes towards Jews and Jewish attitudes towards their persecutors.

General Editor: David Pur
Project Director: Yossi Pnini
Production: Dvorah David-Shwartz, Meir Levinov [MIR]
Internet Editor: Gila Ansell Brauner
English Version: Chaim Mayerson

With the support of: The L. A. Pincus Fund for Jewish Education in the Diaspora
& In cooperation with: The Israel Ministry for Education & Culture


 

 

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15 Jun 2005 / 8 Sivan 5765 0