There is an ancient and widespread custom that when the name of Haman is mentioned during the Megillah reading on Purim, the congregation (especially the children) spin gragers (ratchets), bang, shout, stamp their feet and generally make a ruckus.

This custom is recorded in the writings of the Rabbi David Abudraham (14th century, Spain), who writes that there had been an earlier custom for children to draw a picture or write the name of Haman on wood or stones and then bang them together to “erase” Haman’s representation. This is in line with the verse, “You shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven”1 since Haman was a descendant of Amalek. This custom, he writes, later evolved into the practice of banging and making noise when the name of Haman is read.2 Today, this is often accomplished by spinning gragers.

Some have discouraged this custom,3 but both Rabbi Yosef Caro4 and Rabbi Moses Isserles5 reference it and add that “one should not nullify any custom or belittle it” as there is meaning behind the custom.

Although the basic reason for making noise stems from blotting out the name of Haman, there are additional meanings behind the custom as well:

Reluctant to Mention Haman in the First Place

Rabbi Moses Sofer (Chatam Sofer, 1762–1839, Central Europe) explains that we are commanded in the Torah to obliterate any remembrance of the nation of Amalek. Yet, there is no bigger “remembrance” of the nation of Amalek than when we read about Haman in the Megillah. We therefore raise a ruckus—after hearing Haman’s name—to show that we don’t want to really hear his name, but are doing so only because it is a mitzvah to listen to the entire Book of Esther, including the parts where Haman is mentioned. (In order to fulfill one’s obligation, one must hear every word, so don’t start your noisemaking until the reader finishes saying the name Haman, and stop as soon as the reader or the rabbi signals it is time to stop.)6

Flogging the Guilty

Rabbi Mordechai Yaffeh (Levush, 1530–1612) notes that the final letters of the words והיה אם בן הכות הרשע, “if the [guilty one] is to be beaten”,7 spell out the name Haman (המן). Thus, we bang when we hear the name Haman.8

Obliterating Haman

After the Jews fought the Amalekites in the desert, G‑d said to Moses, “Inscribe this [as] a memorial in the book, and recite it into Joshua's ears, that I will utterly blot out (ומחה אמחה) the remembrance of Amalek from beneath the heavens.”9 The Midrash expounds that “I will utterly blot out” means that G‑d will erase the remnant of Amalek even from wood and stone. Thus, the custom evolved to write (and subsequently erase) the name of Haman on wood or stone.

The words “I will utterly blot out” (ומחה אמחה) also have the same numeric value as זה המן, “this is Haman.”10 Furthermore, Rabbi Pinchas of Koreitz (18th century) explains that the word מחה is sometimes translated as “hit” or “bang.”11

Haman’s Punishment

If Haman’s plans were realized, G‑d forbid, then we ourselves would not exist. In a sense, he is therefore a threat to every generation of Jews and must be combatted all over again. Rabbi Chaim Palagi (1788–1868, Turkey) explains that when we bang during the reading of Haman’s name, then in a spiritual sense, Haman is beaten once again in Purgatory.12

When to Bang

Many have the custom to bang and/or make noise every single time the name of Haman is mentioned in the Megillah. Others only bang when there is some honorific attached to Haman’s name (this is the Chabad custom), or only when the context discusses his downfall.

Stamping vs. Banging

Some are particular to make noise by stamping their feet.13 Amalek is compared to the “heel,” the lowest of the low. During the previous exiles, we rectified all the other parts of our collective spiritual “body,” so all that is left to refine is the heel.14 Since the heel is less sensitive to sensation than other body parts, it is comparable to Amalek, who “cools off” a person’s inspiration. Stamping the foot serves to weaken and topple this internal Amalek.

The mystics explain that the spiritual war with Amalek continues throughout the generations, especially in the waning days of the present exile. When we fulfill the mitzvah of obliterating the spiritual Amalek, the world comes that much closer to the time when G‑dliness will be manifest to all with the coming of Moshiach. May it be speedily in our days!

Click here for some great Purim gragers.