They say that part of what keeps Yiddishkeit going for all these generations is that every social deviant has some kind of release. Think about it: Pesach is for adults with OCD, Tisha B’Av is for people who want to bring beach chairs to shul, Yom Kippur is for people obsessed with dieting, Rosh Hashanah is for people with a major sweet tooth to the extent that even their fruits need honey, Shavuos is for insomniacs and Purim is for people who like to bang on the table in shul. I know there are a lot of you out there, because every Rosh Chodesh, right before Shemoneh Esrei, six different guys bang, and I’m left there silently wondering what six things I have to add to my davening.
So on Purim, we get to bang every time we hear Haman’s name, because we want to blot him out. After all, Haman was the one who plotted the wholesale murder of our people, which is bad news, even though it has the word “wholesale” in it.
The reason we bang is to drown out the name of Haman, even though there’s a halacha that you have to hear every word of the Megilla, and Haman is like 54 of them. Also, no one technically bangs until after the guy says, “Haman,” so we don’t really drown him out, and anyway, after we bang, he usually says, “Haman” again. So basically, because we bang, we hear Haman’s name at least an extra 54 times. So huge victory there.
In fact, hearing Haman’s name is the reason most little kids show up. Kids love making noise in shul. They come to shul with their costume and their groggers and their Megilla made out of coloring pages in a Pringles can, all excited for legalized shul shrieking, and then they have to sit around for the first two perakim (Haman shows up late to his own Megilla) until they totally forget why they’re there, and that first Haman totally takes them by surprise.
A lot of these kids show up with groggers they made in school, where you put raw cholent beans between two paper plates stapled together. This is why beans are called “the musical fruit.” Probably.
But the thing about those groggers is that the beans keep moving. You can’t touch the grogger without it making noise. The teachers don’t really think this through. So you have to convince the kid to put it down on the table and not touch it for two whole perakim. Or hold his arm steady so he doesn’t accidentally shake it until Haman shows up. And you can’t tell him why, because we’re not allowed to talk.
That’s always been the challenge: We have to make noise during Haman, but we can’t talk during the Megilla. We have to get creative. How do you make noise without saying anything? Can I say “Boo”? I’ve definitely heard some people saying, “Boo,” during Haman. The jeering kind of boo, not like the kind where you’re trying to scare someone.
So can I say “Boo”? If I wash and haven’t eaten challah yet, I can’t talk, but I could say, “Noo,” right?
But that’s not really the challenge. The challenge is that every year I have to wait for Haman to blow my nose.
Okay, that sounded weird. Haman’s not blowing my nose. What I meant was that every year right after leining starts, I realize that I really need a tissue, but I also don’t want to make noise. So I have to wait until everyone bangs for Haman and try to time my nose-blowings so they’re not longer than the banging. Which means I blow harder, which means they’re loud. But in the meantime, I’m holding back sneezes until Perek Gimmel while trying to hold my kid’s grogger steady so it doesn’t rattle.
Sure, some people use those big, classic, wooden groggers. You know—the ones that weigh 15 pounds and you spin them over your head and knock out your neighbor who stands for Megilla?
Why is that the classic grogger? Those things are actually weapons!
I guess in the old days, when the Goyim heard us blotting out Haman’s name, they got upset. So they marched into shul, and when they saw us all holding those big, heavy things, they ran.
Okay, so in the old days, everyone used to stomp during Haman. At least I assume so, because that’s what all older people I’ve seen seem to do. I guess that’s how they grew up. And their parents were like, “This is too noisy. When I was growing up, everyone used to just frown.” So everyone stomped. Some people used to write Haman’s name at the bottom of their shoe, which is funny, because Purim’s the day that you’re most likely to get drunk and lose a shoe somewhere, and its only identification is the name on the bottom.
“Who is this Haman character? He’s sure losing a lot of shoes!”
Whereas nowadays, there seems to be this ongoing contest where everybody has to make the loudest noise during Haman. There could be a crashing din of a million things happening at once, but if the entire room doesn’t hear your noise personally, you’re not yotzeh the minhag.
I usually win with the nose-blowing thing.
One way people attempt to win is by, every time Haman’s name is said, trying to set off the smoke detectors. But when I was younger, I used party snappers. For like a quarter, you could get 50 snappers in a nice bag of itching powder. Fifty party snappers, 54 mentions of Haman. Coincidence? Maybe. Gematrios can’t really be four off. But then when you’re throwing party snappers at carpet, you have to re-throw a few, and you might even end up with leftovers. Unless you’re throwing them at the wall.
(This is not advised if you don’t sit near a wall.)
But then many of the foot-stomping crowd started putting their feet down, so to speak, and they decided that party snappers were inappropriate for shul, though arguably all of the noise is generally inappropriate for shul, so where do we draw the line? And eventually a lot of shuls banned it.
I was very upset about it, but the truth is that it really brings out people’s creativity. People bring in all kinds of things for Haman now, including pots and pans, drum sets and train whistles, and there’s always one guy in every shul who brings an air horn. And if he sits right next to you and keeps it in his bag until that first Haman and then surprises you with it and you jump out of your skin, you may halachically be allowed to punch him in the face. Ask your rav.
Point is, you can really get creative and bring things in, as long as those things are not more inappropriate for shul than a 15-pound flail, an air horn or nose blowing.
And if you sit next to an outlet, your possibilities are endless. Like you can bring in a blender. By the end of the Megilla, if you do this efficiently, you can have smoothies for everyone. Bring some hamantaschen along, and you have shalach manos.
The whole situation is very interesting, though. People talk about the hilarity of bringing newcomers to a Pesach seder and having them sit around for all of Maggid wondering when all the food is coming, or if the potato was it. But no one talks about bringing him to Megilla. He’ll be sitting silently and thinking, “Everyone is dressed up like it’s a party, but they’re all just sitting still. What’s happening here?”
“Squeak! Squeak! Squeak! (Nose blowing) Choo choo! Tekiyah! Bang! ‘Yaaleh v’yavo!’ Grog grog grog grog—‘Ow!’ Air hor-(Punch). Blend blend blend… ‘Boo!’ ‘Aaaah!’ Ba-dum cccssshhh! ‘What? Oh.’ Rattle rattle.”
And then suddenly everyone’s back to sitting still like nothing happened.
And yes, I miss party snappers. But I don’t know why we just have to bang for Haman during Megilla. Why can’t we bang for Haman all day?
So here’s a fun thing to try: This Purim, let’s try to get into conversations with people about inyanei d’yoma, and every time someone mentions Haman, make some noise. You can even set off a firecracker. But don’t call attention to it—just keep schmoozing afterward like nothing happened.
Or maybe, instead of throwing things (if that’s been disallowed in your house), you can turn it into a drinking game.
Oh wait, we do.
By Mordechai Schmutter
Mordechai Schmutter is a freelance writer and a humor columnist for Hamodia, among other papers. He also has five books out and does stand-up comedy. You can contact him at [email protected].