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What's a "Gragger"?

by Mrs. Nechama D. Kumer

  

Library » Holidays » Purim » The Customs | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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A “gragger” (Yiddish) or “ra'ashan” (Hebrew) is a noisemaker used to drown out Haman’s name when it is read from the Megillah.1 Often, a gragger is a box whose contents rattle when shaken, or a bar spun on a rod. Historic and elaborate graggers are often museum pieces.

While drowning out Haman’s name does not require a gragger (you can clap your hands and stomp your feet, too), this is the traditional tool of choice for doing so, and a children’s favorite.

The source for this custom lies in the Torah commandment to “wipe out the memory of Amalek” and all his descendents, which includes Haman. The Amalakite nation is the paradigm of evil and archenemy of the Jewish people. Haman attempted to actualize his Amalakite core hoping to annihilate the Jews of his time.

The Torah requires us to “remember” how Amalek was the first nation to attack the Jewish people when we were freed from Egypt. We verbally recall this in the morning prayers 365 days a year. There is an additional commandment “not to forget” what Amalek did to us, which we fulfill by consciously not forgetting this innately evil attack.

While we cannot positively ID any modern day Amalakites (though they do still exist, and there are likely candidates we can all think of), Amalek also exists in spirit—in the form of doubts. Just as the Amalakites sought to cool the Jewish people’s elated escape from Egyptian bondage, so too, does spiritual Amalek seek to cool our faith in G-d. He is the doubt that creeps into the relationship with our Creator.

Amalek is the mocking voice that slows our readiness to do G-d's Word, and the sly shadow suggesting we place our trust elsewhere. This is the Amalek that we must stomp out of our personal lives.

May our physical and spiritual graggers obliterate Amalek and Haman entirely and eternally!

Footnotes

  • 1. Some have the custom of making an explosive din every time the name “Haman” is read; others do so only when Haman’s name is accompanied by a descriptive term such as “Haman, hater of the Jews” or “Haman, the Aggagite.”

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Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Megillah
A scroll. Usually a reference to the Book of Esther, one of the books of the "Written Torah", which is read--from a scroll--on the holiday of Purim.
Haman
Descendant of anti-Semitic tribe of Amalek and prime minister of the Persian Empire in the 5th century b.c.e. Schemed to annihilate all the Jews, and the holiday of Purim was established when the plot was foiled.
Amalek
Anti-Semitic tribe descendant from Esau; first to attack the Jews upon leaving Egypt. We are commanded to remember their vile deed and obliterate all memory of them.
gragger
A small toy-like noisemaker used on Purim to make noise when Haman's name is mentioned during the reading of the Scroll of Esther.
Yiddish
Language closely related to German commonly spoken by European Jews.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.