Making Noise at the Mention of Haman’s Name

[Shut She'eilat Shlomo]

Question: Since making excessive noise at the mention of Haman disturbs many people, is it Halachically permissible to abolish it?

Answer:
1. The Rama wrote: "...The custom that we strike [something at the mention of] Haman when we read the Megilah in Shul has spread, and one should not abolish any custom or mock it since it was not established for naught" (Orach Chaim 690:17). It is therefore forbidden to abolish a custom of Israel.

2. The Mishnah Berurah wrote, however, that a custom which has a prohibited aspect to it may be abolished (Biur Halachah ibid.).

3. The basic nature of this custom does not contain any prohibited aspect to it, and great Rabbis of Israel customarily performed it: "And Ha-Gaon Yavetz (Rav Yaakov Emden) wrote regarding his father, the Chacham Tzvi, that he would hit, stamp his foot and strike his sandal when he arrived at the mention of Haman (Mishnah Berurah #59).

4. Throughout the generations, however, many mishaps were caused on account of this custom:
a. People did not hear the reading of the Megilah. This means that the actual Mitzvah (and the reason we are in Shul) was not fulfilled on account of a custom that is not even observed in all places (Mishnah Berurah ibid.).
b. People have behaved contrary to the Mitzvah of revering the Sanctuary. One should behave with seriousness and reverence in a Shul, and not with joking and levity, since the One who rests His Divine Presence is located within in it.
c. Damage has been caused to objects in the Shul.
d. Distress has been caused to fellow Jews.
e. Children have been taught the opposite of what is required: children must learn that the focus of being in Shul on Purim is listening to the Megilah and not striking something at the mention of Haman.

5. There were therefore some communities that decided to abolish making noise at the mention of Haman, and they publicly informed the entire city not to strike objects at the mention of Haman (Yafeh Lalev #690). And there was a time when the Sefardic Beit Din in Yerushalayim also held in this way, as did the Rabbis of Kushta (Kol Sinai, Halichot Olam pg. 41).

6. There are those who say that if our Rabbi, the Rama, knew where matters would lead, he would not have stated that one should not abolish this custom. The authorities wrote however that if a custom has changed from what it had been at the time of the Rishonim, it is permissible to abolish it (Be’er Heteiv ibid. #15). And the Mishnah Berurah also wrote of those who perform this custom: "their reward is canceled by their loss" (690:59).

7. Nevertheless, if the proceedings are proper and correct – meaning that people hit objects only in a manner that is appropriate for the holiness of a Shul, and do not disturb the hearing of the Megilah while doing so, etc. - we should not abolish this custom.