Object of the Month - March 2018 - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Object of the Month - March 2018

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March 2018

Grager (Noisemaker)

Grager (Noisemaker) Designer: Peter Ehrenthal (b. Romania 1920) Cast silver New York, 1960 B’nai B’rith Klutznick Collection of the Skirball Museum

The festival of Purim celebrates the continual resilience of the Jewish people and commemorates the story of Esther. The story associated with Purim takes place in Persia under the rule of King Ahasuerus. Ahasuerus banished his wife for disobeying him and he set up a pageant to find a new wife. A Jewish man named Mordechai encouraged his cousin Esther to try and win the position of Queen, which she did. Esther did not reveal to King Ahasuerus that she was Jewish.

Mordechai later received notice from the King when he was instrumental in foiling an assassination attempt on Ahasuerus. Meanwhile, the King’s advisor, Haman, had his own altercation with Mordechai when Mordechai refused to bow down to Haman in the street. Once Haman learned that Mordechai was Jewish, he decided to kill all of the Jews in Persia. Mordechai alerted Queen Esther of Haman’s plan and she revealed her Jewish identity to King Ahasuerus and convinced him to stop the execution of the Jewish people.

Esther and her story have become a symbol of faith, courage, and resilience to the Jewish people and each year she is honored by the reading of the Book of Esther. The Book of Esther is the last of five Megillot, or scrolls, which are found in the third and final part of the Tanakh (Jewish Bible) known as Ketuvim (The Writings). The Book of Esther, commonly known simply as The Megillah is the only biblical book that does not contain the name of God.

Grager (Noisemaker)Haman is considered to be an evil character in Esther’s story, and it is tradition whenever his name is said during the Purim story, to make noise to drown out his name. One object that is used to make noise is a grager, or noisemaker. A truly remarkable silver grager is housed at the Skirball Museum. This cast silver grager was made by Peter Ehrenthal and is rich with symbolism. The figures are a man wearing a party hat, a butting goat to his left, and a yeshiva student to his right. The Hebrew above the man translates as “Accursed Haman.”    

The man is drinking with his left hand--the side that was traditionally associated with evil. The goat on the man’s left side it is an iconographic symbol for inappropriate behavior. The yeshiva student is the symbol for goodness and purity, appropriately placed at the right. The Purim directive to "drink until the difference between good and evil cannot be discerned" was probably taken with a grain of salt, hence, the message here.