Monday, March 29, 2004

Ruminating upon Chad Gadya:

Chad Gadya is an Aramaic song sung at the end of the seder. Yet many of the pronunciations of the verbs are incorrect for Aramaic. This is liekely due to the fact that most people don't speak Aramaic.

examples: DiZabin Abba BiTrei Zuzei.
Zabein = sold. Zevein = bought. That father bought for two zuzim = Dizvein Abba BiTrei Zuzei

Also, VeAta. Vav Sheva Aleph Kametz Suf kametz Aleph. That would mean "and comes," present tense. We want past tense, so there should be a patach under the Vav, a chataf patach under the aleph. In general there is a tendency to impose Hebrew past tense verb forms to the Aramaic words.

One exception is the nouns, which are consistently in Aramaic. Gadya, Shunra, Kalba, Chutra, Nura, Maya, Tora.
Then, Shochet, Malach HaMavet, HaKadosh Baruch Hu.
I'm not sure about shochet (it also breaks the pattern and perhaps should be Tabecha), but the latter two are in Hebrew, not Aramaic. The definite article (the) in Hebrew is Ha, in Aramaic is kametz Aleph at the end of the word. So We would expect perhaps something along the lines of malacha demavet, or demaveta. And certainly it should be Kudsha Brich Hu, rather than HaKadosh Baruch Hu.

Three possibilities: 1) It was originally composed like this, perhaps early on for some odd reason, or late, by an author who did not know his Aramaic so well. 2) It was originally in Aramaic and for some odd reason the last few stanzas had the additional nouns in Hebrew. 3) The song originally did not have HaKadosh Baruch Hu, or the Angel of Death, and perhaps not the shochet. This is a song to keep the kids awake to the end of the seder, and was perhaps not religious in origin. Perhaps it ended with the cow, or will the man at the top of the food cycle, but was made religious with the addition of the extra stanzas.

Just ruminations. Please let me know in the comments if you can shed further light on this. Thanks.

Update: Add to that another stylistic change. Every stanza from the first part introduces a new, interesting verb. Bought, Ate, Bit, Hit, Burned, Extinguished, Drank. The last 3 stanzas are repetitive and thus unimaginative in their verb: Shechted = slaughtered.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

"This is a song to keep the kids awake to the end of the seder"

Does that make sense when it's the last song of the seder? If that's all it is, why not simply skip it and put the kids to sleep?

"and was perhaps not religious in origin. Perhaps it ended with the cow, or will the man at the top of the food cycle, but was made religious with the addition of the extra stanzas."

do you really think that our ancestors, including rabbonim and tzadikim, recited a silly song on the holy night of Pesach, leil shimurim, at the seder table?!

joshwaxman said...

"Does that make sense when it's the last song of the seder? If that's all it is, why not simply skip it and put the kids to sleep?"

1) anticipation - they know that if they hang in there, they will get to the fun songs.

2) who says the placement was originally at the end of the seder. perhaps this -- and "Who Knows One" were interspersed.

"do you really think that our ancestors, including rabbonim and tzadikim, recited a silly song on the holy night of Pesach, leil shimurim, at the seder table?!"

there are many things in the seder inserted there to keep the children awake and interested. the purpose of the night is to tell over the hagada to the children. why do some have the custom to hand out nuts? this way of engaging children is exactly a way of fulfilling the mitzvah, and I would not put it past rabbonim and tzadikim to fulfill the miztvah in exactly this way.

Sandy Cytrynbaum said...

There is a small group of people who sing a variant of Chad Gadyo in Yiddish at our seders. We have been trying to find the origin and reason for this song, and have uncovered a number of "cumulative" folksongs in many languages, involving animals and phenomena of nature, dating back long before the official inclusion of the Chad Gadyo.

Some are like the Chad Gadyo, in that there is an action in each verse. In our version, there is no action - the animals/elements do NOT want to act, until the Lord himself comes forward and sets the action in motion.

My feeling is that our version, suitably moralized, made its way into the seders in a casual way - kids knew the words and the language, and loved the added chance to participate. As it beccame more entrenched in the seder, the reaction of the rabbis and scholars to this heathen-based inclusion to the seder was that it might be a good idea to cater to the children, but that this song was not acceptable. Using another cumulative folksong, they doctored it (brilliantly, as it turned out), translated it into Aramaic (a common Jewish language in the 16th century) and published it in a Haggadah.

But the old version lingered on, would not be so easily displaced, and in some families, it is still sung four centuries later. We truly thought we were the only ones who sang it, but now we have found others.

If you are interested in knowing more about this song, or if you sing it at your family seder,please check the website http://www.appleswillnotfall.org/
or contact sanstan3@hotmail.com.

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