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Ha Lachmah Anya and Haggadah Translations

This post is dedicated to the memory of Megan Charlop z”l, who was killed yesterday while riding her bicycle in the Bronx. Her life was filled with acts of hesed and she lived her life according to the Haggadah’s exhortation, “Let all who are hungry come and eat.” May her memory be for a blessing.

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Trans.: This is the bread of poverty which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are needy come and celebrate the Passover. At present we are here; next year may we be in the land of Israel. At present we are slaves; next year may we be free. (The Shechter Haggadah, 28)

The Ha Lachma Anya section of the Passover Haggadah is unique because most of it is in Aramaic, while the rest of the Haggadah is in Hebrew. For hundreds of years scholars have been trying to explain why this portion is in Aramaic. Here is the summary by Josh Kulp in the Schechter Haggadah. (191)

This opening declaration appears in geonic Haggadot and in most manuscripts and geniza fragments of the Haggadah, but does not appear in ancient Eretz Yisraeli Haggadot. Although a few elements of the paragraph are found in the Bavli, they are not presented there in the context of the Pesah seder. According to Safrai (111) the statement is a geonic composition and thus in Aramaic. Early prayers were composed in Hebrew, but in the geonic period prayers, announcements, monographs and responsa were frequently written in Aramaic. Indeed, even the Hebrew words (לשנה הבאה, בני חורין) appear in earlier versions of the Haggadah in Aramaic. The Hebrew words are Hebraisms of later copyists.

This section was intentionally written in Aramaic so that as many people as possible could understand it, but what happens when people aren’t able to understand either this section or other parts of the Haggadah? There is evidence that already in the Geonic period different parts of the Haggadah were being translated. Rav Natroni Gaon is said to have translated the Mah Nishtanah for the members of his household. (Shaarei Simcha, vol. 2, 102)

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The entry Haggadah from the Jewish Encyclopedia has the following.

From early days it has been customary to translate the Haggadah into the vernacular for the benefit of children. Aaron ha-Kohen of Lunel (14th cent.) mentions it as a laudable custom, and says that it was done in England (Moses Isserles, in his commentary on Ṭur Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 473).

This statement is based up a comment by R. Moses Isserles found in his Darchei Moshe, OH par. 473.

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Trans. Rabbi Yisrael Bruna wrote, “One should say Ha Lachma in a language that the children and women understand. This is what R”i from London (?) did, he translated the entire Haggadah into the vernacular in order that the children and women would understand.” The Kol Bo wrote that this is a proper custom.

The entry from the JE is a bit misleading, since the Kol Bo, i.e. R. Aharon ha-Cohen of Narbonne, didn’t comment on the custom to translate the entire Haggadah, he spoke about the custom to translate the Ha Lachma and Ma Nishtanah sections, emphasizing how important it is that people understand not only the questions, but the also the answers.

ספר כלבו סימן נ ד”ה ואומר ההגדה

ואומר ההגדה ומתחיל הא לחמה עניא כו’, ויש לועזים הא לחמא ומה נשתנה כדי שיבינו הנשים והטף, ויש לועזים אף עבדים ומנהג יפה הוא אחר השאלה שילעזו אף התשובה כי מה תועיל הבנת השאלה אם לא ידעו התשובה, ואומר כל ההגדה וכל המאריך לספר במעשה שהיה הרי זה משובח, וכל מי שלא אמר שלשה דברים אלו בפסח לא יצא ידי חובתו ואלו הן פסח מצה ומרור וכשמגיע למצה זו מגביה מצה אחת מן הקערה ומראה לכל בני החבורה וכן יעשה מן המרור כשיגיע למרור זה, ואח”כ אומר לפיכך ויש נוהגין לקחת הכוס בידו כשמתחילין לפיכך ואין מניחים אותו עד שיברכו בורא פרי הגפן וכן היה נוהג הרמב”ם ז”ל.

Below is the parallel section in the Orchot Hayyim.

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There are a number of other instances of medieval sources testifying to translations of parts of the Passover Seder. See some of these sources that are brought by R. Kasher in Haggadah Shleimah, 109.

An interesting case of a Haggadah translation was done by an Italian woman. Yael Levin has written here (English) and here (Hebrew) about Flora Randegger-Friedenberg, a nineteenth century Italian Jewish woman who translated the Haggadah into Italian.

For over a thousand years, people have been trying to enable others to both understand and find the Haggadah meaningful, may we succeed in doing so this year.

2 Responses to “Ha Lachmah Anya and Haggadah Translations”

  1. 1
    Jeff:

    I wanted to thank you for the reference to the Schechter hagadah. I bought one based on your mention. It has added so much my chag. Fascinating essays, which sent me to some other interesting reading.

  2. 2
    Menachem Mendel:

    I agree that it’s a wonderful haggadah and I am glad that you are enjoying it.

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