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Throwback Thursday: Variations in the Haggadah text

T-S H2.152
T-S H2.152: Passover Haggadah with a Fifth Question.
Melonie Schmierer-Lee
Thu 14 Apr 2022

Our Throwback Thursday this week is taken from issue 55 of the printed edition of Genizah Fragments, published in April 2008, by Stefan C. Reif, Emeritus Professor of Medieval Hebrew at the University of Cambridge, and founder of the Genizah Research Unit:

At this time of the year, most Jewish families celebrate the first evening of Passover by recalling the biblical story of their ancestors’ exodus from Egypt at a domestic service called the seder (“order”), by way of a narrative entitled the haggadah (“recital”). This has, from at least the earliest rabbinic times, been a popular ritual, and it is therefore hardly surprising to find many relevant texts from the Genizah.
What may be surprising for those thoroughly familiar with the version as handed down in printed haggadah editions, and as chanted at the table through the generations, is that there are some remarkable variations between what came to be standard from about the twelfth century and what circulated in and around Egypt and the land of Israel in the period immediately beforehand, as documented in Genizah texts.
The qiddush toasts the festival over a glass of wine and introduces the proceedings. Its simple and standard format concentrates on God’s relationship with Israel and his gift of the festival.
In a number of Genizah texts (for example, T-S H2.124), it also contains a lengthy piece with detailed and poetic remarks about the historical origins of the festive day, including the sentence “on that day he brought his servants out of the iron furnace and rescued us” (כי בו הוציא את עבדיו מכור הברזל ואותנו מילט). The custom is noted but not forbidden by Sa‘adya Gaon in his prayerbook (pages 141–2).
Equally interesting is the addition at the conclusion of the qiddush not only of the blessing thanking God for our survival until this festival (שהחיינו), but also of the one used on Hanukkah and Purim, which offers gratitude for the miracles divinely performed for us (שעשה נסים לאבותנו), as in T-S H2.124, 152.
While the Exodus story is traditionally recited in Hebrew, there are Genizah texts in which parts of it appear in Aramaic (T-S H2.152). Many Genizah texts also include instructions in Judaeo-Arabic to guide the one leading the seder (T-S H2.112).
Most intriguing of all is the mah nishtanah passage traditionally recited by the youngest participant. From the early Middle Ages, this has consisted of four questions about the matzah (unleavened bread), the sharp-tasting vegetables, the two instances of dipping one item into another before eating it, and the custom of reclining at the table.
The passage is recorded in the Mishnah (Pesaḥim 10.4) and dates from at least the first century. Its earliest form probably referred to only three topics: the dipping, the matzah and the roast meat, the last-mentioned referring to the consumption of part of the paschal lamb just sacrificed in the Temple. Order and content then gradually underwent change.
Obviously, at some stage, the inclusion of this question about the roast lamb became dubious, because it was no longer relevant. But some Jews in the tenth-century land of Israel still included it, though in a different form, as recorded in Genizah text T-S H2.152: “On normal nights, we eat meat that is either roasted, stewed or boiled; but tonight we used to eat, in the Temple, only roast: והלילה הזה היינו אוכלים בבית המקדש כולו צלי.
The custom of eating roast lamb had apparently continued in some communities in post-talmudic times, but those responsible for this amendment had evidently ceased the practice and considered the question illogical. They could not, however, bring themselves to eliminate it completely.
Most of the Genizah versions are noted by the Babylonian geonic authorities as customs (often followed in the Jewish homeland) that should be discontinued. Their view prevailed in practical liturgy, but the Genizah texts have preserved the evidence.

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