Ma Nishtana

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The Four Questions (Ma Nishtana) from the 14th century Sarajevo Haggadah

Ma Nishtana (Hebrew: מה נשתנה‎), are the first two words in a phrase meaning "Why is tonight different from all other nights?" The phrase appears at the beginning of each line of The Four Questions, traditionally asked via song by the youngest capable child attending Passover Seder.

The questions are included in the haggadah as part of the Maggid (מגיד) section.

Origins[edit]

The questions originate in the Mishna, Pesachim 10:4, but are quoted differently in the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds. The Jerusalem Talmud only records three questions; why foods are dipped twice as opposed to once, why matzah is eaten, and why the meat sacrifice is eaten exclusively roasted. (The last question is a reference to the paschal sacrifice which was fire-roasted).[1] The Babylonian Talmud quotes four questions; why matza is eaten, why maror is eaten, why meat is eaten exclusively roasted, and why food is dipped twice.[2] The version in the Jerusalem Talmud is also the one most commonly found in manuscripts.[3] As the paschal sacrifice was not eaten after the destruction of the temple, the question about the meat was dropped.[4] The Rambam and Saadia Gaon both add a new question to the liturgy to replace it: "why do we recline on this night?"[3] Ultimately, the question of reclining was maintained, in part to create a parallelism between the number of questions and the other occurrences of the number four in the hagaddah.[3]

Contemporary tunes[edit]

Ma Nishtana in Yiddish

Traditionally, Ma Nishtana is recited in the chant form called the major lern-steiger ("study mode" – a chant used for reciting lessons from the Talmud).[5] One of the current tunes widely used for the Ma Nishtana was written by Ephraim Abileah in 1936 as part of his oratorio "Chag Ha-Cherut".[6]

Text[edit]

The following text is that which is recorded in the original printed Haggadah.

English Transliteration Hebrew
Why is this night different
from all the other nights?;
Mah nishtanah, ha-laylah ha-zeh,
mi-kol ha-leylot
מַה נִּשְׁתַּנָּה, הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה
מִכָּל הַלֵּילוֹת
That in all other nights we do not
dip vegetables even once,
on this night, we dip twice?
She-b'khol ha-leylot 'eyn 'anu
matbilin 'afilu pa`am 'achat,
ha-laylah ha-zeh, shtey p`amim
שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת אֵין אָנוּ
מַטְבִּילִין אֲפִילוּ פַּעַם אֶחָת
הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה, שְׁתֵּי פְעָמִים
That on all other nights we eat both
chametz and matzah,
on this night, we eat only matzah?
She-b'khol ha-leylot 'anu 'okhlin
chameytz u-matzah,
ha-laylah ha-zeh, kulo matzah
שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת אָנוּ אוֹכְלִין
חָמֵץ וּמַצָּה
הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה, כֻּלּוֹ מַצָּה
That on all other nights we eat
many vegetables,
on this night, maror?
She-b'khol ha-leylot 'anu 'okhlin
sh'ar y'rakot,
ha-laylah ha-zeh, maror
שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת אָנוּ אוֹכְלִין
שְׁאָר יְרָקוֹת
הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה, מָרוֹר
That in all other nights
some eat and drink sitting with others reclining,
but on this night, we are all reclining?
She-b'khol ha-leylot 'anu 'okhlin
ushotin beyn yoshvin u-veyn m'subin,
ha-laylah ha-zeh, kulanu m'subin
שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת אָנוּ אוֹכְלִין ושותין
בֵּין יוֹשְׁבִין וּבֵין מְסֻבִּין
הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה, כֻּלָּנוּ מְסֻבִּין

Alternate order[edit]

In the Ashkenazi tradition, the order is as follows: 1. Dipping the food 2. Eating matzah 3. Eating bitter herbs 4. Reclining. The Ashkenazi communities also omit the use of the word "ushotin", which means "to drink". The Chabad communities have changed their Ashkenazi tradition to be in line with the oldest extant haggadot[7][8]

Contemporary use[edit]

The four questions are traditionally asked by the youngest person at the table that is able to do so.[9] Much of the seder is designed to fulfill the biblical obligation to tell the story to one's children,[10] and many of the customs that have developed around the Four Questions are designed to pique a child's curiosity about what is happening in order to hold their attention.[9]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Jerusalem Talmud, Pesachim, 60b
  2. ^ Talmud bavli, Pesachim, 116a
  3. ^ a b c Kasher, Menachem Mendel. הגדה שלמה (in Hebrew). Jerusalem: תורה שלמה.
  4. ^ Rambam, Mishnah Torah, hilchot chumetz u matza, 8:3
  5. ^ Nulman, Macy, Concise Encyclopedia of Jewish Music (1975, NY: McGraw-Hill) pp. 94 (s.v. "Haggadah") & 151 (s.v. "lern-steiger", with a music score for Ma Nishtana).
  6. ^ Weiss, Sam. "Chazzanut – Mah Nishtanah". Retrieved 2008-09-21.
  7. ^ Cotler, Yisroel. Why Is Chabad’s Four Questions Different Than All Others’? Chabad.org.
  8. ^ Guggenheimer, Heinrich, The Scholar's Haggadah: Ashkenazic, Sephardic, and Oriental Versions (1995, NJ: Jason Aronson Inc.) pp. 24–27.
  9. ^ a b "Judaism 101: Pesach Seder: How is This Night Different". Retrieved 2008-09-21.
  10. ^ Exodus, 13:8

External links[edit]