April 17, 2008
Had Gadya —according to S.Y. Agnon
Both the composition and inclusion of "Had Gadya" into the Passover haggadah are shrouded in mystery. |
This popular Aramaic song, chanted at the end of the seder purportedly to keep the children awake, is dated no earlier than the 15th century. Composed of 10 stanzas, "Had Gadya" follows a cumulative pattern similar to "The House That Jack Built," where a new detail is added in each stanza.
The thematic connection to Passover is vague, thus producing many allegorical commentaries over the ages, among them "Perush al Piska Had Gadya" by the famed 18th century Talmudist and kabbalist, Rabbi Jonathan Eybeschutz.
Enter S.Y. Agnon (1888-1970), Israel's foremost writer and first Nobel Laureate for Literature (1966). Agnon was a master of satire and irony, particularly when it came to religious matters. Himself an observant Jew, he pulled no punches when it came to questioning conventional religious views. Called a "revolutionary traditionalist" by literary critic Gershon Shaked, Agnon often used what Shaked called "pseudoquotations," which was his way of masking his revolutionary reading of a text by presenting it as if it is quoted in the name of an authoritative religious book or personality.
In his playful re-reading of "Had Gadya" (first published in Haaretz, 1943, in honor of Passover), Agnon opens up by presenting a seemingly authoritative rabbinic "chain of tradition" (itself a parody on "Had Gadya"), culminating with Eybeschutz. This "pseudoquotation" introduces Agnon's own question on "Had Gadya": whereas vengeance is extracted in the end, the injury done to the kid at the beginning remains unresolved. In attempting to resolve the problem, Agnon's analysis runs into a "religious brick wall": God does not come out righteous! In typical Agnonic fashion, he "resolves" the problem in another way, leaving the reader with a "all's well that ends well" ending filled with sarcasm.
Had Gadya - An Alternative Version
by S.Y. Agnon
I was told by Rav David Leib from Zanz
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