You and Us in the 12th century Corpus Christi Passover Haggadah Manuscript

Monday, 13 April, 2020 - 8:35 pm

Screen Shot 2020-04-14 at 01.43.38 am.pngThe Haggadah presents the Exodus story in the context of the four sons: the wise, the wicked, the simpleton and the one that does not know how to ask. The Haggadah text in the Ashkenazi Siddur CCC MS 133 presents the wise question as follows: 'What does the wise son say? "What are these testimonies, statutes and judgments that the Lord our G-d commanded us?"' And accordingly you will say to him, as per the laws of the Pesach sacrifice, "We may not eat an afikoman [a dessert or other foods eaten after the meal] after [we are finished eating] the Pesach sacrifice."[1]


This text of the CCC MS 133 Haggadah is based on the verse in Deuteronomy[2] with a variation: instead of stating: ‘the L-rd our G-d has commanded us,’ the Biblical verse states: ‘the L-rd our G-d has commanded you.’ The reason for the change in the Haggadah from ‘you’ to ‘us’ is since the wicked son is criticised for asking: ‘What is this service to you?! He says ‘to you,’ but not ‘to him!’ By thus excluding himself from the community he has denied that which is fundamental.’




This change of the Biblical text in the Haggadah from ‘you’ to ‘us’ is found first in the Jerusalemite Talmud[3] and Midrash Mechilta.[4] It is then followed in the Haggadah texts, beginning with the oldest Siddur with the Haggadah text, the Ashkenazi Siddur CCC MS 133, the 13th century Haggadah text found in the Etz Chaim compendium of Jewish law by Rabbi Jacob ben Judah Chazan of London, and other medieval Haggadot including: the 'Hispano-Moresque Haggadah' - BL Or 2737 (1275-1324)[5] and Italian Haggadah Bodleian MS Canon. Or. 18 (1450-1500).[6] In addition, early printed editions of the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides, printed in Rome (c. 1480), Constantinople (1509), Venice (1550 and 1574-5), all state ‘us’ instead of ‘you.’




The reversion of the text back to ‘you’ instead of ‘us,’ can be found in both stand-alone Haggadah texts and Haggadah texts that form part of a Machzor for the whole year. The earliest appears to be in France in the Machzor Vitry[7] by disciple of Rashi, Rabbi Simcha of Vitry (d. 1105), followed by numerous Haggadah manuscripts found at the British and Bodleian Library: the ‘Golden Haggadah’ - Add MS 27210 (1320-1330),[8] ‘Barcelona Haggadah’ - BL Add MS 14761 (1325-1350),[9] ‘Brother Haggadah’ – BL Or 1404 (1350-1374),[10] ‘Ashkenazi Haggadah’ – BL Add MS 14762 (1430-1470),[11] and Bodleian Library MS. Canonici Or. 49A (1375-1425) of Romanite rite.[12] In addition, the manuscript of Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah - Bodleian Library MS. Pococke 307 (1301-1400),[13] as well as the standard Warsaw-Vilna (1881) edition of the Mishneh Torah have ‘you’ instead of ‘us.’ In an Ashkenazi manuscript Siddur at the British Library with commentary by Rabbi Elazar of Worms - Add MS 27556 (1200-1399),[14] the text of the Haggadah first had ‘us’ (otanu) written and was changed by an unknown hand to ‘you’ (etchem). Later Haggadah texts in the 16th century, as the Haggadah of Rabbi Judah Loew (1525-1609), as do modern day Ashkanazi and Sephardi Haggadah texts, also state ‘you.’


Not excluding


The basic justification for retaining ‘you,’ as found in the Biblical text, can be found in the commentary of Rashi and Machzor Vitry: the wise son does not in fact exclude himself from the community, denying that which is fundamental, since prior to saying ‘has commanded you,’ he declares: ‘our G-d’, thus including himself in the fear of G-d.


Why ‘You’?


The following reasons are given for using the word ‘you’ in the verse: a. Rabbi Simcha Vitry and Rabbi David Abudarham[15] explain it is being spoken by the wise son, who was born after the Exodus to his ancestors who were born before the Exodus.[16] b. Rabbi Zedekiah ben Benjamin explains the word ‘you’ is used, since the wise son is a minor and is not obligated in the Pesach offering.[17] c. Rabbi Joseph I. Schneersohn (1880-1950) explains that ‘you’ refers to post-Sinai, whereas the son is asking from the perspective of before Sinai.[18] d. Rabbi Judah Loew (1525-1609) explains that once the wise son has included himself in the fear of G-d, phrasing the question: ‘What are the commandments that G-d commanded us’ would have implied a rejection.[19]


Based on the use of the word ‘you,’ the following interpretations of the wise son’s question is offered: a. Rashi, Rabbi Simcha Vitry,[20] Rabeinu Kalonymus and Italian Rabbi Isaiah di Trani[21] explain the wise son’s question is: since the Pesach offering is the main offering for Passover,[22] it should have been offered before the Chagigah festival offering.[23] b. Rabbi Benjamin ben Abraham Anaw explains the question is: why the unique law regarding the Pesach offering that one may partake of it only in one company and even an olive-size portion may not be removed from the company.[24] c. Rabbi David Abudarham and Rabbi Dan Isaac Abrabanel (1437–1508) explain the question is: why are there various categories of laws relating to the Pesach offering including: commemorative laws - eating a lamb,[25] Matza and bitter herbs to commemorate the redemption; superrational law - not to allow a broken bone; and rational laws – the Pesach offering is limited only to Jews, as it was they who left Egypt, and other laws about not eating leaven.[26] d. Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz (1555-1630) phrases the question: how could the Pesach offering be called commemorative, superrational and rational all together, when they are contradictory?[27] e. Rabbi Judah Loew (1525-1609) explains the question refers to the general commandments: why did G-d command the Mitzvot? f. Rabbi Chaim Palachi (1788–1868) explains[28] the question refers specifically to the rational laws: why does the Torah need to command laws that logic in any case dictates? g.  Rabbi Joseph I. Schneerson (1880-1950) explains the question is: how does a physical commandment after Sinai bring a person close to G-d, as opposed to the spiritual service of the patriarchs before Sinai.[29]


In conclusion: the text of the wise son was changed so not to sound similar to the wicked son. For this reason the term ‘us’ is found in the Ashkenazi Siddur MS CCC 133. The subsequent generations and earlier in France, however, found many interpretations to allow the Haggadah text to retain the use of the word ‘you’ in the question of the wise son, while not appearing to exclude himself from Jewish observance.[30]






[1] Mishnah Pesachim 10:8.

[2] Deuteronomy 6:20.

[3] Talmud Pesachim 10:4 (70b): ‘What does the wise son say? "'What are these testimonies, statutes and judgments that the Lord our G-d commanded us? (Deuteronomy 20:6)" And accordingly you will say to him, ‘With the strength of [His] hand did the Lord take us out from Egypt, from the house of slaves (Exodus 13:14).’’

[4] Parshat Bo.

[5] Haggadah for Passover according to the Spanish rite:

[6] Fol. 349:

[7] Machzor Vitry, vol. 2, p. 425 (Goldschmidt).





[12] Fol. 54:

[13] Fol. 181.

[14] Fol. 148:

[15] Machzor Vitry (Goldschmidt), p. 425.

[16] Machzor Vitry (Goldschmidt), p. 425. Da’at Z’keinim from the Tosafists.

[17] Shibbolei ha-Leket in the name of Rabbi Zedekiah ben Benjamin, elder cousin of the author of Shebbolei ha-Leket, Rabbi Zedekiah ben Abraham Anaw. The source for this is Talmud Pesachim 91a and Sukkah 42b, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Korban Pesach 2:4. In Kessef Mishne it however clarifies that a minor is not obligated based on the rationale that he does not have the ability to make an item sacred. This would imply that is he is old enough for his vows to be valid he is obligated to bring a Pesach offering. The text in the Shibbolei Ha-Leket is difficult, as it states: one may not slaughter the Pesach offering over a minor, which refers to even as part of a group, which is contradicted by all opinions, as Maimonides, based on the Talmud, states (Laws of Korban Pesach 2:3): ‘If one of the members of the company was a minor, an elder person, or infirm, he may be counted among those for whom the Paschal sacrifice is slaughtered if he is capable of eating an olive-sized portion.’ It’s possible that the text in Shibbolei Ha-Leket in fact refers to the minor’s own obligation.

[18] Sefer Ham’amarim 1940 p. 54. Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson elaborates that the wise son in fact is perpetually in a state of pre-Sinai thereby constantly perceives the Torah as newly acquired (Sefer Ham’amarim Melukat vol. 4, 221).

[19] Maharal on the Haggadah.

[20] Machzor Vitry (Goldschmidt), p. 425.

[21] The latter both quoted in Shebbolei Haleket byRabbi Zedekiah ben Abraham Anaw.

[22] Talmud Pesachim 69b

[23] The answer to this question in the Haggadah is that the law is that one should not eat anything after the Pesach offering so that the taste of the Pesach offering, due to its importance, is that which remains in one’s mouth.

[24] Mishneh Torah, Laws of Korban Pesach 9:1, based on Exodus 12:46. Shebbolei ha-Leket on Chacham ma hu omer.

[25] Arabanel (Zevach Pesach) explains the reason for it being a lamb is to remember that the exodus took place during the constellation of the lamb.

[26] Rabbi David Abudarham commentary on the Haggadah; Abrabanel commentary on the Haggadah, Zevach Pesach. The answer to this question is primarily in the verses in Deuteronomy that follows the question (6:21-25): “You shall say to your son, "We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord took us out of Egypt with a strong hand. And the Lord gave signs and wonders, great and terrible, upon Egypt, upon Pharaoh, and upon all his household, before our eyes (commemorative). And he brought us out of there (rational), in order that He might bring us and give us the land which He swore to our fathers. And the Lord commanded us to perform all these statutes, to fear the Lord, our G-d, for our good all the days (ultimate reward for the super-rational laws), to keep us alive, as of this day. And it will be for our merit that we keep to observe all these commandments before the Lord, our G-d, as He has commanded us." The answer to the wise son’s question in the Haggada about not eating after the Pesach lamb, is to say that in addition to the answer given in Deuteronomy to the questions asked, one should teach the wise son all the laws of Passover up until the final law that one should not eat after the Paschal offering, indicating the idea that the fundamental concept remaining on one’s mind should be the Exodus. 

[27] The answer, according to the Shelah, is: the supperational is the fact that the Pesach offering must be eaten in one home and not in two places, despite G-d having passed over from home to home on the night of the Exodus.

[28] Haggadah with commentary of Rabbi Haim Palachi (1788–1868).

[29] Sefer Ham’amarim 1940, p. 54.

[30] A reason for the use of the term ‘us’ in the earlier Haggadah texts may be understood further considering the discussion whether a minor is generally exempt from the Mitzvot. In general a minor is exempt due to lack of intellectual maturity (Talmud Chagigah 2a, Rashi). This would explain the term ‘you’ in regard the wise son according to the interpretation that the wise son is in fact asking about the general commandments, as proposed by Rabbi Judah Loew, Rabbi Chaim Palachi and Rabbi Joseph I. Schneerson. If, however, the question of the wise son is focused specifically on the Pesach offering, as proposed by Rabbi Klonymus and others, then one may argue in fact for the inclusive term ‘us’ to be used. There is a dispute pertaining to the question of the obligation of a minor in relation to the Pesach offering. Maimonides writes (Laws of Korban Pesach 5:7): ‘A convert who converts between the first Pesach and the second Pesach and similarly, a child who comes of age between these two holidays is obligated to offer the second Paschal sacrifice. If one slaughtered the first Pascal sacrifice for the sake of the minor, the minor is exempt from bringing the second sacrifice.’ Rabbi Joseph Karo (1488-1575) in his commentary to the Mishneh Torah (Laws of Korban Pesach 5:7), Kesef Mishneh, poses a question: The law is that if a person, beyond their control, does not take part in the Pesach offering on the first holiday of Pesach, then he is obligated to take part in the offering on the second Pesach (30 days later). Then, as the child was not of age during the first Pesach, why is the minor not obligated to bring the Pesach offering on the second Pesach? 16th century Rabbi Joseph Kurkus, known as Mahari Kurkus, in his commentary on Maimonides, explains that since the Scripture allows for a minor to be appointed individually to be a part of the Pesach offering together with his group, he receives a part of the obligation and thereby exempt of the obligation to bring a Pesach offering, once he comes of age, on the second Pesach (Kesef Mishnah on Mishneh Torah Laws of Korban Pesach 5:7. See Tzofnas Paneach, Hilchot Terumot 5:12, by Rabbi Joseph Rosen (1858-1936), known as the Rogatchover Gaon, who makes a distinction between specific designation of the minor and inclusion as part of the family - seh l’beit avot. In the latter the minor is merely an ancillary to the father and would have to bring a Pesach offering on the second Pesach). Thus, according to Maimonides, a minor has a form of obligation in the Pesach offering, together with his family (Chidushim u’biurim b’shas 2:200 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson). Combining, then, the view of Rabbi Klonymus in the narrow interpretation of the wise son’s question, and the legal view that a minor indeed has a form of obligation in the Pesach offering, the term ‘us’ is more appropriate. This would explain the term ‘us’ in the question of the wise son, according to the Jerusalemite Talmud and all the older texts, including Ashkenazi Siddur CCC MS 133, Etz Chaim and the original text (before the correction) of the Haggadah in British Library. This would be particularly consistent with the various versions of Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah that have ‘us’ written. 


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