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Chad Gadya in Jerusalem

By Tamar Hayardeni
 
Of all the places in the world, ancient Jerusalem is the place where one can almost tangibly feel the Jew’s historical “Chad Gadya”. It all begins with the Canaanites, from whom David conquered Jerusalem, except the Babylonians came and destroyed the First Temple. Koresh returned us to Jerusalem and we built the Second Temple, but the Greeks destroyed its purity and the Romans destroyed the Temple. Then came the Muslims who defeated the Byzantines but were defeated by the Crusaders, who were expelled by the Ayyubids, who were defeated by the Mamluks, who were expelled by the Ottomans, who were crushed by the British and Chad Gadya Chad Gadya…
 
When compared with the Jerusalem Chad Gadya, the famous piyut, or Jewish liturgical poem, is not so old at all. The piyut is believed to have been written in France, only 600 years ago. It first appears in a prayer book of the community of Provence in 1406. Interestingly, the piyut was not printed in the prayer book, but handwritten in one of the last pages. The French prayer book reached Ashkenaz and ended up in a genizah (a temporary storage place for holy documents as they await burial) in Prague. Two hundred years later, in 1590, someone leafed through its pages, and apparently loving the piyut, copied it into the Passover Haggadah. This is the first time that Chad Gadya appeared in a Hagaddah. From there, its popularity spread, eventually becoming a mainstay in Haggadot everywhere. 
 
But what is the connection between Chad Gadya and Leil Haseder, the first night of Passover?
There are those that say that it is all about a kid, a baby goat, that his father bought for two zuzim (ancient currency) to use as the Passover sacrifice. Another interpretation compares the kid to Joseph, the cat to his brothers, the dog to Egypt who enslaved the Jews, the stick to Moses’s stick, the fire to the evil inclination of those that complained in the desert, the water to Torah, the ox to the sin of the Golden Calf, the butcher to Moses, the Angel of Death to the Angel of Death, and God…to God. The “Jerusalem” interpretation views the piyut as a parable of the historical process described above: The father who bought the kid is God who chose the people of Israel, the nations of the world "devour" the chosen people and harm one another in order to replace him, but God ultimately restores greatness to the nation of Israel. 
 
Yehuda Amichai connected Chad Gadya to ancient Jerusalem in a beautiful poem titled, “An Arab Shepherd is Searching for his Goat on Mount Zion”. The poet describes the distress of a shepherd who is searching for a lost kid (baby goat) and a Jewish father who is searching for his son who disappeared among the trees of Jerusalem. 
 
An Arab shepherd is searching for his goat on Mount Zion
And on the opposite hill I am searching for my little boy.
An Arab shepherd and a Jewish father
Both in their temporary failure.
Our two voices met above
The Sultan's Pool in the valley between us.
Neither of us wants the boy or the goat
To get caught in the wheels
Of the "Chad Gadya" machine.
 
Afterward we found them among the bushes,
And our voices came back inside us
Laughing and crying.
 
Searching for a goat or for a child has always been
The beginning of a new religion in these mountains. 
 
Photo credit: Yisrael Visotzky
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chad Gadya in Jerusalem

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