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Aramaic in the Passover Haggadah

הא לחמא עניא די אכלו אבהתנא בארעא דמצרים

כל דכפין ייתי וייכול, כל דצריך ייתי ויפסח

השתא עבדי, לשנה הבאה בני חורין

Did you know that the Haggadah was adapted over the centuries by local Jewish traditions around the world?

It's nearly Passover - one of the most memorable and exciting Jewish festivals! On Seder night, we begin reading the Haggadah with 'Ha Lachma Ania,' starting off the story of the exodus from Egypt. To a non-Hebrew speaker, this paragraph may sound like Hebrew - but just a little bit off. Let’s explore why.

‘Ha Lachama Ania’ is actually Aramaic, the ancient language of the Jewish people.

As we know, Hebrew and Aramaic are part of the Semitic language family, and they share many structural and phonetic similarities. Even in the days of the First Temple, Aramaic was used in the Land of Israel (and beyond) as a diplomatic language, spoken by leaders and rulers of the region for the purpose of cross-border communication. There are even two books in the Bible that include chapters in Aramaic - Daniel and Ezra.

Aramaic is so ingrained in the tradition of the Jewish people that many words and expressions of Aramaic origin have been incorporated into the Hebrew of today - more on that another time.

This all being said, the Haggadah is mostly written in Hebrew. So where did this sneaky Aramaic paragraph come from?

The origins of the Haggadah text comes from the end of the Second Temple era, but it is generally agreed that the Aramaic paragraph is a newer addition, and originates from the time of the ‘Geonim of Babylonia (before the tenth century AD). It is not included in the Haggadahs found in the Land of Israel during this period, nor in all the Haggadahs originating in Babylon.

It is possible that this paragraph was written to summarize the Haggadah in the Hebrew language. During these times, not everyone knew and understood Hebrew, especially women and children. In order to share the main content of the night with all the members of the house, a short text is determined that everyone understands - basically the main message in a nutshell.

The Haggadah is unique since it is a text that is read inside the home, in the presence of all the family together. Over the generations, passages were added to the Haggadah in the spoken languages of the Jews in different time periods and locations throughout history. In this way, the story was shared with everyone in the family, helping them to understand the content.

So the inclusion of an Aramaic passage in the Passover Haggadah is not surprising to us at all. After all, Aramaic is the language of texts that have been read and studied for many generations, and has a real home in Jewish culture.

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