Easter Rose

Passover 15 Nisan 5770

Scott Alexander Gabriel Reiss

Kosher for Passover

Concise History of the Jews

The Haggadah

Easter Monday - Happy Birthday Kim

                  Reiss & Kim by SAGReiss

                  Reiss & Kim by SAGReiss

                  Reiss & Kim by SAGReiss

The Great Chain of Being

Khad Gadya is a Passover song sung towards the end of the Seder in Aramaic, the language of large portions of the biblical books of Daniel & Ezra, the language of the Jews in the first millennium of the common era and that of the various translations, folklore, dialogues, & scholarship known under the generic names of Targum & Talmud, written in the first five centuries, the so-called Oral Law & the basis of rabbinical Judaism. Often called Chaldean, ethnologue.com classifies it as Lishana Deni.

Aramaic-Hebrew by Israeli family. Judeo-Arabic by Henri Ohayon. Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) by Yehoram Gaon. Classical Real
        Audio Metadata arrangement for Israel Kibbutz Choir. Commentary & interpretation.

Rose Reiss &
                  Naïa by SAGReiss

goat kid - cabritico - גדיא
One Little Goat* חד גדיא

One little goat חד גדיא חד גדיא
that my father bought for me for two zuzim. דזבין אבא בתרי זוזי

חד גדיא חד גדיא
Now up came a hungry cat that ate the little goat, ואתא שונרא ואכלה לגדיא
that my father had bought for me for two zuzim. דזבין אבא בתרי זוזי

חד גדיא חד גדיא

Rose &
                  SAGReiss by April Reiss

cat - gato - שונרא
Now up came a rabid dog that bit the cat, that had eaten the little goat, ואתא כלבא ונשך לשונרא דאכלה לגדיא
that my father had bought for me for two zuzim. דזבין אבא בתרי זוזי

חד גדיא חד גדיא
stick - palo - חוטרא
Now down came the wooden stick that beat the dog, ואתא חוטרא והכה לכלבא

that had bitten the cat, that had eaten the little goat, דנשך לשונרא דאכלה לגדיא

that my father had bought for me for two zuzim. דזבין אבא בתרי זוזי

חד גדיא חד גדיא

Rose Reiss &
                  Mistral by SAGReiss

dog - perro - כלבא
Now up rose a roaring fire that burnt the stick, ואתא נורא ושרף לחוטרא
that had beaten the dog, that had bitten the cat, that had eaten the little goat, דהכה לכלבא דנשך לשונרא דאכלה לגדיא
that my father had bought for me for two zuzim. דזבין אבא בתרי זוזי

חד גדיא חד גדיא
Down came a rush of water that doused the fire, ואתא מיא וכבה לנורא
that had burnt the stick, that had beaten the dog, דשרף לחוטרא דהכה לכלבא
that had bitten the cat, that had eaten the little goat, דנשך לשונרא דאכלה לגדיא
that my father had bought for me for two zuzim. דזבין אבא בתרי זוזי

חד גדיא חד גדיא

Rose Reiss
                  & firemen by April Reiss

fire - fuego - נורא
Now up came a thirsty ox that drank the water, ואתא תורא ושתה למיא

that had doused the fire, that had burnt the stick, דכבה לנורא דשרף לחוטרא

that had beaten the dog, that had bitten the cat, that had eaten the little goat, דהכה לכלבא דנשך לשונרא דאכלה לגדיא

that my father had bought for me for two zuzim. דזבין אבא בתרי זוזי

חד גדיא חד גדיא
butcher - shokhet † - שוחט
Now up came the butcher who slaughtered the ox, ואתא השוחט ושחט לתורא

that had drunk the water, that had doused the fire, דשתה למיא דכבה לנורא

Rose Reiss by SAGReiss

water - agua - מיא
that had burnt the stick, that had beaten the dog, דשרף לחוטרא דהכה לכלבא
that had bitten the cat, that had eaten the little goat, דנשך לשונרא דאכלה לגדיא
that my father had bought for me for two zuzim. דזבין אבא בתרי זוזי

חד גדיא חד גדיא
Up came the Angel of Death who slew the butcher, ואתא מלאך המות ושחט לשוחט
Angel of Death - malakh hamavet † - מלאך המות
who had slaughtered the ox, that had drunk the water, דשחט לתוראדשתה למיא
that had doused the fire, that had burnt the stick, דכבה לנורא דשרף לחוטרא
that had beaten the dog, that had bitten the cat, that had eaten the little goat, דהכה לכלבא דנשך לשונרא דאכלה לגדיא
that my father had bought for me for two zuzim. דזבין אבא בתרי זוזי

חד גדיא חד גדיא

Rose Reiss by SAGReiss

ox - burro - תורא
Holy Spirit - Santo Bendijo - קדוש ברוך הוא
Up came the Holy Spirit ואתא הקדוש ברוך הוא

who smote the Angel of Death, who had slain the butcher, ושחט למלאך המות דשחט לשוחט

who had slaughtered the ox, that had drunk the water, דשחט לתורא דשתה למיא

that had doused the fire, that had burnt the stick,
דכבה לנורא דשרף לחוטרא

that had beaten the dog, that had bitten the cat, that had eaten the little goat, דהכה לכלבא דנשך לשונרא דאכלה לגדיא

that my father had bought for me for two zuzim. דזבין אבא בתרי זוזי

* The rhythm of the English translation may be sung to the tune of Yehoram Gaon's Spanish interpretation: Á - A - G / Ǵ - F - G || Á - A - A / Ǵ - G - F in somewhat irregular dactylic tetrameter. The stanza structure, however, has been artifically disposed to match that of the Aramaic text. I have worked in a few little innocuous grammatical exercises on strong verbs, the past perfect tense, articles & pronouns, etc.

† These words (transliterated above) are sung in Hebrew instead of Spanish.

From: SAGReiss

Date: 18 April 2010

Subject: Goats & Dactyls

Nothing else to do, so I'm trying to work out the fucking goat song. Let's take stanza three, which is the first complete one. It should look like this:

A: -uu / -uu / -uu (bit)
B: -uu / -uu (eaten)
C: -uu / -uu / -uu / -uu (for me)
D: -uu / -uu (zuzim)

First of all, English just does not wish to be shoehorned into dactyls, nor really does Spanish, but the latter seems to be a little more cooperative. The instrument-challenged musicians will have to work that out for themselves. (I've only got this far because I conned my token Hispanic into transcribing the text, then told him & his murderous religion to fuck off when he insisted on interpreting an Aramaic children's song of uncertain date into a commentary on John or Paul or George/Steve or Ringo/Sid. I can't remember.) Anyway, let's forget about the meter and just count syllables. Yehoram doesn't do much better than I. It should look like this:

A: 9 (bit)
B: 6 (eaten)
C: 12 (for me) or 'A - A - G / 'G - F - G || 'A - A - A / 'G - G - F (the full melody as deciphered by Rose's English piano teacher Sara)
D: 6 (zuzim)

Yehoram gives this:

A: 9 (mordio)
B: 7 (comio)
C: 12 (padre)
D: 5 (levanim)

I get this:

A: 9 (bit)
B: 6 (eaten)
C: 10 (for me)
D: 4 (zuzim)

From: SAGReiss

Date: 15 April 2010


Of course I've written the stanzas differently, since the Aramaic text is weird, and I don't feel like fucking with right-to-left, if I can help it. I have no idea what the meter/rhythm of the Aramaic is, but the melody is not far from what Yehoram has recreated. In any case, it makes more sense semantically to end the verse on the direct object, rather than on the verb, and begin the next verse with a demonstrative pronoun rather than with its anaphora. If anyone actually gives a shit, which I severely doubt, except for Rose & me, I would be happy to hear suggestions, either of the helpful or else of the viciously destructive kind.

From: SAGReiss

Date: 15 April 2010

Subject: Re: translation

Beautiful, my friend, and thanks.

- santo bendicho "blessed saint" (Jewish pronunciation)
- ahajamalet "angel of death" (Hebrew)
- shojet "butcher" (Hebrew)

As to your interpretation [suppressed in message below], well, Luis, Christians have spent the past millennium or so killing Jews. Jews do not normally kill Christians (at least not in such overwhelming numbers as you kill Jews), so we are understandably circumspect about the intentions of our murderers.

This is a Jewish song, written in a Semitic language. I personally think that Christians should worry about their own Bible, written in Greek. We never bother with that. We don't read it, although I have. We don't burn it. Christians like to burn our Bible. Why? I don't know.

I will digest your transcription, for which I thank you once again, and you can follow the results, if you wish, on my Easter/Passover page.

At 23:17 15-04-10, you wrote:



- mordió is actually modrió (it can be used both ways but it seems it changes because of cacophony, nonetheless nowadays there is not cacophony)
- ajarbó is not used anymore, only in literature

doubts on some words are:

-  santo bendicho
- ahajamalet
- shojet

Please share the meaning of these other words with me since I don't know them

the part "por dos levanim" repeats twice at the end in every line.



un cabritico que lo marcó mi padre por dos levanim

y vino el gato y se comió al cabritico que lo marcó mi padre por dos levanim

vino el perro y mordió al gato que se comió al cabritico que lo marcó mi padre por dos levanim

vino el palo y ajarbó al perro que mordió al gato que se comió al cabritico que lo marcó mi padre por dos levanim

vino el fuego y quemó al palo que ajarbó al perro que mordió al gato que se comió al cabritico que lo marcó mi padre por dos levanim

vino la agua y amató al fuego que quemó al palo que ajarbó al perro que mordió al gato que se comió al cabritico que lo marcó mi padre por dos levanim

vino el burro y se bebió la agua que amató al fuego que quemó al palo que ajarbó al perro que mordió al gato que se comió al cabritico que lo marcó mi padre por dos levanim

vino el shojet y degolló al burro que se bebió la agua que amató al fuego que quemó al palo que ajarbó al perro que mordió al gato que se comió al cabritico que lo marcó mi padre por dos levanim

vino el ahajamalet y degolló al shojet que degolló al burro que se bebió el agua que amató al fuego que quemó al palo que ajarbó al perro que mordió al gato que se comió al cabritico que lo marcó mi padre por dos levanim

vino al santo bendicho y degolló al malajamadret que degolló el shojet que degolló al burro que se bebió el agua que amató al fuego que quemó al palo que ajarbó al perro que mordió al gato que se comió al cabritico que lo marcó mi padre por dos levanim

15 April 2010

SAGReiss: Luis, I wonder if you or one of your hispanophonic friends could do a favor for a Jewish gringo. I have this song in Ladino (Judeo-Spanish). Could you please transcribe (write) the lyrics into standard Spanish? There is only one Hebrew word that I've noticed, the "dos levanim" in the chorus referring to two white cents.... The pronunciation is a little different from standard Spanish, of course. Would you mind? It's a very nice Passover (Easter) song for children.

Kosher for Passover

During Passover Jews do not eat, indeed they methodically, even maniacally, rid their houses of, a certain culinary item, what modern nutritional science calls a food group, a category no more or less arbitrary than that of fruits & vegetables. Rabbits may not fly, but French cookbooks classify them as volaille (poultry or fowl) because they are prepared in similar ways. The distinctions man draws depend on the priorities he makes. The Chief Rabbis of Israel symbolically sell all the bread of the land (Most bakeries close for the week-long holiday, although a few remain open to sell fresh matzoth.) to an Arab hotelier. Moslems, Christians, and unreligious Jews discretely do what they wish. As one wag in my family puts it: "There are holidays when you smoke in the bathroom, holidays when you eat in the bathroom, and holidays when you fuck in the bathroom." Wikipedia helpfully points out:

Chametz is a product that is (a) made from one of five types of grains, and (b) has been combined with water and left to stand for longer than eighteen minutes before baking.

1. Wheat*
2. Barley*
3. Spelt (or emmer)
4. Rye
5. Oats (or spelt)

* Members of the seven species of Israel. Made from barley, both beer, which is fermented, & whisky, which is distilled, are not kosher for Passover. Made from grapes, both wine, which is fermented, & brandy, which is distilled, play a role in the Passover ceremony.

Among Ashkenazi Jews, the custom during Passover is to abstain from not only products of the five grains but also kitniyot: "small things", referring to other grains or legumes [pulses]. Traditions of what is considered kitniyot vary from community to community but often include rice, corn [mais], peas, lentils, beans, &/or peanuts. [The small things are essentially foreign to biblical Israel, the source of this science. These and other refinements come under an "appearance of wrongdoing" corollary.]

Products of the five grains are not considered chametz until the process of chimutz, typically translated as "fermentation", has begun. The concept is not identical to the chemical process of fermentation, but is formally defined in Jewish Law. Any flour from the five grains combined with water and allowed to stand for longer than eighteen minutes before baking is chametz. Flour combined with fresh, pure fruit juice [& no water] cannot become chametz, even if the dough is allowed to sit for hours and rises. Waterless baked goods are called matzah ashirah ("rich matzah") or "egg matzah", and are eaten on Passover by Sefardim; Ashkenazi practice, for fear that a bit of water may accidentally have found its way into the mixture, only allows them for old or sick people who are unable to eat ordinary matzoth.

It should be stressed that kashruth is indeed science. It is simply an ancient Oriental holistic science that evolves very slowly, and in some cases not at all, as certain things were settled once & for all in the Bible. In some ways it resembles the roughly contemporaneous pre-Socratic Orphism that gave the world Pythagoras theorem. Orphism died. Judaism stubbornly refuses to do so. In the ancient Near East one belonged to an ethnic group that expressed itself simultaneously as a political unit, a linguistic entity, & a liturgical community. All of the members of a given people bowed to the same king, spoke the same tongue, & worshiped the same gods. It is an accident of history that today the word Israel (aka the patriarch Jacob) refers to a nation (whose underground civil administration functioned [including birth & marriage records, schools, medical, & judicial systems, tax collection, & death certificates] notwithstanding two thousand years during which it was usurped in or uprooted from its geographical home), Hebrew (derived from the biblical Eber) refers to a language (which was essentially unspoken for those same two thousand years), & Judaism (derived from the forefather of the tribe of Judah) refers to a faith. They might just as well be known as Israel, Israeli, & Israelism respectively. The mutual support among the three branches of this culture (even when one or the other was temporarily failing) has allowed the Jews to survive.

Concise History of the Jews

Alexander & Caesar pushed their political &/or linguistic borders far beyond the original geographic area with which they were associated, and Christianity (a derivative religion not native to a people & place) became the first proselytizing religion of the Near East, converting the believers in other creeds by guile or by force. Pagans were their natural constituency. A Christian is someone who has, or whose ancestors have, been converted from another religion. A Jew is someone whose family has always been Jewish. Converts are neither sought after nor even especially welcome. History has taught the Jews to be wary of outsiders. Nevertheless Judaism has undergone a small number of major innovations (mostly in response to local & international political events) none of which rose to quite the level of a schism or a reformation:

Shabbatai Tsvi (1626-1676)

Shabbatai Tsvi
  • The shift from a religion of alter sacrifice in the wild to one of courtly priesthood in the Temple of Solomon after the anointment of the Israeli monarchy & the rise of the house of David (10-9th centuries BCE).
  • The consolidation of the Torah by Ezra the scribe in the aftermath of the destruction (586 BCE) of the first Temple & return to Israel (459 BCE) from exile in Babylon.
  • The advent (1-2nd centuries CE) of the rabbinical Judaism of the synagogue in the wake of the destruction (70 CE) of the second Temple by the Romans.
  • The split into Sephardim & Ashkenazim upon the rise of the Islamic & Carolingian empires (9-10th centuries).
  • The dissemination of the cabala amidst widespread outbursts of religious mysticism & subsequent persecutions in both orient & occident (13-14th centuries).
  • The thoroughly weird epiphenomenon of Shabbatai Tsvi (1626-76) in a general climate of European post-Reformation millenarianism.
  • The birth of hasidism coinciding with, & in opposition to, the Jewish Enlightenment (18th century).
  • The rise of zionism in the tide of Romantic nationalism & the concurrent resurgence of European antisemitism (19-20th centuries).

Only an ignorant or ill-willful misreading of the Bible suggests the Jews could not calculate π to a reasonable degree of accuracy, without which mathematical prowess they could not have successively built two vast Temples each of which stood in Jerusalem for hundreds of years before being razed by invaders. The Egyptians to the west had estimated π at 256/81 & the Babylonians to the East at 25/8. The Jews managed to get it a little closer at 135/43.

Catherine Uccellatore - Jesus Christ (2004)

Catherine Uccellatore
Jesus Christ

The tawdry tale of Shabbatai Tsvi exemplifies Karl Marx's proposition that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. His story is no more bizarre, nor any less noble, than that of Joshua, whom Christians know by his Greek name Jesus. An extraordinary set of political circumstances (the destruction of the second Temple thirty-odd years after the latter's death, an event that threw the Jews into a spiritual crisis from which only the elaboration of the Oral Law, which took four hundred years, delivered them) transformed an executed rabble rouser, who had left not one Aramaic word behind him, into a savior. In the right hands a blank slate becomes a fertile support medium, and Joshua (unlike Shabbatai Tsvi) had the good luck to die before things got carried away. Nathan of Gaza was a shrewd politician & a gifted writer, but Jesus was immediately followed by half a dozen handlers of at least equal skills. Without Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter & Paul he would be known, if not forgotten, as the thief in the middle. (The insightful contemporary witness Flavius Josephus, whose self-servingly shifting loyalties might paradoxically argue for historical impartiality, estimated that the Romans slaughtered at least half a million Jews in the wars, sieges, revolts, & massacres of 66-135 CE.) Where would Socrates stand today without Plato? Xenophon & Diogenes Laertius were not up to the job of creating a martyr. The gadfly of Attica would be known, if not forgotten, as a blasphemer, a corrupter of youth, and a traitor to Athenian democracy. (The Plato of the Republic & especially the Laws probably deserves the last title far more than did his teacher, who neither betrayed nor did much to save his hometown from the Thirty Tyrants after its loss to Sparta in the Peloponnesian War.) Finally, the Roman empire (desperately trying to postpone the inevitable fall that could already be foreseen) needed a new religion in the fourth century. History is full of such serendipity.

The only major European movement in the history of ideas that seems not to have touched the Jews is the Renaissance, since the nation of Israel could not rediscover its ancient texts, having never lost or forgotten them, and the golden age of modern Jewish literary culture (Spain, 912-1148) coincided with, and contributed largely to (e.g. Solomon ibn Gabirol [aka Avicebron, c. 1021-58]), the end of the so-called dark ages of Christianity. Jewish humanism may be traced from Saadia ben Joseph (aka Gaon, 892-942) in the east, & Solomon bar Isaac (aka Rashi, 1040-1105) in the north, to Moses ben Maimon (aka Maimonides, 1135‑1204) in the west. These were Renaissance men, poets, statesmen, physicians, & philosophers. Successive papal Crusades from the north west (a conservative estimate of 5,000 victims in the Rhineland, 1096) to the near east (1,000 victims in Jerusalem, 1099), Arab massacres (4,000 victims in Grenada, 1066), & the Inquisition (10,000 victims & ultimately 200,000 exiles in Aragon & Castile, 1492) in Iberia put an end to the Jewish Renaissance before it could give birth to anything resembling neoclassicism. Bubonic plague (nadir in 1348-50) only made things worse, as the Black Death carried off 30-60% of the Jewish population of Europe & the Near East, while Christian rioters murdered survivors (10,000 in the Rhineland alone) for their undisputed role in the etiology of the epidemic. The cabala (see below) is also science, but it is knowledge of a world that does not exist, reflecting endlessly inwards upon itself, like chess strategy or Hesse's Glass Bead Game, but played with the alphabet of Hebrew letters, which do double duty as numbers, the knowledge of a people afraid of, or forbidden (universities being naturally closed to Jews) from, learning about the world outside. From the end of the high middle ages to the beginning of the nineteenth century Judaism would send but one major figure to the European stage, Baruch Spinoza (aka Benedict, 1632-77), whose relationship with his fellow Jews was notoriously acrimonious, and not coincidentally the only Jewish author of note to write in Latin, a language that has understandably never interested the Jews. As Europe flowered, the Jews cowered.

Catherine Uccellatore - Adolf Hitler (2004)

Catherine Uccellatore
Adolf Hitler

The man who wrote the song quoted above knew that cats don't eat kids. He had his own reasons for writing that, which we would do well to consider before rushing to judgment. Rabbits and mice are not kosher. Maybe the Aramaic word for fish didn't fit the meter.* The first syllable of the word for kid ("gadya") rhymes nicely with one ("khad"), as if to represent phonetically the unity of the cosmos that the poem develops semantically. It is also identical to the unrelated Hebrew lexical morpheme of Haggadah, the name of the book in which the text appears, although this might be coincidence, as nothing in the song indicates that it was necessarily composed for inclusion in this particular context:

The earliest Haggadah that contains [the song] was printed in Prague in 1590 [...]

[Some Israeli scholar] refers to a manuscript prayer book of the year 1406 which mentions the Chad Gadya and says that it was found on a parchment in the academy of the Rokeach, which is a pseudonym meaning "peddler of spices", taken from the title of the principal work of Eleazar ben Judah, who was a member of the famous Kalonymos family and one of the so-called Chasidey Ashkenaz, the saints of medieval German Jewry. This Rokeach lived at Worms, where, incidentally, he witnessed the Crusaders burst into his house, killing his wife, his daughter and his son, and was severely injured himself. He died about 1230, and therefore, if the parchment found in his academy goes back to his lifetime, the origin of the Chad Gadya can be pushed back to the thirteenth century [...]

For the fact is that similar ditties are to be found in many cultural traditions around the world. The Jewish Encyclopedia mentions, for instance, an old German folk-song beginning Der Herr der schickt den Jokel aus and a French nursery-rhyme, La Petite Fourmi qui Allait à Jérusalem [...]

according to the most common interpretation, the father of the story is God, the two zuzim are Moses and Aaron, the kid is the Jewish people, the cat Assyria, the dog Babylon, the stick Persia, the fire Greece, the water Rome, the ox represents the Saracens, the butcher the Crusaders, and the Angel of Death the Turkish Empire which then [1517-1917] ruled Palestine.

Now it may well be that all this is taking the Chad Gadya much too seriously. It is, after all, only a nursery rhyme, intended to keep the children entertained and therefore awake until midnight. And yet it is undoubtedly in the spirit of the Seder to read such symbolic meaning into things which in themselves are ordinary or trivial.


* A cabalist might point out that the Aramaic word for fish is "nun", as in the father of Joshua, while the Hebrew word is "dag", the heteropalindrome of gad or "goat" in Aramaic. The numerical value of the letters gimel & dalet is 3 + 4 = 7, a sacred number representing the sabbath & written with the letter zayin, of which there are of course two in the word "zuzim". There are seven animate earthly beings in the ten stanzas of the song, and ten branches of the cabalistic tree of life: divine crown, wisdom, understanding, mercy, justice, beauty, grace, glory, divine foundation, & divine kingdom, seven of which may to some extent be obtained on Earth. The nature of words (as well as numbers & musical notes): finite means, infinite ends (as Humboldt astutely observed, the former proposition being true by definition of all digital systems of representation), by favoring homonymy, makes this game so easy, & so much fun, to play. Generations of Jewish theologians harmlessly amused themselves with such thought exercises, both preceding & following the cabalistic synthesis of Isaac Luria (aka Ari the Lion, 1534-72) in the land of Israel.

No one need take any of this seriously, as our author is quick to point out. Despite the unlikelihood of the link to Eleazar of Worms, a proto-cabalist & hasid, the language and currency (two zuzim, half a shekel in the coin of the realm of Israel in the second century CE, which Yehoram Gaon transports to the Ottoman Empire: "dos levanim" [two white {or silver} cents]) of the lyric seem to argue for a far earlier date of composition, since European Jews did not speak Aramaic in the thirteenth century, writing in either Yiddish or Hebrew in the north, Ladino or Hebrew in the south, while Oriental Jews wrote either Judeo-Arabic or Hebrew, unless they wrote in the vernacular. If not the lyric, the melody (which would probably have had to rely on aural means of transmission) seems likely to date from the high middle ages or later.

                  Ritz - The Tree of Life (1516)

Paul Ritz
The Tree of Life

Towards the end of the thirteenth century the Zohar, also written in Aramaic, began to circulate in the kingdom of Castile (northern Spain), attributed to Simon bar Yochai (flourished in Israel second century CE). The book immediately sparked a controversy as to its date & authorship that continues to burn today, with some foolish arguments on each side: "It is impossible to accept that R' Moshe De Leon [c. 1250-1305] managed to forge a work of the scope of the Zohar (1700 pages) within a period of six years [1280-6] as [Gershom] Scholem claims." Daniel Defoe (no stranger to pseudepigraphy) would have scoffed at the challenge of writing merely three quarters of a page per day. Whatever would he do after breakfast? Moreover, esoteric scholarship may be easier to counterfeit than a catchy folksong. "Out of the thousands of words used in the Zohar Scholem finds two anachronistic terms and nine cases of ungrammatical usage of words. This proves that the majority of the Zohar was written within the accepted time frame and only a small amount was added later (in the Geonic period [589-1038] as mentioned)." This proves nothing of the kind. On the one hand, you could find far more than that many solecisms in À la Recherche du temps perdu, which does not suggest that Proust was not its author. (Proust took the last fifteen years of his life to write the 1,588 pages [3,000 characters each, or twice the size of a standard folio sheet] of his novel, but he was a notorious tinkerer, rewriter, & perfectionist, and also a bed-ridden, physically [or at least psychosomatically] ill man.) On the other hand, Moses de León was an erudite, skilled, able-bodied, middle-aged man of letters who had been studying & reading Aramaic since the age of three. Would it be surprising to find that Ben Jonson, a man of vast learning who once (in 1598 after an unfortunate killing in a duel) spoke the language before a judge literally to save his life under the "benefit of clergy" corollary, wrote Latin well? So Moses de León could probably have written Aramaic very well, although perhaps not flawlessly, whether or not he was indeed the sole author of the Zohar.

Synagogue of
                  Israel ben Eliezer in Ukraine

The inward-looking quality of the cabala pertains equally to hasidism, an anti-intellectual reactionary movement founded by Israel ben Eliezer (aka Baal Shem Tov, 1698-1760) after pogroms had killed an estimated 100,000 (half of the Jewish population of Poland & the Ukraine) between the Khmelnytsky Uprising (1648-54) & the subsequent Russo-Polish War (1654-67). Cossack Bogdan Khmelnytsky, eponymous leader of the former, has been celebrated in both the Soviet Union & the Ukraine by a military award in his honor, presumably for unrelated feats of valor. Martin Buber (1878-1965) captures the mood of these communities (still vibrant in Israel) in the introduction to his German translations of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov's tales & of The Legend of Baal Shem:

[The hasidic tale] came to life on narrow streets and small, musty rooms, passing from awkward lips to the ears of anxious listeners. A stammer gave birth to it and a stammer bore it onward—from generation to generation. I have received it from folk books, from note-books and pamphlets, at times also from a living mouth, from the mouths of people still living who even in their lifetime heard this stammer... I stand in a chain of narrators, a link between links; I tell once again the old stories, and if they sound new, it is because the new already lay dormant in them when they were told for the first time.

Ukranian Order of Khmelnytsky 2nd

This eighteenth-century Yiddish literature did not begin to interest the outside world until it was transformed in the twentieth century by greater artists such as Franz Kafka & Isaac Singer. In his introduction to the English translation of Tales of the Hasidim Chaim Potok remembers a few characteristics of hasidism that Buber seems to have left out: "charlatanism, obscurantism, internecine quarrels, its heavy freight of folk superstition and pietistic excesses, its tzaddik [parochial rabbi] worship, its vulgarized and attenuated reading of Lurianic Kabbalah." While a refreshing, if appalling, poverty reigns on most ultra-orthodox Jews (due in large part to their disbelief in birth control and their belief that lifelong Torah & Talmud study in the yeshiva is an adequate substitute for work), some of the Ashkenazi & Sephardi branches have not avoided traditional religious squabbles over money & politics. Although they recognize the secular state of Israel begrudgingly at best, all branches agree that welfare programs are kosher, which the government happily provides in return for their high natality rates.

By now it should be obvious to most readers that the astronomical number of Jews murdered under Hitler & Stalin (Why bother to argue about how many millions died, or exactly who is to blame?) was but the logical outcome of a thousand years of European Christian (as well as near-eastern Arab & previously Roman) homicidal antisemitism & technological progress. While poetry & song had historically offered the Jews some solace on occasion, the political solution represented by the reinstatement of Israel was the only feasible way out, even if still fraught by terror & turmoil. The land of Israel is not Amish country. Jews drive cars, except on the sabbath, but even on the sabbath they drive to the hospital in case of emergency under the "saving a soul" corollary. Like American Indian medicine kashruth draws no hard Cartesian distinction between mind & body, the physical & spiritual worlds, which distinction may well be untrue, or at least misleading. That Henri Ohayon seems to be praying, rather than singing children's cumulative verses, exemplifies this oriental breakdown of the alleged distinction between sacred & secular. John Donne, as playfully punning in the Sermons & Holy Sonnets as in the erotic Elegies, would not have found this odd. When Louis Pasteur discovered yeast in the mid-nineteenth century, the Bavarians simply rewrote their three-hundred-fifty-year-old beer purity law to account for the update in knowledge. The Jews have typically been loath, indeed see no reason, to do so. When they are left alone, seldom enough, their system has done them rather well for thousands of years. The gentile world has not been so kind to them that they might wish to adopt its ways.

The Haggadah

The Haggadah is a Passover book of stories, prayers & songs, often illustrated, and read aloud at table during the Seder (a holiday feast eaten at the sundown on which the first day of Passover begins), where each diner holds a copy, for reading roles are variously assigned, as pages are read throughout the lengthy meal, some of whose dishes serve as gustatory illustrations of the tale:

Passover Seder Plate

  • Chazeret — Bitter herbs, symbolizing the bitterness & harshness of the slavery which the Jews endured in Egypt. Romaine lettuce.
  • Z'roa — A sacrificial roasted lamb or goat shankbone, chicken wing or neck, a beet for vegetarians.
  • Charoset — A sweet, brown mixture representing the mortar used by the Jewish slaves. Ashkenazi: chopped nuts, grated apples, cinnamon, & sweet red wine. Sephardi: dates, honey, chopped nuts, cinnamon, & wine.
  • Maror — [More] bitter herbs. Horseradish.
  • Karpas — A vegetable dipped in salt water (tears). Parsley, celery, or boiled potato.
  • Beitzah — A hard-boiled egg [mourning fare].

Passover Seder Table

The image on the left depicts the six symbolic foods clockwise from the top. The image on the right captures the spirit, both sacred & shabby, of the Seder. Jewish households possess four complete sets of dishware & cutlery, one for milk, one for meat, one for the sabbath, & one for Passover. Infinite geographical & denominational variations are attested. In Marie's family (which comes from Spain via four hundred years in Turkey) they read a Ladino Haggadah while eating couscous, which is kosher for Passover to the Sephardim. While the latter read the Song of Songs aloud every Friday evening at the beginning of the sabbath day, Ashkenazim read it aloud only on the sabbath falling in the middle of Passover week. A host of contingency plans covers the occurrence of a holiday on the sabbath.

The Haggadah tells the biblical story of the exodus of the Jews from bondage in Egypt, may include modern elements (such as the Israeli national anthem HaTikvah ["Hope"], written by the Ukrainian poet Naphtali Imber, arranged to a traditional Eastern European melody by Samuel Cohen, & sung here by Al Jolson in a Yiddish accent that makes Israelis laugh), and is often translated into the vernacular languages spoken by Jews, that is to say most of the languages of the West & Near East, reaching as far as Bukhara in Uzbekistan. At the Seder the door is often left open, a chair reserved, & a place set, for the biblical prophet Elijah, a kind of Jewish Santa Claus who might stop in for a drink & a bite to eat.

For, behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and, lo, my sheaf arose, and also stood upright; and, behold, your sheaves stood round about, and made obeisance to my sheaf.

And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me.

Genesis 37:7/9

Sarajevo Haggadah (Barcelona, c.

Sarajevo Haggadah (Barcelona, c.

And thou shalt say unto him, The LORD God of the Hebrews hath sent me unto thee, saying, Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness: and, behold, hitherto thou wouldest not hear.

Genesis 7:16

And he told it to his father, and to his brethren: and his father rebuked him, and said unto him, What is this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth?

Genesis 37:10

And they took Joseph’s coat, and killed a kid of the goats, and dipped the coat in the blood;

Genesis 37:31

Sarajevo Haggadah (Barcelona, c.

Sarajevo Haggadah (Barcelona, c.

Behold, the hand of the LORD is upon thy cattle which is in the field, upon the horses, upon the asses, upon the camels, upon the oxen, and upon the sheep: there shall be a very grievous murrain.

Exodus 9:3

And they sat down to eat bread: and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and, behold, a company of Ishmeelites came from Gilead with their camels bearing spicery and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt.

Genesis 37:25

And this is the blessing, wherewith Moses the man of God blessed the children of Israel before his death.

Deuteronomy 33:1

Sarajevo Haggadah (Barcelona, c.

Sarajevo Haggadah (Barcelona, c.

De TSa K, A Da SH, B A KHa V

Hebrew mnemonic acronym for the names of the ten plagues (blood, frogs, lice, flies, pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, & death) by Rabbi Judah ben Ilai (flourished 2nd century CE) quoted in many a Haggadah

And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom; for Moses had laid his hands upon him: and the children of Israel hearkened unto him, and did as the LORD commanded Moses.

Deuteronomy 34:9

And for them, even for the priests, shall be this holy oblation; toward the north five and twenty thousand in length, and toward the west ten thousand in breadth, and toward the east ten thousand in breadth, and toward the south five and twenty thousand in length: and the sanctuary of the LORD shall be in the midst thereof.

Ezekiel 48:10

Sarajevo Haggadah (Barcelona, c.

Sarajevo Haggadah (Barcelona, c.

And David lifted up his eyes, and saw the angel of the LORD stand between the earth and the heaven, having a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders of Israel, who were clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces.

1 Chronicles 21:16

9 April 2010

SAGReiss: 9 days of Rosy Joy. I've finally found the rhythm, 64 bpm, times 4 gives us an interval of 3750 milliseconds. The images dance wonderfully.

From: SAGReiss

Date: 8 April 2010

Subject: Sam, Archie & Khad Gadya

Father of Sam (BCC above) woke me up at five in the morning, which wouldn't have bothered me, but he rang the doorbell so insistently that I was sure it was the cops with bad news about C the G. I made him coffee, which he insisted on drinking out of my last night's cocktail glass. By the time I realized what he was doing, it was too late, but I guess the Ricard had disinfected it. We listened to the different versions of Khad Gadya, and he really liked the Judeo-Arabic version, as I thought he would. He chastized me for not taking other people's feelings sufficiently into account, which is really none of my concern, and told me his opinions. I refrained (but I guess not for long) from telling him that opinions are like assholes. Everybody's got one. I am interested in knowledge, not opinion. Anyway, I like his boy, which makes two with Archie, the son of insanely rich & well-educated Brits whose home in Banne we visited last Saturday. It was a little surreal, as the pizza parlour had been invaded by the Empire, so it turned out there was a hugely fat gynecologist & another old wanker whose posh profession I forget, and their wives. They drank whisky, while I drank coffee. I don't need a DUI. Anyway, I've finally got my Cherub spurt counter from eBay. It's brilliant, even if I don't know how to work it very well yet, and I find that the visual stimulus is less distracting from the music, so I just mute it. I've got Terrapin Station timed (approximately, but good enough) at 1000 milliseconds (60 bpm), so I've multiplied that by four, which seems like a musical number, on the assumption that they may be quarter notes, for the images in this case don't tell a story, & appear in random order, so a longer interval obtains. I told Father of Sam that as soon as Rose climbed into the Green Child Friday evening, she asked: "Papa, why does Maman say you are a diabolical monster who doesn't love me?" I told her it was probably a little joke, but she said her mother didn't look like she was joking. I suggested perhaps she was mistaken, but there's nothing I can do about this. I've written to C the G, the school, and the two doctors, as Dr Telseau has apparently refused to treat Rose anymore. Heh, heh. Rose has nicknamed the new doctor Dr Pell (shovel), which is one syllable short of his name. He's the one who said: "You pain in the ass we deeply." Welcome, Dr Pell, to the world according to Gabe...

From: SAGReiss

Date: 7 April 2010

Subject: Vacances & ORL


Je dois chercher Rose au debut des vacances ("apres la classe") donc vendredi le 9 avril a midi pour la ramener a la maison a Lablachere dimanche le 18 avril a 9h. Merci de confirmer.

D'ailleurs, j'ai telephone a l'hopital d'Aubenas, et ils m'ont confirme que Rose n'a PAS d'autre rendez-vous que celui que j'ai fixe pour elle, contrairement a ce que tu m'as affirme vendredi dernier. Je ne sais d'ou viens la confusion, mais j'ai donc maintenu notre rendez-vous.

Comme d'habitude CC a tout le monde, et copies envoyees [aujourd'hui] par la poste a toi & au Dr Pellet.

Meilleures salutations.


From: SAGReiss

Date: 7 April 2010

Subject: The Lover & the Mandrill

It never ceases to amaze me that Nichelle wrote such beautiful letters, & so many of them that I (who remember everything) have forgotten some. Hell, even the poem she wrote as a girl is faultless [flawless]. She has managed to work in Chris Marlowe's Passionate Shepherd to his Love, mandrills, Ben Jonson's To Celia, roller skates, John Donne's Lovers' Infiniteness, and [one year later] a sneaky allusion to Cor(r)in(n)e's ex-husband thing that you might not have caught. [I Donne know.]

From: SAGReiss

Date: 7 April 2010

Subject: Fw: Passover Haggadah


Sorry, I forgot you on my family mailing. I don't keep an electronic address book, so I have to rely on analog memory and Eudora's Search & Destroy command. Although the pics are lousy, you may notice I've got a new cam, a Canon PowerShot A480. Yours is a very hard profession. I like the motion, the asymmetry, & the false illusion (nowhere stated) that the girls are on an Easter egg hunt.

From: SAGReiss

Date: 6 April 2010

Subject: Passover Haggadah

For those in my generation of Jews, or not my generation, or not Jews (by whatever definition is chosen), who [like me] did not receive a Jewish education, I have created an online Passover Haggadah. It's mostly safe for children who can't read, and grown-ups who can. As you know, I am not a polite man. Everyone can enjoy the music & images. As to the lyrics & text, I'm not really sure how many languages are involved.

From: SAGReiss

Date: 6 April 2010

Subject: John is Dead

When Rose & I disagree on something important, I sometimes sing: "You say yes. I say no. You say why, & I say I don't know." It seems to help, if only by changing the subject. Yesterday on the terrace of the Dardaillon, she asked me who sang that song, so I told her: "John, Paul, George, & Ringo." She asked me where they were, so I answered: "John & George are dead. Paul & RIngo may be in England, like your aunt Athene, or in America, like your grandmother, or in France, like us." She asked: "Does Molly wake John up?" I understood the association of Molly to John (Murder), so I answered: "Well, she might do that sometimes, yes," but then it occurred to me that she might have understood that Murder was dead, so I tried to explain. Fortunately at that precise moment a girl with a Beatles briefcase sat down at a neighboring table. I asked: "May I borrow your briefcase?" I then pointed to the photo of each of the Beatles identifying them by name & life/death status. This seemed to solve the problem.

John, Paul, George & Ringo

From: SAGReiss

Date: 6 April 2010

Subject: Reponse du monstre diabolique a la nymphe


Comme d'habitude, puisque tu as bloque mes comptes mail afin de faciliter la communication, je t'enverrai une copie de ce message par la poste.

Rose m'informe que tu lui dis que je suis un monstre diabolique qui ne l'aime pas. A supposer qu'il ne s'agit pas d'un exces d'imagination de la part de notre fille, je suis un peu inquiet quant a ta puericulture.

Or, je n'ai naturellement aucun recours, sauf celui d'informer les autres adultes dans l'entourage de Rose de ton comportement encore une fois aberrant. J'ecris donc a l'ecole (qui se moque de moi, CC ci-dessus) & aux medecins (Dr Sautel [qui se moque de moi, CC ci-dessus] & Dr Pellet des Vans [qui ne se moque pas encore de moi que je sache, par la poste]).

A eux eventuellement de s'informer si ce que m'a dit notre fille est vrai, et si oui de s'adresser directement a toi, ou a elle, s'ils le souhaitent.

Pour ma part, je proteste formellement, mais c'est tout ce que je peux faire. Sinon je continue a eduquer Rose selon mes faibles lumieres (sans jamais dire du mal de toi devant elle).

Rose semble bien aimer la chanson "Un Chevreau". Mon pere la lui a deja chantee en arameen. En general nous l'ecoutons en espagnol, la langue de ta famille maternelle. Je n'ai pas encore trouve une version anglaise supportable, ni aucune en francais.

Merci de bien vouloir reflechir a ta pedagogie, et meilleures salutations.


P.S. Comme tu m'as confirme que tu as, toi aussi, pris rendez-vous chez l'ORL a Aubenas ce mois-ci, je vais annuler le rendez-vous que j'y ai fixe moi-meme.

From: SAGReiss

Date: 2 April 2010

Subject: Garrulous Scots

The online Haggadah is moving ahead nicely, with a beautiful choral arrangement, a few choice comments on the goat, & the Passover variations. I don't know what's wrong with the image quality of the seder table (I took the high resolution photo dated 2006 off Wikipedia.), but I just love that Israeli shabbiness, so different from all of the smug Americans with their awful accents at their rich tables. I still can't find a tolerable English version of the fucking song. I saw tables parked outside the Scot's (BCC above) bro's restaurant, so I stopped in for a drink, although his attitude towards me seems tepid, as if he's used to his brother's shiftless friends. I asked for Ricard, but he served me ouzo, so I told him that arak, which also figures on his cocktail menu, is Israeli anisette, which began a long discussion of the menu items, as he was surprised when I told him that humus, falafel, schwarma, & couscous are Jewish food: "We in Europe think the Jews come from Poland..." "Hitler sorted that out, didn't he?" "They come from the Orient." I will take Rose to this place. She might like dipping pita bread in humus, or rolling falafel balls around, and maybe even eat something. I just hope the Scot doesn't interrupt me as I explain to my daughter that this food comes from Israel, where her grandfather (BCC above) lives, and confuse the issue with geographical subtleties. The odd thing was that throughout the whole conversation the Scot's bro kept walking back into the kitchen and quietly translating everything I said for his French wife, even my sordid memories of old girlfriends. I guess he needs to pacify her, as she's probably suffered through many long years of garrulous Scots. It might have saved time if she had just learned English.

From: SAGReiss

Date: 31 March 2010

Subject: Return of Son of Easter/Passover

The Temperance Act of Les Vans has officially been rescinded. Laurent (the Dead Poet with an uppercase L-) & the Scot (BCC above) are happily back in their cups, though the record will show that I had nothing to do with either man's wretched fall from grace. I left the Scot last night as I found him, happily gulping down one wine glass after another of some murky rum from Martinique. Maybe the shit will cure his cold or bronchitis or pneumonia or whatever terminal illness the fucking Jewish doctor of Les Vans has diagnosed him as having. What I've created, I have decided, is an online Haggadah, and don't think I'm the first one to get the idea. YouTube is absolutely full of drunken, tone-deaf Jewish grandfathers singing that fucking song, which is quite beautiful when sung well, as in the three examples I have selected, Hebrew, Arabic, & Spanish. It was painful to listen to them all, as I chose the good ones. I gave up on finding [a good] one in Yiddish & still need to find one in English, so Rose & I can sing it together, but I can't bear to listen to them all again sober. I'm not yet sure what to do with the real Haggadah, the one from Barcelona via Sarajevo, but I like the pics, and managed to crop them skillfully enough so that they can be seen in 1280-pixel resolution without being reduced to thumbnails. I'll figure something out, and suggestions as always are welcome. Fortunately, I think the Jewish calendar stops churning out holidays in the summer. Maybe I can relax until Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur. I've got a great vid for the latter.

From: SAGReiss

Date 30 March 2010

Subject: Easter/Passover

There's more, but I need to stop now. You can't imagine what this takes out of me. This is the result of one hour's thought, and six hours of work.