rymenhild: Manuscript page from British Library MS Harley 913 (Default)
[personal profile] rymenhild
Many of you are literary critics. Many of you are amateur or professional scholars of Judaism. Most of you are talented at creative, bizarre works of extempore interpretation.


I propose a challenge. It shall be open to every reader of this journal, regardless of religion, race, gender, level of education, sexual orientation or status as a fictional character. (I should note that entries from fictional characters are especially welcome.) It's even open to non-readers of this journal. Advertise the challenge to your friends!

I challenge you to provide an interpretation for the following song:

Had Gadya (One Little Goat)

One little goat, one little goat,
that Father bought for two zuzim.
*A zuz (plural, zuzim) is a coin. All I know about the exchange rate is that two zuzim buy a small goat.
One little goat, one little goat.

Then came a cat and ate the goat,
that Father bought for two zuzim.
One little goat, one little goat.

Then came a dog and bit the cat that ate the goat,
that Father bought for two zuzim.
One little goat, one little goat.

Then came a stick and beat the dog that bit the cat that ate the goat,
that Father bought for two zuzim.
One little goat, one little goat.

Then came fire and burned the stick that beat the dog that bit the cat that ate the goat,
that Father bought for two zuzim.
One little goat, one little goat.

Then came water and quenched the fire that burned the stick that beat the dog that bit the cat that ate the goat,
that Father bought for two zuzim.
One little goat, one little goat.

Then came an ox and drank the water that quenched the fire that burned the stick that beat the dog that bit the cat that ate the goat,
that Father bought for two zuzim.
One little goat, one little goat.

Then came the butcher and slaughtered the ox that drank the water that quenched the fire that burned the stick that beat the dog that bit the cat that ate the goat,
that Father bought for two zuzim.
One little goat, one little goat.

Then came the Angel of Death and killed the butcher who slaughtered the ox that drank the water that quenched the fire that burned the stick that beat the dog that bit the cat that ate the goat,
that Father bought for two zuzim.
One little goat, one little goat.

Then came the Holy One, blessed be He, and slew the Angel of Death that killed the butcher who slaughtered the ox that drank the water that quenched the fire that burned the stick that beat the dog that bit the cat that ate the goat,
that Father bought for two zuzim.
One little goat, one little goat.

A note of explanation: "Had Gadya" is traditionally sung at the end of the Passover Seder, a ritual dinner occurring in a week and a half. By that point in the ritual, everyone is (or should be) drunk and exhausted, and no one quite knows what they're singing or why. The song, as you may notice, has nothing obvious to do with freedom from slavery; it has nothing obvious to do with spring fertility rituals; it may possibly have nothing to do with anything. However, Jews are not content to take "meaningless" as an answer, so we keep making up interpretations.

Some interpretations from Jewish Heritage Online Magazine

According to one popular interpretation, the kid symbolizes the oppressed Jewish people, which was bought by the father (God) for two coins (Moses and Aaron). The subsequent players in the ballad represent the nations who persecuted the Jewish people over the centuries: the devouring cat represents Assyria; the dog–Babylon; the stick represents Persia; the fire Macedonia; the water is Rome; the ox, the Saracens; the shohet (ritual slaughter)–the Crusaders; and the Angel of Death, the Turks who subsequently ruled Palestine. The end of the song expresses the hope for messianic redemption: God destroys the foreign rulers of the Holy Land and vindicates Israel as "the only kid."

According to other, mystical interpretations, Had Gadya is an allegorization of the Joseph legend, or alternatively, of the relationship between body and soul as reflected in Jewish mysticism.
(found here)

Clearly, we need more explanations for this song. Explain away! Points will be given for creativity, randomness, amusement value, plausibility, implausibility, and my mood at any given moment.

Here's a bizarre 80s Hebrew version of the song, complete with synthesizers and eerie drums, to get you in the mood.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-04-14 08:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] scazon.livejournal.com
I'd just like to point out that the MP3 you linked to is not the traditional text; most of it's translated into Hebrew from the original Aramaic and made to rhyme in some places in particularly weird ways. However, the recording itself and musical choices therein are…ah…interesting. (-:

(no subject)

Date: 2005-04-14 08:34 am (UTC)
ext_27060: Sumer is icomen in; llude sing cucu! (Default)
From: [identity profile] rymenhild.livejournal.com
Yes, I know. I know the Aramaic one much better, and every time I listen to the Hebrew I find something else deeply bizarre in it. I feel that this MP3 is random enough to fit my goals in posting this challenge. (My goals here are pretty much finding appropriate ways to procrastinate when I have to clean the apartment for Pesach.)

(no subject)

Date: 2005-04-16 07:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] elettaria.livejournal.com
I'm getting fairly interested in it, where's it from? Got a transliteration anywhere? I'm trying to fit it to the pattern of the English translation and getting lost.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-04-14 08:50 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] daegaer.livejournal.com
The meaning of Khad Gadya is indeed a simple one, though it confound the goyim! Does not the final verse show us most clearly that at the last the world shall become again as it was at Creation, and all those creatures in which the breath of life is, will once more eat only herbs and fruits bearing their own seeds? This is in accordance with the words of the Holy One, blessed be He: "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.
30: And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food."
This is shown in the vengeance visited by HaShem on those who have destroyed the little goat, which desired only to eat green grass and was cruelly attacked for it, leading to immoderate spilling of blood, against the desires of HaShem.

If a little goat, valued only at zuzim shenayim, is of such worth in the eyes of the Holy One of Israel, how much more the sons of men desiring to find proper vegetarian options in restaurants!

(no subject)

Date: 2005-04-16 12:41 am (UTC)
ext_27060: Sumer is icomen in; llude sing cucu! (Default)
From: [identity profile] rymenhild.livejournal.com
This drash, presented in an Anglo-Chasidic (Hiberno-Chasidic?) idiolect that causes long beards and forelocks to sway in my mental vision, almost convinced me of the great sin of consuming goat...until I read [livejournal.com profile] navelofwine's counterargument. Of course, nothing is more in the spirit of Jewish text study than fierce debates involving portentous curses.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-04-14 09:23 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] shati.livejournal.com
The first verse has 18 words, and the second has 20. Need I say more?

(no subject)

Date: 2005-04-16 12:42 am (UTC)
ext_27060: Sumer is icomen in; llude sing cucu! (Default)
From: [identity profile] rymenhild.livejournal.com
It is clearly the goat's destiny to be shot by gunslingers.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-04-14 11:43 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mistressrenet.livejournal.com
My old boss (Reform Jewish) insisted this was a resurrection-themed song; that God overcomes even death.

I'll try to come up with something more bizarre though. XD

(no subject)

Date: 2005-04-16 12:43 am (UTC)
ext_27060: Sumer is icomen in; llude sing cucu! (Default)
From: [identity profile] rymenhild.livejournal.com
I've heard that argument before, and it makes some sense. If God overcomes death, however, why don't we ever see a live ox?

(no subject)

Date: 2005-04-16 08:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mistressrenet.livejournal.com
I see live oxen all the time! XD

(no subject)

Date: 2005-04-14 12:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] thoroughbass.livejournal.com
The goat is done for, all eaten-up-by-a-cat, and then there's a chain of punishment and predation. It is an allegory of how history works: some things happen, and then other things happen which touch, consume, or attack what has come before. What stops the cycle is the Almighty, since no matter how wrong or right the original cat was to eat the original goat (which did not spring ex nihilo but cost two zuzim).

This song can be compared with a buddhist reading of I know an old lady who swallowed a fly, with which it has strong structural similarities. In I know an old lady, every attempt to 'correct' the original swallowing of the fly ends up worsening the old lady's condition. So it is with desire and suffering. Had Gadya, however, doesn't mount the Great Chain of Being with the same predatory logic as I know an old lady. Cats don't really eat goats, people, unless the goats are already cooked and eaten; sticks wouldn't beat dogs without a human agent, who is not mentioned.

So I think the moral of the song -- the immoral of the song -- is that things happen, and if the butcher is on top now, it isn't going to be so in the next verse.

The last song on The Gothic Archies' album is The Tiny Goat:

The Tiny Goat was very, very ugly

And like all ugly things it fell in love

When twenty years of waiting turned to nothing,

It closed its eyes and lay down on the stove.

When the world bites, there's no antidote.

Who would want to spend forever with a tiny goat?

The world's a leech crawling down one's throat.

One would rather be a tick than be a tiny goat.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-04-14 03:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] debka-notion.livejournal.com
The goat represents the child at the seder: the other animals are all the possible distractions at a seder that draw the child away from whatever expectations they are supposed to fulfill during the seder. THen G-d comes and returns them to their seat in time for a. the 4 questions, b. the meal, and c. the afikomen hunt.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-04-14 06:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] carasfriendmatt.livejournal.com
Ah, no no no, to interpret Chad Gadya you have to consider it along with its earlier, more complete version, which remains intact in Italian-American Catholic Easter rituals. For some reason.

Continuoboy has obviously come into contact with this earlier redaction. See, the version presented here is only the latter half of a rather long saga: the little goat might be small, but he had just come upon the corpse of an old lady who had swallowed a horse (and so died of course), after already swallowing a cow. Don't ask me how, etc., etc. No one knows why she swallowed the original fly, though, and this is the key to interpreting the song.

It's about the creation of the universe.

The fact that the initial reason for starting the strange chain reaction is perpetually unknowable (that is, that we don't know why she swallowed the fly) means that the universe, from the smallest particle to the unimaginably large, was founded on undefinable reasons, perpetually beyond human understanding. Chad Gadya is about the irreducibility of the origin of the universe. From that unknowable reason comes the fly, eaten by the spider, then the bird, cat, dog, goat, cow, horse, dead woman, goat again (perhaps cannibalistic by proxy -- another sign of the inherent chaos of things, or the order), cat again (a very impressive cat), dog, stick (phallic symbolism to combat the previous yonic symbolism of all this devouring? Oh, I think so), fire, water, ox, butcher (also cannibalistic by proxy), Angel, finally culminated and contained by the Holy One, also unknowable (and so connected to the initiating Reason), binding the full senseless cannibalistic chain of being in a loop of divine redemption.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-04-14 08:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] navelofwine.livejournal.com
Accursed be [livejournal.com profile] daegaer and all those who follow in his foolish ways! The true meaning of the parable is this: Just as the Holy One, Blessed Be He, slaughtered the Angel of Death, and by extension, all his prey, so too will the righteous in the World to Come eat not only goats, but angels, butchers, oxen, dogs, and cats. Said our sage Rabbi Berechia (Vayyikra Rabba 13:3): "Whover has not eaten meat from an improperly slaughtered animal in this world is earning the right to eat it in the World to Come." But he who eats no meat in this world shall be condemned to subsist eternally on water, fire, and wood.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-04-14 09:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fox1013.livejournal.com
I don't know what it MEANS, but I'm acting it out at this year's seder with stuffed animals and action figures anyway.

On goat exchange rates

Date: 2005-04-14 09:39 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fleurdelis28.livejournal.com
S: Did you know that in 1935 you could buy a goat for £1?
P: No I couldn't. I don't use English currency.
S: But perhaps in 1935 you would have
S: (I can't believe we're arguing about this)
P: Why? I'm American.
P: We seceded significantly earlier than that.
S: Alright -- in 1935 in Kent you could buy a goat for £1
P: Late 18th Century, if I recall.
P: I've never been to Kent.
S: I didn't say you would, I said IF you had £1, you could buy a goat!
P: And if I were in Kent.
S: but this doesn't mean you WOULD do either of those!
S: just that it would have been possible, which is still pretty damn surprising!
P: True, but you left out some important qualifiers.
P: That I'll grant you.
S: such as?
P: Is this due to the devaluation of the goat or the relatively high value of a pound?
P: You didn't mention that I was in Kent, mainly.
S: Probably both, but I'm not up enough on exchange rates to say
S: well, provided there was someone around who would take pounds, wherever
you were -- which given that it was not entirely finished as the international currency there might well have been -- you could have gotten a goat for it
P: I'm not sure if you could even form a proper exchange rate. Exchange rates are based on the prices of commodities whose values are presumably static. What hasn't changed value since then?
P: Bread is made more cheaply now and isn't the staple it used to be. Milk is more heavily processed and there are health concerns about it.
P: Most Britons had probably never heard of soy in 1935.
S: Well, they and we were both on the gold standard at the time, at least
internationally -- we might have just gotten off of it then -- so things were somewhat more constant
P: True. I'm thinking of exchange rates between them then and us now.
S: I have no idea what rates did in the Depression, though
P: Erg. Right.
P: I forgot about that...
P: I guess the pound wasn't as heavily affected?
S: in general for $ its' ROUGHLY x10 between the two ends of the century
S: but it did weird things in between
P: Of course.
P: So you could rent a movie for a few dimes in 1900. Cool.
S: lol
P: Unfortunately, Prince of Egypt hadn't been made yet.
S: it would look weird on contemporary film, anyway
P: True. The sea splits, and the Hebrews yell "Golly!", or so says the
dialogue screen.
S: and the sea splitting is very clearly a wave crashing with the film reversed
P: :-)
P: As opposed to CGI with wavelets drawn in by hand.
S: yup
P: Most computers at the time ran on steam, and coal was too expensive to manage this kind of animation.*

*Instant Messager Interview with [livejournal.com profile] shirei_shibolim, Imminent Graduate, Brandeis University (Dec. 11, 2002)

(no subject)

Date: 2005-04-14 09:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] shirei-shibolim.livejournal.com
*A zuz (plural, zuzim) is a coin. All I know about the exchange rate is that two zuzim buy a small goat.

According to the Talmud, the wage for a day's unskilled labor was a zuz. Take the minimum hourly wage where you live and multiply it by eight, and that'll get you a modern, local zuz.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-04-14 09:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fleurdelis28.livejournal.com
Do minimum-wage laws have any effect on the equation?

(no subject)

Date: 2005-04-14 09:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] shirei-shibolim.livejournal.com
In terms of concrete value, yes, but doesn't cost of living generally increase when income standards do? I mean, India certainly has more than its share of poverty, but I'm told that food there is mind-blowingly inexpensive by American standards.


Date: 2005-04-14 10:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] shiduri-sour.livejournal.com
after seven classes with the late Professor Alan Dundes, I can confidently say that this song is indicitive of some oral aggressive tendencies ;o)HA! but seriously, this song is a fascinating microcosmic representation of a particular worldview, as jewish people tend to side with the oppressed or the underdog (especially during the retelling of the passover story.) this song seems to reflect that even though time and time again the underdog (or goat) has been devoured by the cat, who was eaten by the dog, etc etc etc... God ultimately restores the balance. (by the way, the version my family sings ends with the line "then came the holy one bringing peace..." -- in other words, there was no more smiting once God intervened.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-04-15 05:40 am (UTC)
mogget_cat: (cat!content)
From: [personal profile] mogget_cat
*stretches, flexing claws.* The song means that everyone should try to strive and be a cat. Dog bites heal, but beating leaves welts and everyone else dies.

The cat gets a good meal. *burp* Excuse me.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-04-16 12:25 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] elettaria.livejournal.com
I think it links in very well, but you have to think about it.

I started off by listening to the recording you found, and that gave me food for thought. In some ways it's clearly recognisable as Chad Gadya, but it's very different in others. The main thing you notice is that it's eerie and fairly dramatic. The eerie effect is partly the timbre of the singer's voice, which ranges from ghostly to passionate, even sexy at times (the drums reinforce the latter effect in a fairly traditional way), which is itself an odd juxtaposition, especially in a song largely about eating. It also comes from effects such as the cantillation with chords moving upwards (frequently dissonantly), over a pedal note which is constant throughout the piece. Movement and stasis in an uneasy relationship, sound and silence (there are striking unaccompanied moments). And had I a proper musical training, I'd be able to give you a far better analysis than that. What makes it even more unsettling is that the seder version I know is cheery, with everyone racing more and more as the list gets longer and longer. This is not a cheery song.

Which brings me to the analysis of the text. In some ways it appeals to the children's-story aspect of the seder. There's an enormous focus on telling the story to children in the Haggadah, both the idea of passing our history down through the generations and the idea of making it accessible by presenting it in child-sized terms. This is exactly what Chad Gadya is about. It begins with telling a story and something being passed down from father to child, and the story is largely about animals, typical of a children's fable.

But it's not a very nice story. It starts off in the domestic mode, father buying a kid. The father is probably going to have it killed and served up for a family meal, but that's not made explicit, and at this stage you have an image of Daddy and a sweet baby animal. Then it gets surreal.

At first the chain seems extraordinarily simple, reinforced by the structure which equates all the links by the way they're added together and repeated. They're not equal. Most of the links are of the same sort, i.e. aggressive: attacking, consuming, killing or otherwise destroying. But factors are left out and others don't quite work. The cat presumably kills the goat before eating it, but does it? (Now there's a nasty thought, being eaten alive. Did the dog actually eat part of the cat it bit?) And anyway, since when do cats eat goats? Sticks don't have agency, they don't hit things on their own, but the presumed human wielding the stick is left out, and after that abstracts come into the chain, fire and water. The water that quenches the fire (again, it can't be through its own agency) is probably not literally the same water that the ox drinks, but rather from the same body of water, e.g. a man took a bucket and drew water from a stream, and later the ox drank from the stream. Everything is confused in this chain of destruction and consumption, much is between the lines.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-04-16 12:26 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] elettaria.livejournal.com
Now look at the participants. Again, it's not a normal food chain. It starts off with humans, goes to animals, then non-sentient things, then an animal, then a human, then heavenly forces; all uneasily related together. The hierachy, which should be as follows (Fire and Water are left floating, though presumably they are the servants of man, but for the others it's fairly clear), is all mixed up, even reversed.

Where does the father fit in? He is "above" the child (going back to the original diagram), but he is also above the kid, and the chain of the kid is not the same chain the father or the child are caught in, but rather parallel to it. The father has presumably told the story to the child, thus gaining patriarchal narrative authority, and the child is passing on this story (and the instinctive reading is that the child is a boy who has grown up to be a father himself, identified with the father or father-figure leading the seder). You can equate the father with God in that sense, and you sure as hell could if you were Christian, but "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" isn't the most appropriate thing to be quoting here.

Anyway, look what father-figures do. One begins the process, one ends it. God is the top of what is basically a food chain. The chain has two ends, both interwoven in the part of the narrative they appear in: the kid who is the ultimate victim, and the child/father pair who are passing on the story. I don't know what the Aramaic is literally, but I presume it's a specific word for a young goat, as opposed to just a goat. In English there is a pun on "kid" meaning human child. A father who buys a kid, for a purpose which is unspecified but which, if you draw the obvious parallels with the rest of the chain, is killing and eating, could do that to his own children, his own "kids". So could God. Pretty damn disturbing.

For a people who have probably never been more than a couple of generations away from persecution, from confused categorisation where they may be untermenschen, less than human, perhaps treated like food animals (and one of the main differences that have set Jews apart and have been resented by anti-Semites is our dietary practices, think of the blood libel) by being cremated in giant ovens after being killed like cattle, and who never know when what seems harmless, friendly or even subservient could suddenly turn round and attack, this song expresses a deep-seated fear.

Not to mention the economic mode invoked at the beginning, tethering it to reality and forming the refrain which frames each verse. For centuries, many diaspora Jews were only permitted to be money-lenders. Look at the Christian-authored narrative about Shylock. He starts off by lending money as is his job, then we get into the pound of flesh, implications of cannibalism, the consuming hatred that had been seething barely beneath the surface bubbling up and nearly leading to the terrible death of being carved up alive. Instead the positions of power shift suddenly and Shylock is now the underdog again, forced to be assimilated into Christian society by conversion, in a way consumed by it.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-04-17 03:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taylweaver.livejournal.com
What I find rather interesting about this discussion is that most people assume that Chad Gadya is a song that is inherently Jewish - especially because it ties in so well with the theme of persecution after persecution with an ending of justice. It must be noted, however, that, as far as I can tell, Chad Gadya is not originally a Jewish song.

My senior year of college, while taking a class that involved using children's stories, I found one about a rooster (or some other animal, but I think it was a rooster), who is going to a fair. He gets mud on his beak, and he wants the grass to wipe it off for him. When the grass refuses, he asks - well, I can't remember, but I am fairly certain it was a goat - to threaten to eat the grass. When the goat refuses, I think he asks a cat to eat the goat, and on down the chain: a dog to bite the cat, a stick to hit the dog, a fire to burn the stick, water to quench the fire, and - here it differs - the sun to dry the water. So we don't have the ox, the angel of death or God in there, and I am a bit hazy on the details, but it matches up fairly well, and it is clear that the two stories are historically connected.

Now, the interesting part is that this is not an Eastern European folktale. If it was, I might wonder if it began with Jews and spread to other places. (Not that i have any idea if that is at all likely). I think that the book I found said it was a cuban story - or at least, from somewhere in Latin America. Someone else I spoke to thinks this song originated in Spain.

So the Jews didn't create it - they took it from somewhere else.

The biggest question is, why did the story change? In the version I was reading, there was bark but no bite - it was all empty threats. Once someone agreed to begin the chain of threats - the sun - the selfish bird who wanted the mud off his beak (which got there, I believe, because he stooped to pick up a coin - I wonder if it was a zuz?) got what he wanted, and no one got hurt. This stands in contrast to the version we know, where everyone gets hurt, except perhaps for God, who has to watch all of His creations get hurt. So I am wondering why it changed.

I have no further information, but I am thinking maybe that this migrated to Ashkenazi tradition when the Spanish Inquisition happened - but I am not sure how old it would have to be for the aramaic to make sense. If so, however, I am guessing the people who would be singing it - who were just expelled from Spain - would be rather disillusioned, and it would make sense to twist what seems to be a relatively innocent song of the swallowed a fly variety - despite its less than ideal message that you can get what you want if you have friends in high places who can threaten people below them - into a depressing song about the way they may have perceived the world - full of victims. Think about it: bird as persecutor - that's their version of the song; goat as victim - the one at the bottom of the chain - our version of the song.

So I guess they gave the song a sort of Jewish twist in which not only is everyone a victim of persecution, but everyone deserves a good guilt trip as well.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-04-18 03:27 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] elfsdh.livejournal.com
All of these explanations are nice, but they're wrong, wrong, wrong!

It's is quite clear that the song is entirely factual and was written by Rav Ashshshshchshhenad (which we can derive from the initials which he clearly left in the song). It describes the chain of events exactly as they were witnessed through the ruach hakodesh (Divine spirit). Any other explanation, while one might think it may be good for kiruv (bringing Jews closer to Judaism), will lead Jews away from the true path and borders on heresy. You bunch of apikorsim!


rymenhild: Manuscript page from British Library MS Harley 913 (Default)

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