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April 11, 2012 7:44 PM   Subscribe

What do we know about the origins of vehi she'amda from the Passover haggadah?

I'd love to learn about who wrote it, when, and under what circumstances.
posted by spbmp to Religion & Philosophy (5 answers total)
Best answer: Great question -- It's definitely incredibly early - It's already found in Rav Saadya Gaon's (882 CE - 942 CE) haggadah - which is one of the earliest haggadah manuscripts currently found.

Growing up, my mom always taught that it was probably an ancient (possibly rewritten pagan?) drinking song. I have no idea where she got this notion from, other than it's a rollicking good tune you sing with your glasses raised, but I just spent ages looking and can't find any sources to support that.

I'll be surrounded by rabbis and have access to a copy of the Goldschmidt Haggadah at the next round of holiday meals tonight and will see if I can get any more clarity by later in the week (if you haven't heard from someone better-informed here first).
posted by Mchelly at 5:49 AM on April 12, 2012

Best answer: I learned a bit more from my own rabbi:

The prayer vehee sheamda was added during the Geonic Period(650-1065) and
was probably put into the siddur in the first edition of Machzor Vitry
written by Simhah ben Shmuel of Vitry a well known pupil of Rabbi Shlomo
Yizthaki (Rashi). It may have existed in word of mouth ritual up until he
added it to the siddur some time in the mid to late 10th century. You can
get a copy of Machzor Vitry if you are interested in any good Jewish book

posted by spbmp at 9:10 AM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Most of the text of the Haggadah (I mean specifically the 'Magid' section, not Kiddush, Bentching, Hallel, etc.) comes from the Mishna in Tractate Psahim and from the Mekhilta and the Sifrei, which are collections of interpretations by sages from the era of the Mishnah of Biblical verses in Exodus and Deutoronomy, respectively. That raw material though, underwent some shaping and ordering by anonymous hands that compiled the traditional text of the Haggadah. For convenience, the term "Ba'al HaHaggadah" is used to refer to the person(s) who did this. Among other things, the Ba'al HaHaggadah added some 'connective tissue': little paragraphs that act as transitions between sections, e.g., the paragraph 'Baruch HaMakom, Baruch Hu..." that acts as the seque into the 'four sons' section.

I think VeHee She'amdah is a segue, added by the Ba'al HaHaggadah to transition smoothly into the section "Tzei Ulmad", which talks about Laban, i.e., it gives a rationale for stepping back and looking at instances of oppression aside from the Egyptian enslavement, to wit: Laban's deeds.

The transition needs to be made because the preceding section, which 'begins with the unseemly and ends with the praiseworthy', and the following section, which expounds the verses that begin with 'An Aramean Astray was my Ancestor.' are both mandated by the Mishnah. One has to have both sections; a bit of connective tissue gives the text flow.
posted by Paquda at 9:17 AM on April 12, 2012

Best answer: I had some further conversation with Paquda that we decided to post
I asked:
- Are you saying it was actually *written* at that time to be a transition piece, or that it was pulled in then, but had been known before. I was going to guess the latter, just intuitively, based on the poetic quality of the words.

- Yes, I think it was written for the purpose of serving as a transition. For one thing, I don't think it could make sense standing on it's own--what would 'VeHi' actually mean (i.e., 'and she/it which stood') on its own?... You'd usually only use a pronoun like 'she' or 'it' when referring back to something just mentioned; you couldn't use it at the start of a statement. Or could you?--how are you understanding the 'she/it'?

- I've seen the it translated as "it [the covenant]"

- Yes, the Mahzor Vitry explains 've-hee' to refer to the promise (havtahah) made in the verse quoted immediately beforehand: "and also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge..."

- Oh, so not *the* covenant, but just a promise to hurt the Egyptians?

- Well, the promise in the verse, taken at face value, seems to be limited to being about punishing the Egyptians, but 've-hee she-amdah' in the Haggadah understands it to be a promise of punishment against any nation oppressing the least according to the Mahzor Vitry's understanding of 've-hee she-amdah'. I think that understanding of what 've-hee she-amdah' is saying is the most mainstream one, though 've-hee she-amdah' is by no means clear and unambiguous.
posted by spbmp at 7:32 PM on April 14, 2012

A note on later understanding of, and ritual surrounding, the passage: for the Kabbalists, it was natural to take 'and she' as referring to the She par excellence and to understand the passage as stating that She accompanies us in exile. The cup filled with wine, over which the Haggadah is recited, i.e., a vessel filled by an influx, is also naturally understood by the Kabbalists to be a represetnation of Her. It was therefore deemed appropriate to lift the cup of wine while reading the passage. Like numerous practices originated by the Kabbalists, this continues to be enacted by rote by mainstream Jews....Anyway, the the lifting of the of cup at that point might explain why the OP thought of the passage as a separate unit and why one of the commenters above thought of it as a drinking song....
posted by Paquda at 9:15 PM on August 4, 2012

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