Thursday, April 14, 2016

Seder Trivia -- 2016 / 5776 edition


At our synagogue's congregational seders for the last few years, we have played the following game:  I have collected unusual Pesach stories, and shared three such stories with the community:  two true stories, and one fictional story.  Participants then have to guess which two stories are true and which one is false.   (If you listen to Wait, wait, don't tell me, you get the idea, except that only one story is false.)

You can find previous years' stories here,  here, here, here and here.

 

The stories from our 2015/5775 seder are below.  Three unusual Pesach stories..... 2 are true, and one is fictional.  Can you figure out which story is not true?   (The answer is at the bottom.)


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(a)
With each passing year, the number of Kosher for Passover products continues to grow.  In 2015, Israel's Ben and Jerry's factory, which has been selling kosher for Passover ice cream in Israel for several years (sadly, not available in the US), has announced a new flavor - Haroset ice cream, made with apples and nuts and wine. (see photo)  But believe it or not, this is NOT the most unusual kosher for Passover product ever offered for sale.

In 2013, British kosher food manufacturer Hoffman’s began to sell …… sealed jars of …...certified kosher for Passover…..  salt water.  Offered for sale for £0.99 for a liter -- which turns out to be about $1.50 for a quart.

Yes, salt water is a seder necessity. And I guess it is a convenience to have ready-made salt water so you don't need to go through the onerous difficulty of pouring the water, pouring the salt, and stirring them together.

The question remains, though: for the last several hundred years, busy Passover Seder hosts trying to get their 5-year-old kids to leave them alone in those crucial final hours before the Seder have been able to tell their kids, "Let me give you a very important job!  You can help by making the salt water!”  And thus these Seder hosts earned an additional five minutes of peace and quiet.    What will they do, if Kosher for Passover bottled salt water catches on?


(b)
Irving Berlin, one of the greatest composers of American standards, was Jewish, of course -- actually, he was descended from a long line of rabbis and cantors. He grew up among the melodies of the Jewish community.  And one prominent American Jewish musicologist and composer, Jack Gottlieb, has written that you can find Jewish melodies hidden in many of Irving Berlin’s best known songs.

For example:  for many centuries children would sing the 4 Questions at the Passover Seder to a melody that sounds like


mah nishtanah line.png
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(This was the Mah Nishtanah melody that was sung by everyone in the Ashkenazic Jewish world, before the upbeat Israeli melody that people sing today became popular in the 1950’s.)

According to Jack Gottlieb, the great composer Irving Berlin incorporated this melody into one of his best-known songs, which is:

no business like show business.png
Yes, eminent musicologist Jack Gottlieb believed that the classic Irving Berlin song “There’s No Business Like Show Business” was inspired by the old melody of Mah Nishtanah.

Gottlieb asserted only a musical link between these two melodies - not a conceptual link between the lyrics of the two songs.  But we at USH notice that it is very easy to modify ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business” to make it a good summary of the Four Questions. Who knows, maybe THIS was the original version of Irving Berlin’s classic:
There's no dinner like the Seder dinner,
like no dinner I know,
Why are we all dipping and reclining?
Why maror, but bread we don't allow?




(c )
What do the wild cats of ancient Assyria have to do with the Passover seder?

As is well known to readers of the Bible and those with even a passing familiarity with the archaeology of the Middle East, the ancient city of Nineveh (in what today is northern Iraq) was infested with large wildcats, which were the primary hazard for the residents of Nineveh.  The kings of Assyria, who had their palaces in Nineveh, usually didn’t have to worry about the wildcats because they lived in palaces with high walls.  However, the nomadic shepherds and goatherds on the outskirts of Nineveh had to contend regularly with the wildcats.

But what does this have to do with the Passover Seder?  

Well, this year, scholars at the British Museum in London published a new translation of an Aramaic clay tablet that had been part of the Royal Library of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh.  Apparently, a poor goatherd in the Nineveh area was applying to King Ashurbanipal for financial assistance.  The King had apparently asked this goatherd for a detailed inventory of all his animals, how they were acquired, their appraised value, and how and when they ceased being part of his inventory.   

There was one line in this otherwise prosaic clay tablet that caught the eye of one of the scholars:   “ve-ata shunra de-achal le-gadya dizvan aba bi-trei zuzei.” “Then a cat came, and it ate the goat that my father had bought for two zuzim.”

Dr. Efraim Goldberger of the British Museum commented, “While it cannot be conclusively proven that the Passover song “Chad Gadya” is based on a true story, this tablet makes it more plausible than we had previously thought.”

















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 ANSWER:



A is true (See http://www.timesofisrael.com/pre-salted-water-for-your-seder/)


B is true (see this book http://www.sunypress.edu/p-3941-funny-it-doesnt-sound-jewish.aspx. I am not passing judgment on whether there really was a relationship between these songs, but Jack Gottlieb does assert this in his book.)

C is false. (Had Gadya was definitely not written in ancient Assyria! And no, Nineveh was not known for its wildcats....and no, no one thinks that Had Gadya is based on a true story.... )

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