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Paschal Lampoon

Forget Purim. Passover has a rich comedic tradition all its own, with parodies of the haggadah mocking everything from rabbis and the rich to Mussolini and Hitler.

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The Hitler Haggadah from Moment, 1934. (Courtesy Eddy Portnoy.)

Rarely do people hear the word “Passover” and think “hilarious.” But as early as the 13th century, there emerged a Jewish comedic tradition of creating parodies of the haggadah. By the 19th century, the Jewish Enlightenment’s penchant for parody created a robust mock haggadah industry, with imitations of the Seder liturgy burlesquing nearly every aspect of Jewish life.

Appearing every spring in the Yiddish press and in humor journals produced specifically for Passover, these haggadot lampooned the poor, the rich, communists, socialists, capitalists, alcoholics, farmers, lepers, immigrants, loose women, politicians, rabbis, Hebrew teachers, even vacation homes. You name it and there is probably a mock haggadah skewering it.

Some of these spoofs functioned as political propaganda or critical commentary masked as holiday fare. Leftist ideologues, often products of the yeshiva world, took to undermining the traditional texts they knew so well. An early, beloved secular parody first appeared in the London-based Worker’s Friend in 1887 and was reprinted multiple times as the Socialist Haggadah. Lamenting the pitiful situation of the Jewish worker versus the exploitative Jewish capitalist, the author took a text familiar to every Jew and used it to promote socialism:

Ma nishtane, why are we different from Shmuel the manufacturer, from Meyer the banker, from Zorach the money lender, from Reb Todros the rabbi? They don’t do anything and they have food and drink during the day and also at night at least a hundred times over, we toil with all our strength the whole day and at night we have nothing to eat at all.”

But every parodist had an ax to grind, and if the subject being parodied wasn’t the might of the capitalist bourgeoisie, it was something else. In 1909, a New York satirical weekly, Der groyser kundes, worked a bit of Yiddish-theater criticism into its haggadah:

Ma nishtane, why is the current theater season worse this year than in all previous seasons? Shebekhol halaylos, every season for the past ten years had chometz and matzah, awful potboilers, but also some good literary dramas, and this season has been only unadulterated crap.”

The characterizations of the four sons in a 1916 Der groyser kundes parody might seem dated in the details, but its underlying dynamics are surprisingly familiar:

“The Wise Son: a shtetl horse thief who escaped from prison, stowed-away on a ship to America where he became a horse poisoner and a gangster until he managed to become a saloon keeper and a politician. Today he’s the president of his synagogue, a fighter for Judaism, in short, a mentsh …

“The Wicked Son: a man who fills his wallet with relief receipts for victims of the war that he picked up off the ground and shows them to volunteers asking for money to prove what a big philanthropist he is. ‘See how much I already gave?’

“The Simple Son: a kid who sits with a girl until 2 a.m. waiting for permission to kiss her.

“The Son Who Doesn’t Even Know How to Ask a Question: a traveling salesman who only comes home on Passover to find his wife about to give birth and doesn’t think to ask how a woman can be pregnant for 12 months.”

By the early 20th century, the haggadah had become the most parodied text in Jewish history. It’s easy to see why: With its fixed structure of four questions, four brothers, and 10 plagues, it is a simple text to manipulate. The vast majority of Jews—from children to the elderly—were at least nominally familiar with the text, a fact that made the gags easy to understand.

The parodies ranged in scope and ambition, from a 1911 advertisement titled “The Eleventh Plague,” which explained how the most horrible affliction of the Passover holiday was hemorrhoids, to longer parodies that took the “Kadesh, Urkhats” Seder mnemonic and played on the various duties required of Seder participants. Some parodies are complete haggadahs unto themselves.

The quality of the parodies often depended on the Yiddish news cycle. Local and international news always crept into these works. A good local scandal often made for the juiciest parody. When, for example, a political scandal surrounding a Jewish beauty pageant in Warsaw exploded in the early spring of 1929, Yiddish satirists produced an unusual amount of beauty pageant-related Passover material.

But politics was always paramount in the Yiddish press, and the roles of the four sons and the 10 plagues were often filled with political figures. The Hitler Haggadah of 1934 is a typical example.

Appearing in the humor section of the Warsaw daily Moment, just prior to Passover, the Hitler Haggadah zips through the main sections of the text with all manner of sarcastic political commentary in Yiddish interspersed with the original Hebrew. The four sons are Mussolini (wise), Hitler (wicked), Austrian Prime Minister Engelbert Dollfuss (simple), and Paul von Hindenburg (doesn’t know to ask a question). The 10 plagues are transformed into the litany of problems facing German Jewry. The parody is a pastiche of bitterness: A cartoon shows a German Jew sitting in front of a huge bitter pile of horseradish. The four questions wonder how long the Nazis will stay in power. Hitler, who ostensibly answers but simply dodges the questions, is compared to Laban the Aramean, a figure considered to be the Deus ex machina of the Exodus by some rabbis. But Pharaoh only killed the first-born males, whereas Hitler “wants to uproot everything: the males, the females, fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers, the living and even the dead,” a frightening premonition of what was to come.

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Richard Marcus says:

I just had to send it.

The Passover Song

Lyrics by: Richard Marcus

(to the tune of “I’ve Been Working On The Railroad”)

We’ve been working for the Pharaoh
Since we all were kids
We’ve been working for the Pharaoh
Building pyramids.
Can’t he hear our Moses calling:
“Let my people go!”
If not the plagues will be appalling
Pharaoh, don’t move slow!

CHORUS:
Locust, boils and flies,
Darkness, blood and frogs
Gnats and killing livestock
With and without horns.
Hail like basketballs
Then the worst of all
Whacking the first born!

We’ve been schlepping for the Pharaoh
He treats us like we’re slaves.
We’re farklempft with the Pharaoh
Moishe warned him to behave.
But still he keeps us here in bondage
His stone heart God can’t reach
If we wanted this much heat and sand
We’d move to West Palm Beach.

BRIDGE:
Singing: Flee, fly,
middle of the night
Flee, fly bread don’t rise.
Flee, fly till Egypt’s out of sight
But we were in for a big surprise. Oy!

Someone better part the Red Sea.
Someone better cut it in half.
Someone better part the Red Sea
Or we’ll worship a golden calf.

c Richard Marcus/Jack Knifed Big Rig Music 2005

Good day, I was surfing the web and that i saw your site from another site. I read a couple of your articles and thought they are amazing. Thanks, I will try to come back to your page again soon.

Richard Marcus says:

c
The Hagadah In Under 3 Minutes Song

c
Lyrics by: Richard Marcus ( Jack Knifed Big Rig Music) 2013

(Sung to: “I’ve Been Working On The Railroad”)

1:
We’ve been working for the Pharaoh
Since we all were kids,
We’ve been working for the Pharaoh
Building pyramids.
Can’t he hear our Moses calling:
“Let my people go!
If not, the plagues will be appalling.
Pharaoh, don’t move slow!”

2:
We’ve been schlepping for the Pharaoh
He treats us like we’re slaves.
We’re farklempft with the Pharaoh
Moses begged him to behave.
But still, he keeps us here in bondage,
His stone heart G-d can’t reach,
If we wanted this much sand,
We’d move to West Palm Beach.

(Sung to: “Dinah won’t you blow”)

Locust, boils and flies,
Darkness, blood and frogs,
Gnats and killing livestock,
With and without horns.
Hail’s big as basketballs,
Then the worst of all:
Whacking the first born!

( Sung to:” Fee Fi Fiddly Eye-Oh”)

“Flee, fly, middle of the night,
Flee, fly, bread don’t rise.
Flee, fly, Pharaoh wants to fight
But he’s in for a big surprise.”

(Sung to: “Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah”)
Oh, someone better part the Red Sea.
Someone better cut it in half.
Someone better part the Red Sea
Then we’ll worship a golden calf.

3.
We were working for the Pharaoh
Oy, it was so hard!
Plus, totally illegal,
‘Cause we didn’t have green cards.
Thank G-d we were promised Canaan
That kept us all on track.
‘Cause if we fled to Arizona
They’d’ve shipped us all right back.

“Flee, fly, middle of the night,
Flee, fly, bread don’t rise.
Flee, fly, Pharaoh wants to fight
But he’s in for a big surprise.

4.
Now we’re sitting at our Seder
We have our questions four:
Why this night is different ?
Why we re-cline and eat marror?
Dipping veggies, eat our matzoh,
Where’s the Afikoman hid?
Let’s open the door for Elijah,
Yeah, it’s great to be a Yid!
Oy, I’m starving!
Where’s the Afikoman, kid?
It’s a yamulke not a “lid.”
(add your own)

This was an absolutely wonderful read … how enticing! … how I wish I could see some of the originals, but I’ve got to say how very much I enjoyed this and saved it to come back to again and again……..and AGAIN!

RACHEL says:

Hagada parodies were also very popular in the Sephardic world, especially in Ladino.

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Paschal Lampoon

Forget Purim. Passover has a rich comedic tradition all its own, with parodies of the haggadah mocking everything from rabbis and the rich to Mussolini and Hitler.

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