Thursday, January 26, 2012

The 17th century tunes for two Passover Seder songs.

In 1644 Johann Stephen Rittangel published a Haggadah with Latin translation and commentary, called Liber Ritum Paschalium. Rittangel was without a doubt one of the most proficient Christian Hebraists of his time, so much so, that later scholars were divided as to whether he was born Jewish. It seems that there is no evidence for that and some compelling reasons to doubt it, but that gives an indication of how superior his knowledge of Hebrew and rabbinic literature was seen. Rittangel made a guest appearance in an extremely popular work called Dod Mordechai - Notitia Karaeorum , published by Jacob Trigland. This book consists mainly of the extensive Hebrew response of a Karaite rabbi named Mordechai ben Nissan to Trigland's questions about the history of Karaism. Mordechai refers to Rittangel as follows:

"Any wise and learned Christian or German scholar acknowledges the the true original faith received from Sinai through the hands of Moses was preserved by the Karaites. As an example, in 1641 the German scholar Rittangel visited Troki and [displayed] his warm regard for Karaism, and intently sudied their books and visited many locations where they dwell. He praised their faith in the works which he wrote in those communities. His memory ought to ascend for good before the Lord!"
Back to the Haggadah. Although not the first Latin translation of the Haggadah (see here for the 1512 book which gets that honor, which was translated by a converted Jew) this one is far more interesting. Actually, the 1512 one is interesting too, so before I continue about Rittangel, here is the final page with the traditional prayer for "Anno futuro in hierusalem."

Without a doubt what makes Rittangel's Haggadah so interesting is that he included musical notation for two songs! (Modern notation can be found in the Jewish Encyclopedia as in, e.g., here.)

If anyone wants to break out the harpsichord and upload a recording, be my guest.

The Haggadah is also a good source if you wish to impress or annoy your family by, for example, singing Chad Gadya in Latin ("Unum hoedulum, unum hoedulum"). The Latin price of little kids is duobus solidis, by the way. And if you really want to annoy people, you can introduce the Birkhat Hamazon in Latin (if Yiddish, why not Latin?):

Finally, here is a piece of a letter of his which he sent to John Selden, and which was published, transcribed, translated and annotated by Daniel Lasker in "Karaism and Christian Hebraism: A New Document" Renaissance Quarterly, Vol. 59, No. 4 (Winter 2006), pp. 1089-1116.

"The Karaites [scholars] have had a good name for 1900 years or more. They girded their strength to propound true Scriptural *interpretations; they did not follow the way of the vipers, and did not interpet using letter permutations and gematriot of the *Pharisees. Rather only in God's Torah did they desire, and with straight and clear writings, as I have seen in many of their works."
Lasker printed the entire letter, and the next page continues to say that these works are in manuscript "בכתב מטושטש" which Lasker wisely realizes means "cursive writing," not messy. I think it would have puzzled me.

It is important to note that perushim means both explanations and Pharisees, and Rittangel is obviously punning. He of course also used the term nechashim/ vipers alluding to Matthew 3:7.


  1. At first glance, the tune listed for Adir Hu doesn't look all that far off from our modern version.

  2. Jordan, to what modern version are you referring to?

  3. "Any wise and learned Christian or German scholar acknowledges the the true original faith received from Sinai through the hands of Moses was preserved by the Karaites."

    More 'proof' to that Hoffman guy?

  4. I'm sure, but I really don't see why a Karaite claiming that 17th century Christian scholars feel that Karaism is the original biblical Judaism should constitute proof or even 'proof' of anything.


  6. Simon, that was great! S., didn't realize you were serious about the harpsichord.

    Has anyone done it with harpsichord and also vocals? Because that would be AWESOME.

  7. Maybe it's just me but it strongly reminds me of the modern German tunes for these songs:

    Ki lo naeh (Frankfurt AM and Upper Silesia):

    Adir Hu (pretty much all of Ashkenaz, with local variations):

  8. Simon,

    One word: Wow

  9. Simon -

    Wow! The second one reminds me of Greensleeves. And the tune for Adir Hu is really close to the version I grew up with - Jordan pointed this out too.

  10. Give me a few days to see if the school music dept can get music + words

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  24. This song is performed beautifully on the CD Juden in Deitschland.

  25. The Adir Hu and be heard in a beautiful performance on the CD Juden In Deutschland.



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