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The Passover seder (ordered ceremony) as traditionally practiced by Jews includes several ancient languages – Hebrew (most of the Haggadah), Aramaic (Ha Lachma, Chad Gadya), and Greek (afikoman). But Jews around the world have incorporated their own local language and languages of their ancestors into their celebration of the holiday. Inside you will find Passover phrases and songs in various languages.
The spring liberation holiday of Passover (Pesach – פֶּסַח) offers a rich illustration of the cultural diversity of the Jewish people. Wherever Jews have celebrated this holiday, they have incorporated songs, recitation, and conversation in their specific communal language(s), as well as food traditions influenced by the local cuisine and the community’s migration history. Most communities have used a printed haggadah featuring the original Hebrew and Aramaic text, often alongside translation into the vernacular.
What are those vernaculars? Wherever Jews have lived around the world, they have spoken and written in languages distinct from their non-Jewish neighbors. Some of those language varieties might be considered dialects of the local non-Jewish language, and others are so different that the two communities cannot understand each other. For example, medieval Judeo-French and Judeo-Persian seem to have been quite similar to French and Persian, except that they were written in Hebrew letters and included a few Hebrew words. Yiddish (primarily Germanic) was born in Germanic lands but was maintained after migrations in territories where non-Jews spoke Polish, Hungarian, and other non-Germanic languages. Similarly, Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) originated in Spain, but it survived for centuries as a Hispanic language after its speakers were expelled and moved to Turkish, Greek, and Slavic lands. Most other Jewish languages are somewhere in the middle of this continuum: Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Greek, and Judeo-Italian, for example.
For more information on the many languages Jews have spoken and written throughout history, see:
Benor, Sarah Bunin, ed. 2002-2020. Jewish Language Website. www.jewishlanguages.org.
Hary, Benjamin, and Sarah Bunin Benor, eds. 2018. Languages in Jewish Communities, Past and Present. De Gruyter Mouton.
Kahn, Lily, and Aaron Rubin, eds. 2016. Handbook of Jewish Languages. Brill.
Spolsky, Bernard. 2014. The Languages of the Jews: A Sociolinguistic History. Cambridge.
How do you say “Happy Passover”?
Jews around the world have come up with diverse Passover greetings, often involving creative blends of Hebrew and local languages. Many of these phrases were originally written in Hebrew letters or other alphabets.
Judeo-French in Bordeaux, France: Bonne fête (good holiday)
Judeo-Provençal in Avignon, France: Bon tsantou (good holiday [yom-tov])
Western Yiddish in Alsace, France: Bauet gut (build well, likely a reference to rebuilding of the Temple because of the song Adir Hu)
Judeo-Georgian in Kutaisi, Georgia: Bednieri pesach-i (happy Passover)
Judeo-Greek in Ioannina, Greece: Kalo pesach/pascha (good Passover)
Judeo-Italian in Rome, Italy: Buon mongedde (good holiday [moed])
Yiddish in Kovno, Lithuania: A zisn un koshern peysech (a sweet and kosher Passover)
Jewish Neo-Aramaic in Betanure, Iraq: Edəd patire brixa (blessed matzot festival)
Ladino in Izmir, Turkey: Men: Moadim lesimhá [times of happiness; Reply: Hagim uzmanim lesasón - holidays and times of joy]; Women: Pesach alegre (happy Passover)
Judeo-Arabic in Taroudant, Morocco: Ikun ʕlik ǝl-ʕid mḅɑṛk (blessed holiday to you)
Judeo-Tat/Juhuri in Quba, Azerbaijan: Nisonushmu shor giro (may your Passover [Nissan] pass happily)
Judeo-Persian in Tehran, Iran: Moedetun mubarak bashe (have a happy holiday [moed])
Jewish Malayalam in Parur, India: Nalle pesahә pernal (happy Passover)
Jewish Amharic in Gondar, Ethiopia: Melkam yeqita be’al (fine holiday of unleavened bread)
For more on diverse Jewish Passover traditions, see:
Abadi, Jennifer Felicia. 2018. Too Good to Passover: Sephardic & Judeo-Arabic Seder Menus and Memories from Africa, Asia and Europe. Jennifer Abadi.
Lowenstein, Steven. 2000. The Jewish Cultural Tapestry: International Jewish Folk Traditions. Oxford.
Raphael, Chaim. 1993. A Feast of History: The Drama of Passover through the Ages. Reprint edition. Bnai Brith.
Judeo-Greek in Ioannina, Greece: chova (duty)
Judeo-Arabic in Mossul, Iraq: fassaḥ (verb- conduct the seder)
Yiddish in Lvov/Lemburg, Ukraine: praven/uprichtn dem sayder, saydern (verb- conduct the seder)
(The evening of) searching for and getting rid of chametz:
Yiddish in Bialystok, Poland: di nacht tsi chumets batlen (the night to void chametz); boydek chumets zaan (search for chametz [to be])
Haketía in Tetuan, Morocco: dechamezzar (de-chametz - infinitive verb)
Ladino in Salonica, Greece: des·hamesar (de-chametz), badkamiento (search [badkar]-ing), día de kal hamirá (day of kal chamira - formula renouncing posession of chametz)
Judeo-Arabic in Bengazi, Libya: lilet qto‘ el-ḥamiṣ (night of stopping the chametz)
Judeo-Arabic in Ksar Es-Souk, Morocco: bdikt ḥamiṣ (searching for chametz – also used by women as a curse, meaning ‘may [the person being cursed] become extinct’)
Kosher for Passover food and utensils:
Western Yiddish in Amrichshausen, Germany: yontefdig
Yiddish in Warsaw, Poland: paysechdik
Judeo-Georgian in Tbilisi, Georgia: kasheria pesaxistvin
Jewish Malayalam in Chennamangalam, India: pesaholle sadhangle
Judeo-Arabic in Sana‘a, Yemen: altavaqa almufatra (kashered room for preparing/storing Passover grains)
Jews in most communities use variants of מצה, but here are some additional names for Passover unleavened bread:
Judeo-Tat/Juhuri in Derbent, Dagestan: qoqol
Judeo-Provençal in Comtat Venaissin, France: coudolo
Ladino in Salonika, Greece: sensenya
Judeo-Arabic in Baghdad, Iraq: jərduqayi
Judeo-Arabic in Cairo, Egypt: faṭīr
Judeo-Arabic in Ḥugariyyah, Yemen: mašummōr
Jewish Neo-Aramaic in Zakho, Iraq: ‘ez moshe, qazele mnoshe (Holiday of Moses, He provides Himself [God helps needy people celebrate Passover])
Yiddish in Vilna, Lithuania: Matses un vayn muz zayn, shmalts un eyer – nit zeyer (matzah and wine are a must, chicken fat and eggs – not so much)
In Judeo-Italian, shefok can mean “to vomit,” based on shefoch chamatcha (pour out your wrath) from the seder.
In Ladino the high costs of the holiday are summarized by interpreting Pésah as an acronym for Parás sin hazbón – Money [expenditures] without [keeping an] account.
Some Jews in Arabic-speaking lands avoid eating chickpeas on Passover, even though they eat other kitniyot. One explanation is that hummus (chickpea) and hametz (leavened products forbidden on Passover) sound very similar in Arabic.
Cherah een shab ba'ah shab hayeh deegar fargh dareht?
Dar shab hayeh deegar mah ya na’an ya fateer meekhoreem; valley em shab faghat fateer meekhoreem.
Dar shab hayeh deegar hameh jour sabzie meekhoreem; valley em shab faghat sabzayeh talkh meekhoreem.
Dar shab hayeh deegar mah sabzeeh-ra dar cirqueh hatah yek bar haleem nemizaneem; valley em shab dough bar meezaneem.
Dar shab hayeh deegar mah ghazayeh-mon rah hajourey khosteem meekhoreem; valley em shab kaj meesheeneem vah meekhoreem.
Hagda Qsem Allah – Splitting the Sea
Judeo-Arabic from Morocco
Moroccan Jews recite a passage in Judeo-Arabic at the Yaḥaṣ section of the Seder, when the leader takes the middle of three maṣṣot and breaks it into two pieces, demonstrating how God split the sea:
Hagda qsem Allah libḥar, 'ala tnas leṭreq
hen kherjou jdoudna min maṣar
'Ala yid sidna unbina Mousa bin 'Amram
Hen fikkhoum ughatehoum, milkhdema se'iba alḥouriya.
Hagda yifikkna haQadosh Baroukh Hou wenomar Amen
This is how God split the sea into twelve paths when our forefathers were taken out of Egypt by our master and prophet Moshe, son of Amram, peace be upon him. Just as at that time God saved and redeemed them from slavery to freedom, may the Holy One Blessed be He liberate us, our children, and the children of our children, Amen may it be God’s will.
Mish-arotam – Theatrical Exchange
Many Sephardi and Mizrahi communities include this tradition near the beginning of the Maggid section of the seder.
Judeo-Arabic from Aleppo, Syria
After the leader breaks the middle maṣṣa, he places the larger piece (the afikomen) in a napkin. One participant holds this in his right hand over his left shoulder and recites:
Mish-arotam ṣerourot besimlotam ‘al shikhmam. Ubene yisra-el ‘asu kidbar Moshe.
…their remaining possessions tied up in their bags on their shoulders. And the children of Israel did as Moses commanded (Exodus 12:34-35).
The seder participants then ask the person holding the maṣṣa:
Min jayye? – Where are you coming from?
The individual holding the maṣṣa replies:
Mimmiṣrayim – From Egypt
The seder participants then ask:
Lawen rayyiḥ? – Where are you going?
The individual holding the maṣṣa replies:
Lirushalayim (be‘ezrat ha-el) – To Jerusalem (some say: with God's help)
The maṣṣa is then passed to the next oldest, who repeats the ceremony. This continues until everyone at the table has participated.
Ma Chabar – A Women’s Seder Summary
Judeo-Arabic from Yemen
Women in Yemen did not have the Hebrew education to understand the haggadah, so they recited a summary in Judeo-Arabic:
What makes this night different from all nights? Our elders and forefathers left Egypt, the house of slavery. What did they do there? They mixed the straw with bricks and the bricks with straw. For whom? For Pharaoh, the absolute evil man, whose head is like a monster, whose mouth is like a furnace. And God brought upon the Egyptians: blood, frogs, locusts, lice, beasts, cattle disease, boils, hail, darkness, and the slaying of the firstborn. Even a wrinkled old woman, who had an idol made of dough – the dog came in and ate it, and she cried that night. And there was a great outcry in Egypt to fulfill the verse that says, “There was no house without someone dead.” And God saved them with a mighty hand and outstretched arm and great judgments, signs, and wonders, through our leader, Moses, may he rest in peace. And that is the answer.
Charoset – the sweet mixture representing mortar and freedom
Just as charoset looks and tastes different in various Jewish cultures, it also sounds different:
Ladino in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia: harosi
Yiddish in Lublin, Poland: chroyses
Western Yiddish in Amsterdam, Netherlands: charouses
Judeo-Greek in Ioannina, Greece: charoseth, charosef
Judeo-Italian in Venice, Italy: haroset
Judeo-French in Bayonne, France: rharoche
Judeo-Persian in Tehran, Iran: halegh
Judeo-Median in Hamadan, Iran: haliká
Jewish Neo-Aramaic in Betanure, Iraq: ḥəllíq
Judeo-Arabic in Baghdad, Iraq: ḥilq, silan, shira
Judeo-Arabic in Tripoli, Libya: laḥliq
Judeo-Arabic in Sana‘a, Yemen: dukkih
Libyan laḥliq, made with dates, pecans, almonds, pomegranate juice, raisins, apples, cinnamon, cumin, and coriander. Other Libyan laḥliq recipes include allspice, nutmeg, ginger, and vinegar. (Image from Or Shalom haggadah, Israel, 2008)
Ashkenazi charoset as commonly made in the United States today – with apples, walnuts, wine, cinnamon, and sugar. Other recipes include raisins. (Image from https://whatjewwannaeat.com/charoset/)
Italian charoset with apples, pears, dates, raisins, prunes, pine nuts, honey, ginger, and cinnamon. Other Italian recipes include almonds, dates, bananas, oranges, walnuts, chestnuts, and cloves. (Image from https://jovinacooksitalian.com/2015/03/31/italian-passover/)
You can find delicious recipes for charoset and other Passover foods at jewishlanguages.org.
How are longstanding Jewish languages faring today? Although most descendents of Yiddish speakers no longer speak the language, Yiddish is thriving in Hasidic communities, especially in the United States, United Kingdom, Belgium, and Israel. Two other languages are still spoken by some young people in select communities: Judeo-Tajik/Bukharian (Bukharan Jews of Uzbekistan and other parts of Central Asia) and Judeo-Tat/Juhuri (Mountain Jews of Dagestan and Azerbaijan), but these languages are also threatened. Most other longstanding Jewish languages are endangered, because the only remaining speakers are elderly. Due to the Holocaust and various expulsions and migrations in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, most of the people who spoke these longstanding languages could not or did not pass their language on to their children. Some highly endangered languages include Jewish Neo-Aramaic (Kurdish territories of Iraq and neighboring countries), Jewish Malayalam (Southern India), and various Median languages from Iran, like Judeo-Shirazi and Judeo-Hamadani.
As many Jewish languages become endangered, small groups of Jews are expressing renewed interest in them. Jews gather to celebrate Yiddish, Ladino, Judeo-Arabic, and Judeo-Italian, and they use them in artistic work, especially music, theater, and film. This “postvernacular” activity, however, will not reverse the trends toward endangerment.
New Jewish languages
At the same time, new Jewish languages are developing, such as Jewish English and Jewish Latin American Spanish. These languages tend to be similar to the local non-Jewish language, and most are written in the Latin alphabet, rather than Hebrew letters like many longstanding Jewish languages. But they continue to draw from multiple linguistic sources. For example, Swedish Jews incorporate Hebrew, Yiddish, and Western Yiddish into their Swedish, saying peisachdike (kosher for Passover) and Jag vill battla chomez (I want to get rid of chametz). In France, Algerian-origin Jews call matzah matsa or galette, and Moroccan-origin Jews say, “Bibilu, ça porte bonheur!” (In haste, that brings honor; referencing the “Bibhilu” piyyut they recite as they wave the seder plate over guests’ heads before Ha Lahma). Jews in Hungary call “matzah ball soup” mat͜sesgombot͜slevesh and “kosher for Passover” kosher pesachra. Contemporary Jews are continuing the centuries-old tradition of creatively infusing the local spoken language with the Hebrew of sacred texts and languages reflecting Jews’ historical migrations. How do these linguistic trends play out in your family?
Kien supiense i entendiense? [Who knows and understands?]
Alavar al Dyo kreyense. [Praise God the Creator.]
Kwalo son los TREDJE? [What are THIRTEEN?]
TREDJE anyos de bar mizva. [THIRTEEN years for bar mitzvah.]
DODJE trivos de Israel. [TWELVE tribes of Israel.]
ONZE ermanos sin Yosef. [ELEVEN brothers without Joseph.]
DYEZ los mandamientos de la ley. [TEN commandments.]
MUEVE mezes de la prinyada. [NINE months of pregnancy.]
OCHO dias de la milá. [EIGHT days for circumcision.]
SIETE dias kon shabat. [SEVEN days with Shabbat.]
SEISH dias de la semana. [SIX days of the week.]
SINKO livros de la ley. [FIVE books of the law.]
KWATRO madres de Israel. [FOUR mothers of Israel.]
TRES muestros padres son. [THREE are our fathers.]
DOS Moshe y Aron. [TWO Moses and Aaron.]
UNO es el kriador, [ONE is the Creator,]
Baruh u uvaruh shemo. [Blessed be He and his name.]
Bukharian/Judeo-Tajik (Central Asia)
Sezdakhum kie medonad? [Who knows the thirteenth?]
Sezdakhum man’ medonam! [I know the thirteenth.]
Sezdakhum: sezdah khislatcho. [Thirteenth are the 13 Attributes (of God).]
Duvozdakhum: duvozdah shivtocho. [Twelfth are the 12 Tribes.]
Yozdakhum: yozdah sitoracho. [Eleventh are the 11 Stars (in Joseph’s dream).]
Dakhumin: dakh sukhanon. [Tenth are the 10 Utterances (Commandments).]
Nokhumin: noch mochie zanon. [Ninth are the nine months of pregnancy.]
Khashtumin: khasht rouzi millo. [Eighth are the eight days of circumcision.]
Khaftumin: khaft rouzi khafta. [Seventh are the seven days of the week.]
Shishtumin: shash sidrey mishno. [Sixth are the six Orders of the Mishnah.]
Panjumin: panj sifrey Toro. [Fifth are the five books of Torah.]
Chorumin: chor’ modaron. [Fourth are the four Matriarchs.]
Seyumin: se’e padaron. [Third are the three Patriarchs.]
Duyumin: du’u lavchie gavkhar. [Second are the two Tablets of the Covenant.]
Yakumin: Khudoyi pabun olamin. [First is God, Lord of Heaven and Earth.]
Da mobrdzanda akadom baruxu [And there came the Holy One Blessed Is He]
Da dakla malax amaveti [killing the angel of death]
Rom dakla shoxet [that had killed the slaughterer]
Rom dakla xari [that had killed the bull]
Rom dalia tskali [that had drunk the water]
Rom chaakro cecxli [that had extinguished the fire]
Rom datsva joxi [that had burnt the stick]
Rom cema dzagli [that had beaten the dog]
Rom ukbina katas [that had bitten the cat]
Rom shechama tikani [that had eaten the goatling]
Rom ikida mamachemma or abazad [bought by my daddy for two abazi]
Erti tikani, erti tikani! [one goatling, one goatling]
Judeo-Italian in Rome
Benne il kadosh baruch u [Then came the Holy One Blessed Is He]
Che shachtò il malach amaved [who slaughtered the angel of death]
Che shachtò il shochette [who slaughtered the slaughterer]
Che shachtò il bove [who slaughtered the ox]
Che si bebbe l’acqua [that drank the water]
Che smorzò il foco [that put out the fire]
Che abbruciò il bastone [that burnt the stick]
Che bastonò il cane [that beat the dog]
Che mozzicò la gatta [that bit the cat]
Che si mangiò il captretto [that ate the kid]
Che comprò mio padre [that my father bought]
Per due scude. [for two coins.]
Ah lu capre’. Ah lu capre’. [Oh the kid. Oh the kid.]