The spring liberation holiday of Passover (Pesach) offers a rich illustration of the linguistic diversity of the Jewish people. Wherever Jews have celebrated this holiday, they have incorporated songs, recitation, and/or conversation in their specific communal language(s). The Jewish Language Project features Passover images, music, recipes, and an original haggadah and haggadah supplement. Click on the images below to see and hear more. We hope these resources enrich your seder and your Passover experience.
Multilingual Haggadah Supplement
Conducting a seder over Zoom? Projecting images at an in-person seder? You might appreciate the Jewish Language Project's PowerPoint Haggadah. The editable slides include selected material from this website, such as videos and texts of songs in multiple languages and fun facts about Passover words and traditions around the world. It also includes instructions for organizing an afikoman escape room.
Treat yourself or your seder host to some fun multilingual gifts. Our Redbubble shop includes the images above on many products, from shirts to hats, from tote bags to blankets. Recline on a pillow decorated with Passover greetings or serve up your shulchan aruch (set table - Passover meal) in a charoset map apron.
Alternative Symbolic Passover Foods
Charoset and Other Recipes
Can't stand parsley? Looking for a vegetarian version of the shank bone? Click here for some alternative foods for your seder table, inspired by international Passover traditions.
How do Jews around the world make charoset, the sweet mortar-like food eaten on Passover? What do they call it? Check out this page for charoset fun facts, as well as recipes for Passover soup from Uzbekistan, eggplant casserole from Azerbaijan, and more.
Passover Language Fun Facts
Our Passover Exhibits in Collaboration with Kolture
These resources provide us with insight into the similarities and differences among diverse groups of Jews in the celebration of Passover. For example, Jews around the world wish each other happy Passover, but the words they use highlight different aspects: the holiday, the matzah, the dietary laws, and the rebuilding of the Temple. The inclusion of charoset is consistent in seders around the world, but different pronunciations and words (as well as different ingredients) are used for this sweet condiment in different regions. The same goes for the bread of affliction: while the word matzah is used in all Jewish communities, there are at least seven other unrelated names for matzah. When one reads Chad Gadya (One Little Goat) and Echad Mi Yodea (Who Knows One) in various languages, they will likely understand very little, but they might recognize some common Hebrew words, like Torah, shochet (slaughterer), and bar mitzvah. The Judeo-Arabic introductions to the Exodus story offer diverse approaches to the Magid, the “Telling” part of the seder. While we are all children of the same traditions, it is valuable to be introduced to customs one might not be familiar with from home.
This exhibit allows us to celebrate the diversity of Passover traditions across the Jewish Diaspora, as well as incorporate more diversity of language into our own Passover experiences. It demonstrates how Jewish tradition is consistent across cultures – Passover songs, foods, and stories have stood the test of time, across so many different languages. This exhibit seeks to introduce various linguistic traditions to global Jewry, rekindling the connection with traditions that may have been lost to some families. Jewish families of all backgrounds can recite the Syrian “mish-arotam” theatrical exchange, try a different version of their favorite songs, or wish family members a happy holiday in a new Jewish language each night of Passover. These resources show the centrality of Passover, one of Judaism’s holiest holidays, to Jewish culture and tradition, and displays how the preservation of customs has held across so many widely dispersed languages and cultures. We invite you to draw inspiration from these images - and consider using them to diversify your seder this year at home, and next year in Jerusalem.
Questions to Consider
For language lovers: Examine the different ways to say “Happy Passover” in Jewish languages – what Hebrew words can you find? Also, notice the meanings of these phrases – some are more general (happy holiday), while others refer to Passover, matzah, or dietary restrictions. What effect might these different greetings have on those who say and receive them?
For anyone who loves the songs at the end of the seder: What differences can you find between the Ladino and Bukharian translations of Echad Mi Yodea (such as “Moses & Aaron” vs. “two Tablets of the Covenant”)?
For the youngest at the table: Try reading the four questions in a Jewish language that you don’t typically use – how does it feel to explore a new language for this age-old tradition?
For almost as long as the Jews have been a people, we have been observing and celebrating Passover, the holiday of liberation, springtime, and returning home from a land not our own. It is fitting, then, that the Jewish people have songs, not just in Hebrew but in their diverse regional tongues, commemorating what it means to be free. Languages like Yiddish, Ladino, Bukharian, and Jewish English all have their own versions of iconic songs like Dayenu, Who Knows One, and Chad Gadya - all with unique vocabulary, melodies, and sounds adopted from the surrounding societies. Notice how the Four Questions in Yiddish borrows sounds from High German as well as ancient Hebrew; how Chad Gadya in Ladino sounds completely different from the same song in Bukharian, yet can be played with the same instruments; how Dayenu in Jewish Neo-Aramaic is so similar to its Hebrew cousin. Passover songs were incorporated into the Haggadah centuries ago, and they persist today in their various iterations across regional and traditional boundaries. These songs provide a metaphorical home for our people - from the land of Egypt thousands of years ago, to next year in Jerusalem.
We selected this content as a manifestation of Jewish unity and diversity. In so many traditions, from Ashkenazi to Sephardic to American to Bukharian, Passover in general and these songs in particular are a staple of the Jewish experience. Even Jews who profess little religious or traditional involvement often recall Passover seders more vividly than Shabbat services. Song, too, is an ancient and modern way of preserving history, sharing stories, building a shared identity, and passing traditions on to the next generations. To incorporate one of the most core Jewish practices with the universality of song, across continents and tongues, is a crucial way to join hands (and voices) in Jewish pride. As Jews of varied backgrounds join together in the experience of each other’s regional customs, especially that most intimate custom of song, Judaism becomes more unified, though, crucially, not uniform. We embrace the differences between Ladino and Bukharian, Yiddish and Jewish English, as we simultaneously share in the joy of a deep and full Judaism. Had we only had one way to profess our joy in peoplehood and liberation, dayenu. But we have so many, and it is only right that we take pride in that.
Questions to Consider
For lovers of song: Songs like Chad Gadya and Who Knows One are cyclical and repetitive in nature. How might this represent or symbolize Passover tradition and Judaism broadly?
For parents: How do songs like these help you imbue Jewish values into your children? What do you try to teach them through song?
For language connoisseurs: Compare two (or more!) versions of Who Knows One on this page. What words do they have in common? How do the songs differ, not only in language but in content?
Multimedia Passover Festival
The Jewish Language Project's first public event was a Multimedia Passover Festival, scheduled for March 15, 2020. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the event transitioned from in-person to virtual just three days beforehand. Watch the video to learn how Jews around the world have spoken and sung about the Exodus in dozens of languages from Yiddish to Judeo-Arabic to Bukharian.
See images of haggadot in Ladino, Slovak, Amharic, Judeo-Arabic, and more.
Post-Passover Celebrations: Mimouna and Seharane
Multiple Jewish communities have held the tradition of a festival marking the end of Passover, the coming of spring, and the return to making and eating leavened products.
Mimouna is the post-Passover celebration traditionally observed by Maghrebi, and especially Moroccan, Jews. The tradition dates back to at least the 1700s and involves many ceremonial foods such as moufleta, a crepe-like pastry eaten with butter and honey, date balls, and cookies. There are multiple theories surrounding the origin of the world mimouna. Most likely it is derived from the Arabic maimun, meaning "luck." It may also be influenced by the Hebrew word emuna, "faith."
Seharane, or Saharane, is observed by Kurdistani Jews for several days, usually beginning the day after Passover. It celebrates the coming of spring and emphasizes a connection with nature. The origin of the word seharane is unclear, but it may be related to sahar, the crescent moon, because of its visibility during spring. Traditional foods eaten during Seharane include yaphrach, grape leaves stuffed with rice and meat, and mazza, bite-sized fish or chicken finger foods.
For more information on global diversity of Passover celebrations, check out these books:
Abadi, Jennifer Felicia. 2018. Too Good to Passover: Sephardic & Judeo-Arabic Seder Menus and Memories from Africa, Asia and Europe. Jennifer Abadi.
Kurshan, Ilana. 2008. Why Is This Night Different from All Other Nights?: “The Four Questions” Around the World. Schocken.
Lowenstein, Steven. 2000. The Jewish Cultural Tapestry: International Jewish Folk Traditions. Oxford University Press.
Ochs, Vanessa. 2020. The Passover Haggadah: A Biography. Princeton University Press.
Raphael, Chaim. 1993. A Feast of History: The Drama of Passover through the Ages. Reprint edition. Bnai Brith International.
Spiegel, Murray, and Rickey Stein. 2013. 300 Ways to Ask the Four Questions. Second edition. Spiegel-Stein Publishing.
Additional Passover resources:
The Jewish Heritage Network offers an excellent multimedia platform to host an online seder, including an international collection of haggadot. The Sephardic Brotherhood has compiled a collection of Ladino recordings.
If you wish to express gratitude for the multitude of materials on the Jewish Language website, you can donate to support our work, including the documentation of endangered Jewish languages.