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Ma Nishtana

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Ma Nishtana - Ma Nishtana (Hebrew: ) is the four questions sung during the Passover Seder The name "ma nishtanah" in Hebrew, meaning "Why is it different?", is from the first words of each question. However, in Hebrew it is also referred to as "Arba'at Haqushiyot" - the four questions and in Yiddish, "di feer Kashehs." 

The questions are obviously an important didactic part of the Haggadah for children.  Usually, the four questions are asked by the youngest child at the table who is able to do so . Practicing the recital of the questions teaches a bit of Hebrew as well. The questions are in the Magid () section of the Haggadah.

The questions of the ma nishtana are a very old, part of the Seder, but the have changed a bit over time. The Jerusalem  Talmud recorded three questions and this seems to have been the most common verion: Why two foods are dipped, why Matza is eaten and why meat must be eaten roasted only. The Babylonian Talmud added a question about Maror. Maimonides (Rambam) and Sa'adia Gaon dropped the question about the meat and replaced it with "Why do we eat reclining?"

The questions are:

Translation Transliteration


Why is this night different from all other nights? Mah nishtanah hah-lielah hah-zeh mi-kol ha-laylot?


That on all (other) nights, we may eat chametz and matzah. On this night, only matzah She-be-chol haylot anu okhlin , chameytz u-matzah. Hah-lielah ha-zeh, kuloh matzah.

, - .

That on all  (other)  nights, we eat other vegetables. On this night - maror. She-be-chol ha-laylot anu okhlin sh'ar yirakot, Hah-lielah ha-zeh, maror.

, - .

That on all (other)   nights, we do not dunk even once. On this night, twice. She-be-khol ha-laylot ayn anu mat'bilin afilu pa'am echat. Hah-lielah ha-zeh, sh'tay p'amim.

, - .

That on all (other) nights, we eat either sitting or reclining. On this night, we all recline. She-be-Chol ha-laylot anu okhlin bayn yosh'bin u'vain m'subin. Hah-lielah ha-zeh, kulanu m'subin

, - .

Note that many of the words repeat themselves, and therefore the song is easy to learn (intentionally so) for those who do not know Hebrew.

The reply is general and does not address each question but rather tells the story of the Passover holiday:

, .

Ahvahdim Hahyinu lepharoh bemitzrayim. Vayotsieynu Adonai Eloheinu misham behyahd Hazaka ubizroah netuyah.

We were slaves unto Pharoah in Egypt. And the Lord our God took us out of there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm.

Avahdim Hahyinu is a chant or song in its own right.

Ami Isseroff

October 18, 2008


Synonyms and alternate spellings: PassoverPassover, Passover, Seder Haggadah,
Ha Lachma Aniah,

Further Information: 

Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:

'H - ('het) a guttural sound made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch, especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.

ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch" in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."

u - usually between oo as in spoon and u as in put.

a- sounded like a in arm

ah- used to represent an a sound made by the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative acceptable transliterations.

'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic ayin, a guttural ah sound.

o - close to the French o as in homme.

th - (taf without a dot) - Th was formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.

q- (quf) - In transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for example.

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This work and individual entries are copyright 2005-2008 by Ami Isseroff and Zionism and Israel Information Center and may not reproduced in any form without permission unless explicitly noted otherwise. Individual entries may be cited with credit to The Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Zionism and Israel


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