How the Haggadah Preserved the Work of an Ancient Jewish Master Poet

According to Ashkenazi custom, the Hebrew hymn “It Came to Pass at Midnight” is recited near the end of the seder. Laura Lieber analyzes this sophisticated poetic work, originally composed to be read in synagogues, and tells its author’s story:

The song . . . was not written for [the seder] night, nor is it an independent composition. Instead, it was part seven of the poem Oney fitrey raḥamatayim (The Vigor of the Openers of Wombs), composed by Yannai (late 5th–early 6th century CE), the first Hebrew poet to use end-rhyme and to sign his works with a signature acrostic.

Most of Yannai’s poems, including this one, belong to the genre known as q’dushta’ot, [singular q’dushta]. In the synagogues of the Land of Israel (up until the 7th century CE or so), the weekly Torah reading was divided up into s’darim [singular sidra], much smaller units than the Babylonian parashiyot that we use today, and the Torah was completed not yearly but roughly twice every seven years. Yannai composed a different q’dushta for each sidra, to be recited on the Shabbat when the sidra was read in synagogue.

The poem “The Vigor of the Openers of Wombs,” was composed to be recited for the sidra “And It Came to Pass at Midnight” (Exodus 12:29–51). The sidra tells the story of the death of the firstborn and Israel’s escape from Egypt, and this liturgical poem embellishes these themes, which are central to the Passover story; these affinities explain why Yannai’s poem became connected to the Passover liturgy. Indeed, because of its association with Passover, this composition ended up as Yannai’s only surviving poem until his voluminous and revelatory body of work was rediscovered in the Cairo Genizah.


More about: Haggadah, Hebrew poetry, Passover

Hamas’s Hostage Diplomacy

Ron Ben-Yishai explains Hamas’s current calculations:

Strategically speaking, Hamas is hoping to add more and more days to the pause currently in effect, setting a new reality in stone, one which will convince the United States to get Israel to end the war. At the same time, they still have most of the hostages hidden in every underground crevice they could find, and hope to exchange those with as many Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners currently in Israeli prisons, planning on “revitalizing” their terrorist inclinations to even the odds against the seemingly unstoppable Israeli war machine.

Chances are that if pressured to do so by Qatar and Egypt, they will release men over 60 with the same “three-for-one” deal they’ve had in place so far, but when Israeli soldiers are all they have left to exchange, they are unlikely to extend the arrangement, instead insisting that for every IDF soldier released, thousands of their people would be set free.

In one of his last speeches prior to October 7, the Gaza-based Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar said, “remember the number one, one, one, one.” While he did not elaborate, it is believed he meant he wants 1,111 Hamas terrorists held in Israel released for every Israeli soldier, and those words came out of his mouth before he could even believe he would be able to abduct Israelis in the hundreds. This added leverage is likely to get him to aim for the release for all prisoners from Israeli facilities, not just some or even most.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli Security