Originally, Jews concluded the Seder by reciting a brocha after the fourth cup of wine. Then came a change as piyutim (poems) began to be added to the Haggadah during the era of the late Rishonim. By the end of the process, the Ashkenazi Haggadah was left a total of seven piyutim. These are: 1) Chasal Siddur Pesach K’hilchoso, 2) Oz Rov Nissim, 3) Ometz Gevurosecha, 4) Ki Lo Na’eh, 5) Adir Hu 6) Echod Mi Yode’a, and 7) Chad Gadya. As we will see, these songs are an integral continuity of the Haggadah’s theme.
A Night of Song
Song is a major theme of the Seder night. The Gemara (Pesachim 95b) learns from the verse, You shall have a song as in the night when the chag is sanctified (Yeshayahu 30:29), that Hallel is recited while eating the Pesach sacrifice. But this is no ordinary Hallel. Rav Hai Gaon explains that it is unique, for unlike regular Hallels that are considered as mere recitations of Hashem’s praise, the Hallel of Seder night is regarded as a song. Why this difference? Because whereas other Hallels are recited in honor of Yom Tov, this Hallel night is a song of thanksgiving for the miracles experienced while leaving Egypt.
The Maharshal (Shu”t 88) implies that the piyutim recited after the Seder are also based on the principle of song. Explaining why he wrote his halachos of Pesach in verse form, he cites the verse the Gemara used as a source for Hallel, You shall have a song as in the night when the chag is sanctified (Yeshayahu 30:29). Because of this verse, he says, “everything [on Seder night] should be with songs and melodies.” From this we can extrapolate that the Maharshal’s reasoning for writing his halachos in verse applies to the piyutim as well.
The same applies to a second reason the Maharshal gives for writing his halachos in verse. He records that this was due to the “great joy and happiness of that night” when one should be “joyfully occupied so that sleep leaves one’s eyes in order to be occupied and awake for most of the night of leil shimurim,” he writes. This reason is also germane to the singing of piyutim on Seder night.
The Maharshal’s second reason is also found in the introduction to Likutei Chaver ben Chaim (vol. 3 pg. 3b) where a talmid of the Chasam Sofer discusses his minhagim. He writes that after reciting the brocha over the fourth cup of wine, the Chasam Sofer “told the women to go to sleep, except for the young girls as we will explain later. Then he completed the piyutim and explained them … And the young girls translated the three piyutim, Adir Hu, Echod mi yodei’a, and Chad Gadya before him into Yiddish, and he said the reason for this minhag was so that children should remain awake until the end.”
Incidentally, contrary to our minhag the Yerushalmi insists (depending on how one interprets it) that no songs can be sung once the Seder is completed.
An article of the Beis Aharon Veyisroel journal (vol. 135 pg. 139) was puzzled why certain rebbes of the Karlin Stolin dynasty never sang on Seder night and suggests that this may have been based on an opinion in the Yerushalmi (Pesachim 10:6). According to this opinion, the Afikoman that the Mishnah forbids eating after the Pesach sacrifice is “varieties of song.” The Korban Ha’eidah commentary explains that the reason for this prohibition is “because of the Hallel said after eating.” In other words, to emphasize the importance of the Hallel of Seder night, Chazal enacted that no other songs should be sung once the Seder is finished.
Chronology of the Piyutim
Although some piyutim of the Haggadah were composed during the times of the Geonim or earlier, they only became part of the Haggadah during the era of the later Rishonim. The Tashbatz written by Rav Shimon bar Tzadok (ch. 99) of the 13th century is one of the first seforim to mention their existence. It records that the Maharam of Rothenberg recited Ki Lo Na’eh immediately after Nishmas and before drinking the fourth cup “so that he should not be thirsty before he lay down [to sleep].”
Another late Rishon, Rav Tzidkiyahu Harofei of Italy (1230-1300), writes in his Shibolei Haleket that, “Our minhag is to say verses and poems arranged as words of praise and thanks, and so is fitting, to say many praises and thanks to He who alone does great wonders for His loving kindness is upon Yisroel forever.” Similarly, Rav Elazar of Worms (1176 – 1238) writes in Sefer Harokeach, “We pour the fifth cup and say Hallel Hagodol, Hodu, Nishmas, and various poems, Oz Rov Nissim, and Ometz.”
The piyutim of the Haggadah were not necessarily composed to be recited on Seder night. The first piyut, Chassal Siddur Pesach was composed by Rav Yosef bar Shmuel Tov Elem (980- 1050) as part of a Krovetz (Shemoneh Esreh piyut) discussing the halachos of Pesach and the Seder. It concludes by saying, Chasal siddur Pesach — we have finished the order (halachos) of bringing the Pesach sacrifice. But once it was incorporated into the Haggadah, the word seder no longer referred to the Pesach sacrifice as in the original piyut, but to the Seder just completed. Incidentally, the phrase said at the end of this piyut, “Next year in Yerushalayim,” is not part of the original but a later addition.
Like its predecessor, the next piyut, Oz Rov Nissim, was not written for the Haggadah but taken from a Krovetz written for Shacharis of parshas Bo by Yanai, the teacher of Rabbi Eliezer Hakalir. Then comes the piyut Ometz Gevurosecha taken from a Krovetz written by Rav Eliezer Hakalir whom Tosfos and other Rishonim say lived during the fourth generation of the Tanna’im.
The next two piyutim, Ki Lo Na’eh and Adir Hu are of unknown authorship. The first is first mentioned by Rav Yaakov bar Yehuda of London who lived during the 13th century. Finally, we have the two piyutim Echod Mi Yodei’a and Chad Gadya. Rav Yedidyah Ti’a Weil writes in his Haggadah commentary Hamarbeh Lesaper (Karlsruhe 1791) that Chad Gadya was first found printed in a Prague Haggadah from the year 5350 (1590) and that it was said to have been found between the walls of the old bais medrash in Worms.
Another way of dating the authorship of Chad Gadya depends on identifying the writer of the following, much cited explanation of why we sing it on Seder night:
“The author wrote the song as a riddle, a hidden, mysterious parable, so that those who come afterwards wonder, and each one ponders how to solve the riddle. Through this, each person explains it according to his ability and through this people will increase their discussion of leaving Egypt, for generally, everyone wants to solve the riddle.”
Some say this explanation was written by the first Tashbetz, a talmid of the Maharam of Rothenberg, which would mean that Chad Gadya dates to the time of the Rishonim, while others ascribe it to the second Tashbetz, Rav Shimon ben Tzemach Doran (1361- 1444). The explanation is actually found in none of their extant writings.
The Chida strongly defends the importance of Chad Gadya. In Chaim She’al (1:25) he discusses someone who mocked Chad Gadya and was put into nidui. Was the nidui effective? To this the Chida answered:
“It is obvious that this conceited person mocked the minhag of myriads of Jews in Poland, Germany, and neighboring places and that has existed for a long while among the gedolim and kedoshim of Yisroel, each generation and its sages. Until today, Yisroel is not bereft of many people of yeshivos and the geonim of the era who all say this piyut. Therefore, this wicked person mocked myriads of Jews and their gedolim, avos beis din and geonim of the land. His punishment is severe and he should be put in nidui…
“Furthermore, the poskim write that even someone who gives insufficient honor to a rav deserves nidui… how much more should this person who said that all who recite this piyut are fools and occupied in nonsense obviously be put in nidui. Furthermore, he should pay a fine to the poor according to what he can afford, told of his great sin, and repent before Hashem.”
Incidentally, the Machzor Mo’adei Hashem printed in Livorno, Italy, in 1893, formulated the ruling of the Chida as a formal halachah in its laws of Seder night: “If someone mocks the piyut Chad Gadya said on Pesach night at the end of the Seder and someone heard and put him in nidui, the nidui is valid and the rov of the place should rebuke him so that he repents of his sin, and release him [from the nidui].”
The Chida goes on to discuss the importance accorded to this piyut in past generations.
“Many commentaries have been written on this piyut, some printed and some in manuscript. I also heard from truthful sources that the [Vilna] Gaon who was unique in his generation wrote over ten beautiful, sweet commentaries on this piyut ranging through pshat, drush, remez, and sod. There is no doubt that it is not void of meaning. The immense greatness of the piyutim of Germany founded on true wisdom is well known as the Arizal said. It is written in the name of Rav Elazar of Worms, author of Sefer Harokeach, that all matters of their piyutim and their details were a tradition from one person to another and from rav to rav, etc.”
Many people recite ShirHashirim after the Seder. This minhag seems relatively recent as one of the first seforim to mention it is Seder Hayom authored by the mekubal Rav Moshe ben Machir who lived in Tzefas around the end of the 16th century. Like the piyutim of the Haggadah, the recital of Shir Hashirim is a way of spending Seder night reciting Hashem’s praises until one falls asleep.
Sources: Har Hamor, Mechon Harav Frank, Yerushalayim, 5755 — Piyutim Veshirim Hane’emarim acharei Hahaggadah, by Rav Yaakov Gellis. Ohr Yisroel (Monsey) 55, Ha’omnam Ossur Lashir Beleil Haseder by Rav Yisroel Denderowitz