Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky: From Degradation to Exaltation: The Varieties of the Haggadah

What is the wise child seeking from this experience? How do the parents respond to this child? What is so wicked about the second child? What kind of response does he deserve? How does one teach a simple-minded child? What makes the final child silent? How can Jewish tradition open this child up?

For extra background, consider the following: in addition to the version of the Four Children that we know from the Haggadah, another ancient text (the Jerusalem Talmud, Pesahim 10.4) renders the questions and answers differently.

There, the wise child asks, as usual: “What are the testimonies and statutes . . . ” and is told: “By a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of bondage.”

The wicked childs question is expanded: “What does this service mean to you? Why do you harrass us every year with this drudgery?” The answer is given in the third person: “God acted for me, but would not for that person. If that person was in Egypt, he would have been unworthy of being redeemed.”

The third child is not tam, innocent or naive, as in our Haggadah, but tippesh, stupid. When that child asks: “What is this?” The answer comes: “Teach him the laws, i.e., that after eating the Pesah sacrifice itself, there is no afikoman [revelry]."

To the final child, who does not ask, “prompt him first.”

How might this version make your answer different than your response to the classical Haggadah alone?

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