[or perhaps pilgrimage]). This may be an allusion to the famous concluding wish of the Passover seder: “Next year in Jerusalem!”
Other variations abound. According to the Hebrew text, the number two represents the two tablets of the covenant that Moses received at Sinai, yet we find that most Sephardic communities replaced the reference to the tablets with the names of two of the great leaders in the Passover story, Moshe and Aaron. In Rhodes and Salonica, the names of the Patriarchs Abraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov are added, as are the names of Matriarchs Sara, Rivka, Lea, Rahel (the latter of which conveniently rhymes with “madres de Yisrael”).
Perhaps one of the most intriguing differences can be discerned in the varied references in the final, thirteenth stanza of Ken Supiense. The Rhodesli and Turkish versions do not refer to the thirteen attributes of God’s mercy as the original Hebrew text does, but rather to renowned medieval Spanish sage Rabbi Moses Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles of Faith that he outlined in his famed commentary on the Mishna, and which are popularly known today from Sabbath songs like “Yigdal” and “Adon Olam.”
The specific importance of these thirteen principles from the Sephardic perspective is reflected in the Ladino saying: está en sus treje (He is standing on his thirteen), meaning that one is holding strong to his faith. According to Sam Bension Maimon in The Beauty of Sephardic Life, popular legend has it that this expression goes back to the days of the Spanish Inquisition when an inquisitor would ask someone suspected of practicing Judaism in secret: “Está en su treje?” meaning: would this person abandon or stay steadfast to his belief in the Thirteen Principles of Faith?
The Azose family singing “Ken Supiense” according to the Turkish tradition in the film Song of the Sephardi
Regardless of the fanciful link to the Inquisition, Ken Supiense refers explicitly to one of Maimonides key concepts and signifies the transformation of a song of Ashkenazi origin into one with fundamentally Sephardic allusions. The reference also demonstrates that high ideas expressed in writing by Sephardic sages like Maimonides penetrated the collective consciousness of the Sephardic masses through oral tradition—evidence of the importance of taking into account written and oral traditions together.
The 13th stanza of Ken Supiense according to the Turkish custom, from Isaac Azose’s Agada De Pesah, Seattle, WA 2011.
The case of Salonica includes a completely different reference for the number thirteen in Ken Supiense. (See the Salonican version of Ehad Mi Yodea recorded in 1982 by Dr. Susana Welch-Shahak, available here [beginning at minute 39:00], from the National Library of Israel). Rather than evoke the thirteen attributes of God’s mercy or Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles of Faith, the Salonican version departs considerably from the original Hebrew text and refers to “ermanos kon Dina”: Joseph and his eleven brothers who initiate the twelve tribes of Israel, plus their sister Dina.
At this point, we can only speculate as to why Dina is included here. Could her inclusion be interpreted as a kind of feminist gesture that says that women ought to count? Or perhaps, as described in the Me’am Lo’ez, the most important Ladino biblical commentary, the significance of the story of Dina (who, according to Genesis 34, is the victim of rape) is to reinforce patriarchy and remind men—fathers and brothers—that it is their responsibility to protect their women. Or perhaps, as also explained in the Me’am Lo’ez, the significance of Dina lies in her ability—and by extension, the power of each woman—to improve the morality and behavior of her husband. The Me’am Lo’ez deduces this conclusion from Dina’s later marriage to Job, who not only becomes an Israelite but also a holy figure—a transformation the Me’am Loez attributes to Dina’s positive influence.
Whichever interpretation one goes with–and there are likely many others–the variations among the different versions of Ken Supiense not only ought to entertain the children at the conclusion of the Passover seder, but also provoke a thoughtful discussion among the adults regarding the meanings and messages embedded in the numerous Ladino versions of the song.
The variations in the lyrics are also matched by variations in the song’s melody—additional signs not only of the internal diversity and richness of Sephardic traditions, which varied from one community to another, but also of the extent to which these songs likely survived through oral transmission, from one generation to the next. Mrs. Shemarya’s version, for example, is slower and more of a dirge than the upbeat tempo of the Turkish and Salonican versions.
Photograph from Rachel (Rahil) Shemarya’s Petition for Naturalization, November 1941, courtesy of Ancestry.com
Her version reflects not only the lyrical tradition from Rhodes, but if you listen closely you will hear the distinguishing features of the Rhodes’ dialect of Ladino, which is characterized by what linguists refer to as “vowel raising”: “e” becomes “i” and “o” becomes “u”. You can hear these nuances in Mrs. Shemarya’s recording as she refers to “kuatru” instead of “kuatro,” “simana” instead of “semana,” “Mushe” instead of “Moshe,” “onzi” instead of “onze,” “sieti” instead of “siete,” “muevi” instead of “mueve,” “muestrus” instead of “muestros,” and “intendiense” as well as “entendiensi” instead of “entendiense.”
The differences in wording, pronunciation, and melody become clear when considering the various versions of the song together. Compare Mrs. Shemarya’s rendering to that presented in the 1978 film documentary film Song of the Sephardi, which features a performance of the song by Seattle’s Hazzan Isaac Azose and his family. Years later Azose also recorded the song on his double disc CD “The Liturgy of Ezra Bessaorth.”
Some of the leaders of Seattle’s Sephardic Bikur Holim, namely Sam Bension Maimon, Reverend Samuel Benaroya, Rabbi Solomon Maimon, and Leo Azose recorded a similar version on the 1980 cassette recording “The Sephardic Ladino Tradition: Judeo-Spanish religious songs and liturgical chants: according to the Turkish Balkan tradition.” What’s remarkable here is that even though Leo Azose had access to the direct, word-for-word Ladino translation of Ehad mi-Yodea, the version in the recording follows the Turkish oral tradition.
In 1995, Hazzan Isaac Azose and Elazar Behar each produced their own editions of the haggadah in English, Hebrew and Ladino, which included the Rhodes and Turkish traditions of Ken Supiense, printed in Latin letters for the benefit of the Seattle Sephardic community, thus ensuring that future generations will “know and understand” the now traditional seder standard, “Ken Supiense.”
The 11th stanza of Ken Supiense according to Rhodes tradition, from Elazar Behar’s Seder ha-Haggadah shel Pesah, Seattle, WA 1995.
From our excavation of the varying versions, styles, and sounds of Ehad Mi Yodea in Ladino, we learn that in order to understand the richness of Sephardic traditions and customs, we must not only study published texts, but also make recourse to the oral tradition. As in traditional Judaism, in general, according to which the Written Law cannot be fully comprehended without reference to the Oral Law, so too must Sephardic traditions be recognized as an ongoing dialogue between the written and oral domains. It is a dialogue that has transmitted key intellectual concepts of Judaism—like Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles—to the masses, and one in which not only men have played leading roles, but also, as evidenced by Mrs. Shemarya’s recording, women, too.
This year, consider singing Ken Supiense in Ladino according to one of various Sephardic traditions at your Passover seder!
For your enjoyment, we have transcribed the 13th stanza according to the Salonican tradition based on Dr. Susana Welch-Shahak’s recording:
Eleonu she-ba-shamayim, nos iremos a Yerushalayim, kon la karavana grande. Kualo son los tredje? Tredje ermanos kon Dina, dodje ermanos kon Yosef, onze ermanos sin Yosef, diez mandamientos de la Ley, mueve mezes de la prenyada, ocho dias de huppa, siete dias de la semana kon Shabbat, sesh dias de la semana sin Shabbat, sinko livros de la Ley, kuatro madres de Yisrael, tres muestros padres son, dos Moshe i Aaron, primero es El Kriador. Baruh u u-baruh Shemo.
For additional resources see:
“Had Gadya: A Sephardic Passover Tradition” by Devin Naar
“A Ladino Haggadah with Woodcuts and Wine Spills” by Hannah Pressman
Ora Rodrigue Schwarzald and Aaron Maman, Milon ha-hagadot shel Pesah be-Ladino (“A dictionary of the Ladino Passover Haggadot) (Jerusalem: Y.L. Magnes, Hebrew University, 2008) (In Hebrew)
Special thanks to Hazzan Isaac Azose for producing this song in film, text, and musical recordings, as well as allowing us to include samples of his work in our research. Thanks to Ralph Maimon for notifying us that Hazzan Isaac Azose’s “Agada de Pesah” was the result of a collaborative effort with Isaac Maimon, Sarah Benezara and support from Morris Piha.
We are grateful to Rachel Shemarya’s son Albert Shemarya not only for his contribution of Ladino texts and recordings but also for his active support to the Sephardic Studies Program where he has presented and sung at all four International Ladino Day Events at the University of Washington.
Additional thanks to PhD Student Molly FitzMorris at the University of Washington’s Linguistic Department for her insights into Rachel Shemarya’s recording of Ken Supiense. Ms. FitzMorris is undertaking an in-depth study of the Rhodes dialect of Ladino and the phenomenon of vowel raising.