Wednesday, April 4, 2012

One Goat...and a Host of Other Things

Most American children know the play song, There was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. It’s a fun song that has a building pattern that helps develop children’s memory skills. There was an Old Lady was written by Alan Mills and Rose Bonne around 1950. While there is almost no biographical information on Rose Bonne, Alan Mills (born Alan Miller) was a well-known Jewish Canadian folksinger, writer, and actor.

Knowing that one of the composers of this song was Jewish strengthens the case for the connection many note to the classic seder song, Chad Gad'ya (One Little Goat). The structure of both songs moves from a small or powerless creature to a larger or more powerful creature/being. Just as the final verse of There was an Old Lady, is a cumulation of all of the other verses, Jewish Treats presents only the final verse of Chad Gad'ya:

“One little goat. One little goat. That father bought for two zuzim. One little goat. One little goat.

And came The Holy One Blessed be He, and killed the angel of death, that killed the slaughterer, that killed the ox, that drank the water, that doused the fire, that hit the dog, that bit the cat, that ate the kid, that father bought for two zuzim. One little kid. One little goat.”

The first known inclusion of Chad Gad'ya in the actual Haggadah can be traced back to 1590, in Prague.

Upon a close reading of the text, one might actually call it macabre. If nothing else, it is heavily laden with symbolism. One common understanding is that the little goat represents the Children of Israel, the father is God (who bought the little goat for two coins - two tablets of law) and the rest of the animals represent Israel’s historic enemies:

Cat - Assyria
Dog - Babylon
Stick - Persia
Fire - Macedonia
Water - Rome
Ox - Saracens
Slaughterer - Crusaders
Angel of Death - Ottomans

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