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Ma Nishtana

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Ma Nishtana (Hebrew: מה נשתנה‎) are the four questions sung during the Passover seder. Called "ma nishtanah" in Hebrew, meaning "What has changed?", is taken from the first line of the song. In English, it is referred to as "The Four Questions." Traditionally, the Four Questions are asked by the youngest child at the table who is able. The questions are included in the haggadah as part of the Maggid (מגיד) section.


The questions originate in the mishna, but are quoted differently in the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds. The Jerusalem talmud only records three questions - why two foods are dipped, why matzah is eaten, and why meat is eaten exclusively roasted. (The last question is a reference to the paschal sacrifice which was fire roasted).[1] The Babylonian talmud quotes four questions - why matza is eaten, why maror is eaten, why meat is eaten exclusively roasted, and why food is dipped twice.[2] The version in the Jerusalem talmud is also the one most commonly found in manuscripts.[3] As the paschal sacrifice was not eaten after the destruction of the temple the question about the meat was dropped.[4] The Rambam and Saadia Gaon both add a new question to the liturgy to replace it: "why do we recline on this night".[3] Ultimately the question of reclining was maintained, in part to create a parallelism between the number of questions and the other occurrences of the number four in the hagaddah.[3]

Contemporary tunes

One of the current tunes widely used for the Ma Nishtana was written by Ephraim Abileah in 1936 as part of his oratorio "Chag Ha-Cherut."[5]

Current text

English Transliteration Hebrew
What has changed, this night,
from all the other nights?
Mah nishtanah, ha-laylah ha-zeh,
mi-kal ha-leylot—
מה נשתנה, הלילה הזה
מכל הלילות
That in all other nights we eat both
chametz and matzah,
on this night, we eat only matzah.
She-b'khal ha-leylot 'anu 'okhlin
chameytz u-matzah,
ha-laylah ha-zeh, kulo matzah?
שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלין
חמץ ומצה
הלילה הזה, כלו מצה
That in all other nights we eat
many vegetables,
on this night, only maror.
She-b'khal ha-leylot 'anu 'okhlin
sh'ar y'raqot,
ha-laylah ha-zeh, maror.
שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלין
שאר ירקות
הלילה הזה, מרור
That in all other nights we do not
dip vegetables even once,
on this night, we dip twice.
She-b'khal ha-leylot 'eyn 'anu
matbilin 'afilu pa'am 'achat,
ha-laylah ha-zeh, shtey f'amim?
שבכל הלילות אין אנו
מטבילין אפילו פעם אחת
הלילה הזה, שתי פעמים
That in all other nights
some eat sitting and others reclining,
on this night, we are all reclining.
She-b'khal ha-leylot 'anu 'okhlin
beyn yoshvin u-veyn m'subin,
ha-laylah ha-zeh, kulanu m'subin?
שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלין
בין יושבין ובין מסובין
הלילה הזה, כולנו מסובין

Contemporary use

The four questions are traditionally asked by the youngest person at the table that is able to do so.[6] Much of the seder is designed to fulfill the biblical obligation to tell the story to your children,[7] and many of the customs that have developed around the four questions are designed to pique a child's curiosity about what is happening in order to hold their attention.[6]

Idiomatic Usage

The phrase "ma nishtanah" is sometimes used colloquially by some Jewish families in an ironic sense, to express the opinion that some behavior or situation under discussion is not unusual. For example:

Jewish Child: "Dad's in a bad mood today."

Jewish Mother: "Ma nishtanah?"


  1. Jerusalem Talmud, Pesachim, 60b
  2. Talmud bavli, Pesachim, 116a
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Kasher, Menachem Mendel (in Hebrew). הגדה שלמה. Jerusalem: תורה שלמה. 
  4. Rambam, Mishnah Torah, hilchot chumetz u matza, 8:3
  5. Weiss, Sam. "Chazzanut - Mah Nishtanah". Retrieved 2008-09-21. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Judaism 101: Pesach Seder: How is This Night Different". Retrieved 2008-09-21. 
  7. Exodus, 13:8

See also

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