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Jewish Prayers: Ehad Mi Yo'dea

Ehad M Yo'dea (Hebrew, "Who Knows One?") is a song incorporated in the Ashkenazi rite among the concluding songs of the Passover Haggadah , whose aim was "to keep the children awake" until the end of the seder (cf. Pes. 108b–109a).

The song consists of 13 stanzas, made up of questions (Who knows One?.. Two?.. Three?.. etc.) and their corresponding answers. The reply to each succeeding question also repeats the previous answers. The last verse reads: Who knows thirteen? I know thirteen. Thirteen are the attributes of God; twelve the tribes of Israel; eleven the stars (in Joseph's dream); ten the Commandments; nine the months of pregnancy; eight the days of circumcision; seven the days of the week; six the books of the Mishnah; five the books of the Torah; four the matriarchs (Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, and Rachel); three the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob); two the tables of the Covenant; One is our God in heaven and on earth. (Some Haggadot have substituted other answers for the eighth and ninth questions of the traditional form. They read: nine are the Jewish holidays of the year, eight the Ḥanukkah lights.) In some places the song is chanted responsively: one person, usually the leader of the seder, asks the questions, and the whole company answers, each person responding as quickly as possible in an effort to finish the answer first.

Eḥad Mi Yode'a is first found in Haggadot of the 16th century and only in those of the Ashkenazi ritual. Many scholars believed that it originated in Germany in the 15th century. Perles showed its similarity to a popular German pastoral song, "Guter Freund Ich Frage Dich" (one of the "Hobelbanklied" German folk songs), the first stanza of which ends with the same words as the Passover song. In fact, the identical words of this line of the pastorale are given as the German translation of the first answer of Eḥad Mi Yode'a in many early Haggadot. The Christian theme of the original was changed to one of Jewish content. Zunz discovered that the Hebrew song was used in Avignon as a festive table song chanted on other holidays as well, and Geiger noted other German counterparts. Since then it has been found among the liturgical music of Jews from Ceylon and Cochin, where it forms part of their Sabbath songs for the entertainment of bride and groom. Some scholars have even traced it to Greek or English church songs and Scottish nursery songs.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.

D. Goldschmidt, Haggadah shel Pesaḥ, Mekoroteha ve-Toledoteha (1960), 98; C. Zibrt, Ohlas obradnich pisni … (1928).