Why Is This Night Dif­fer­ent from All Oth­er Nights?: The Four Ques­tions” Around the World

Ilana Kur­shan; Rab­bi Joseph Telushkin, intro.
  • Review
By – April 23, 2012
The Ma Nish­tana is one of the secrets of Jew­ish sur­vival. As long as chil­dren are chant­i­ng these ques­tions,” Joseph Telushkin writes in his intro­duc­tion, the Jew­ish peo­ple will go on.”

That assur­ance takes on new mean­ing as one leafs through Ilana Kurshan’s small but fas­ci­nat­ing new book. It is clear that the Ma Nish­tana has found a place in Jew­ish homes around the world. And it is not some dis­tant for­eign prayer, but a prayer that peo­ple recite in their native tongue and that is passed on from gen­er­a­tion to generation.

The author invites us to hear the Ma Nish­tana chant­ed in twen­ty- three dif­fer­ent lan­guages, from French to Far­si, from Latin to Ladi­no and from Swedish to Turk­ish. The famil­iar words are repro­duced here in each lan­guage. It is a sur­prise and delight to the eye to see the Ma Nish­tana in Ara­bic let­ters, the Cyril­lic alpha­bet of the Rus­sians, and Marathi, the Indi­an dialect spo­ken by India’s Bene Israel.

Kur­shan puts it all in con­text with a brief overview of Jew­ish life and cul­ture among the speak­ers of the var­i­ous lan­guages. The book is illus­trat­ed with wood­cuts and pho­tographs of such activ­i­ties as matza bak­ing, Ham­let search­ing and seder gath­er­ings around the Jew­ish world. It is a love­ly accom­pa­ni­ment to any seder.
Ari L. Gold­man (ALG), a for­mer New York Times reli­gion writer, is a pro­fes­sor at the Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty Grad­u­ate School of Jour­nal­ism. He is the author of three books, includ­ing the best­selling The Search for God at Harvard.

Discussion Questions