Photo Credit: Saul Jay Singer

Arthur Szyk (1894-1951) was an extraordinarily meticulous craftsman, a biting political activist and unapologetic propagandist, a skilled cartoonist and painstaking caricaturist, and a successful commercial artist and book illustrator. His sui generis work is notable for its rejection of contemporary avant-garde artistic styles in favor of medieval painting, particularly as expressed in illuminated Renaissance manuscripts. Noted for its refined draftsmanship and decorative calligraphy, his illustrations and caricature work are celebrated for their rich diversity of brilliant and wondrous color, which exhibit the luminosity of medieval Gothic stained-glass windows; for their meticulous attention to the most minute detail; for their beautifully decorative Hebrew lettering; and for their keen fidelity to Jewish tradition and legend. All these characteristics come together in his famous Haggadah, which is recognized as one of the greatest works of Jewish art in history. Exhibited here is the frontispiece and the page featuring Dayenu from the author’s copy of the Szyk Haggadah.



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Dayenu is arguably one of the best-known peyutim in the Haggadah, and its melody is beloved by children all over the world. It consists of fifteen listed miracles that G-d performed for us during the Exodus, each followed by the word “Dayenu,” and its tripartite structure consists of, first, G-d’s blessings upon the Jews while yet in Egypt; second, His grace upon the Jews when they traveled through the Sinai Desert; and, third, the spiritual blessings bestowed upon them by G-d.

The origins of Dayenu, according to some, can be traced back to the Talmud where Rav, referencing the verse in Malachi 3:10, “I will surely open the floodgates of the sky for you and pour down blessings on you ad beli dai (`there shall be more than sufficiency’),” comments that this verse means “until your lips shall weary from saying milomar dai (`it is sufficient’).” In Pre-Maccabean Documents in the Passover Haggadah (Harvard Theological Review, January 1943), Louis Finkelstein, a renowned Talmudic scholar and an expert in Jewish law, concludes that Rav, a third-century amora, clearly had in mind the custom of saying Dayenu during his Passover service.

Some authorities argue that Dayenu may have had its origins centuries earlier, during the 5th century BCE at the time of the prophet Nechemia. The structure of Nechemiah 9:10-24 does bear a remarkable similarity to the Dayenu:

(10) You performed signs and wonders against Pharaoh, all his servants, and all the people of his land, for You knew that they acted presumptuously toward them. You made a name for Yourself that endures to this day.

(11) You split the sea before them; they passed through the sea on dry land, but You threw their pursuers into the depths, like a stone into the raging waters.

(12) You led them by day with a pillar of cloud, and by night with a pillar of fire, to give them light in the way they were to go.

(13) You came down on Mount Sinai and spoke to them from heaven; You gave them right rules and true teachings, good laws, and commandments.

(14) You made known to them Your holy Sabbath, and You ordained for them laws, commandments, and Teaching, through Moses Your servant.

(15) You gave them bread from heaven when they were hungry, and produced water from a rock when they were thirsty. You told them to go and possess the land that You swore to give them…

(20) You endowed them with Your good spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold Your manna from their mouth; You gave them water when they were thirsty.

(21) Forty years You sustained them in the wilderness so that they lacked nothing; their clothes did not wear out, and their feet did not swell.

(22) You gave them kingdoms and peoples, and allotted them territory. They took possession of the land of Sihon, the land of the king of Heshbon, and the land of Og, king of Bashan…

(24) The sons came and took possession of the land: You subdued the Canaanite inhabitants of the land before them; You delivered them into their power, both their kings and the peoples of the land, to do with them as they pleased.

To be clear, this in no way proves that Dayenu was composed at the time of Nechemiah but rather that the piyyut may well be based in part upon Nechemiah’s prophecy.

There is an ongoing debate amongst scholars as to whether the earliest text of Dayenu was created before or after the destruction of the Second Temple. Some contend that it could not have been written after the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash in 70 CE because, ending as it does with the joyous building of the Beit HaBechirah “to atone for all our sins,” it is inconceivable that, if written after the Temple fell, it would not have expressed hopes for its rebuilding. [Similarly, although I have not seen this point mentioned; they could argue further note that the penultimate line of the song refers to G-d “bringing us into Eretz Yisrael” and that, were the song written after the Jewish exile from Eretz Yisrael in 70 CE, Dayenu surely would have referred to the restoration of Jewish sovereignty over the land.]

Finkelstein, who analyzed the origins of Dayenu in great detail, dated it to the Second Temple period: “It is certain that only a person living at the time of the sanctuary would think of its establishment as the climax of Jewish history; and could fail to refer to it without the customary addition `may it be speedily restored.’” Moreover, he goes on to suggest that the fact that Dayenu ends with the Temple suggests that its author was likely a Kohen, even going so far as to suggest that the author was Jason (Joshua), the High Priest from about 175-171 BCE.

However, the counterargument, which I think is the stronger one, is that by its very structure and purpose, Dayenu is a prayer of thanks to G-d for the miracles that had already occurred during and after the Exodus – which all agree is the dominant and all-consuming theme of the Haggadah – and not hopes and prayers for the future (except L’Shanah Haba’ah B’Yerushalayim – “Next Year in Jerusalem”). This argument is supported by the fact that, as noted by many commentators, Dayenu on its face does not seem to make any sense. Would it really “have been sufficient” for G-d to take us out of Egypt, only for us to die in the desert? Would it really have been sufficient to split the Sea of Reeds, but not to lead us through it? And so forth. In fact, “Dayenu” should not be translated simply as “it would have been sufficient” but rather as, “It would have been sufficient for us to thank G-d through the recitation of Hallel” – which, not coincidentally, follows soon after Dayenu in the Haggadah.

In any event, others suggest that the piyyut was written at the time of the Tannaim and Amoraim between the years 170 and 500. The earliest example of a still-existing text comes from the siddur of Rav Amram Gaon, who was a leader of the Jewish community of Sura, Babylonia, during the 9th century. The text fragment, which is thought to date to about 860, was found in the Cairo Geniza, and a second fragment found in the Cairo Geniza was the Haggadah included in the siddur of Rav Saadia Gaon, which was written several decades later. The version of Dayenu that we sing today was likely composed during the 10th century by the poet Yitzhak Halevi, who was a member of the Jewish community in Spain, and the earliest full text of the piyyut occurs in the first medieval Haggadah, which is part of the 9th-century Seder Rav Amram. Although the Rambam (1138-1204) does not mention Dayenu in his Haggadah, Rashi (1040-1105) does, proving that the song was recited in at least some communities by the 11th century.

The text of the Haggadah only became standardized after Johannes Gutenberg’s (?-1468) invention of the printing press in 1440 – a text that included the addition of several piyyutim. The song has undergone many historical changes, and different versions exist in various Jewish communities around the world; for example, some versions of Dayenu include additional verses that reflect the history and traditions of specific Jewish communities.

Moreover, there are some interesting practices in which Seder attendees participate during the singing of Dayenu. For example, in Afghanistan, Jews whip each other over the head with green onions during the refrain beginning with the ninth of the fifteen stanzas (“Even if you had supplied our needs in the desert for forty years, but not provided us with manna, it would have been sufficient to praise G-d”). One analyst suggests that this pelting may be a response to the verse in Bamidbar (Numbers) 11:5-6, where the Jews see manna and recall “the fish that we would eat in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. Now our gullets are shriveled. There is nothing at all. Nothing but this manna to look at.” Apparently, by pounding each other with the onions, they were scolding each other for their ancestors’ fond recollection of their lives of enslavement and reinforcing within themselves not to yearn for a return to Egypt, as their forefathers did.

* * * * *


Parodies of the Haggadah have become all the rage, many of which are truly disgusting, including obscene feminist haggadot, leftist satires that mock Judaism and hold Orthodox Jews in contempt, and antisemitic/anti-Zionist “spoofs” that attack Israel. Because of its poetic structure and repeated refrain, Dayenu is particularly ripe for parody.

Some, however, are truly amusing and rich in history, such as the bitter/humorous spoof exhibited here. Published in London in July 1948, it sarcastically “thanks” the British for all their “good deeds” on behalf of the Jews:

Political parody of Dayenu (July 1948).

How many degrees of good have the British bestowed upon us?

If they had taken us out of the redemption, but did not give us the Balfour Declaration – It would have been sufficient!

If they had given us the Balfour Declaration, and they did not judge us (pogroms of 1920, 1929, and 1938) – It would have been sufficient!

If they had judged us, but did not do it to our Holy Places (the Western Wall) – It would have been sufficient! [* See discussion below]

If they had done it to our Holy Places, but did not murder our first-born (Ben Yosef) – It would have been sufficient! [* See discussion below]

If they did not murder our first-born, and did not steal our capital – It would have been sufficient!

If they had stolen our capital, but not tore up our ships in the sea – It would have been sufficient!

If they had torn up our ships in the sea, but not transferred us to Mauritius – It would have been sufficient! [* See discussion below]

If they had transferred us to Mauritius, but not sunk our brothers in the sea (“Struma”) – It would have been sufficient! [* See discussion below]

If they had sunk our brothers within the sea, but did not supply our needs in Atlit, Mizra, and Acre – It would have been sufficient!

If they had supplied our needs, but did not feed us the evil decrees of Haman – It would have been sufficient!

If they had fed us the evil decrees of Haman [pun on “manna” and “Haman”], but did not give us the “Shabton” [?] – It would have been sufficient!

If they had they given us the “Shabton,” but not brought us near St. James Palace – It would have been sufficient!

If they had brought us near St. James Palace, but not given us the White Paper – It would have been sufficient! [* See discussion below]

If they had given us the White Paper, but not didn’t let us in to Palestine (Eretz Yisrael) – It would have been sufficient!

If they did not let us in to Palestine (Eretz Yisrael), but didn’t build the “National Home” there – It would have been sufficient!

How much more so, doubled and many times more is the British yoke on us:

If they had taken us out of the exile. And gave us the Balfour Declaration. And judged us and [held] pogroms. And abused our Holy Places. And murdered Ben Yosef. And tore up our ships in the sea. And transferred us to Mauritius. And drowned our brothers on the Patria and the Struma in the sea. And denied us our needs in Atlit, Mizra, Acre, and in the jails across the land. And fed us the evil decrees of Haman. And gave us the “Shabton”????? and the [curfew?]. And brought us near St. James Palace. And gave us the White Paper. And let us in to Palestine (Eretz Yisrael) And built the “National Home” there for us to atone for our sins.

Therefore, we are obligated to thank, praise, laud, glorify, exalt, magnify, exalt, glorify (forever), bless, raise high, and acclaim He who performed all these miracles for us and our children. They took us out from joy to grief, from holiday to mourning, from a great light to darkness, from enslavement to freedom. And let us recite before them the song of “How Beautiful” with renewed Hallelyjah!

* * * * *


In December 1917, when Allied forces under Edmund Allenby captured Jerusalem, he pledged “that every sacred building, monument, holy spot, shrine, traditional site, endowment, pious bequest, or customary place of prayer of whatsoever form of the three religions will be maintained and protected according to the existing customs and beliefs of those to whose faith they are sacred.”

In 1920, the first Jewish-Arab dispute over the Kotel occurred when Muslim authorities performed repair work to the Kotel’s upper courses. Two years later – and contrary to Allenby’s pledge – the British Mandatory Authority issued a “status quo agreement” forbidding chairs and benches at the Wall. In 1928, the District Commissioner of Jerusalem, Edward Keith-Roach, yielded to a complaint from the Supreme Muslim Council and formally implemented the ban; a British officer stationed at the Wall was charged with preventing Jews from sitting there and prohibited them from separating the sexes with a screen, as required by Jewish law.

The Jewish placing of such a mechitza was the catalyst for the “Kotel Affair,” a confrontation between the Arabs, Jews, and Mandate authorities when, on Yom Kippur 1928, armed British police forcibly removed it. Women at prayer were beaten by the police, who used pieces of the broken wooden screen frame as clubs, and chairs were pulled out from under elderly worshipers. The episode made international news; Jews across the world condemned the British action, various communal leaders called for a general strike, and large rallies were held.

The Arabs established the “Society for the Protection of the Muslim Holy Places” and undertook a broad campaign to protest an alleged Jewish plan to take control of the Al Aqsa Mosque. Mufti Amin al-Husseini exacerbated the situation by instituting measures to demonstrate the Arabs’ exclusive claims to the Temple Mount and its surroundings, including ordering new construction next to and above the Wall. The British determined that the Western Wall alleyway belongs to the Arabs and granted them permission to convert an adjoining building into a mosque and to add a minaret. As an overt provocation against the Jews who prayed there, a muezzin was appointed to perform the Islamic call to prayer at the Kotel.

The British Government commenced an inquiry into the rights of Jewish worshipers to bring accessories to the Wall. On November 19, 1928, it issued The Western or Wailing Wall in Jerusalem: Memorandum by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, a white paper that permitted Jews to bring only “those accessories which had been permitted in Turkish times.” A few months later, Haj Amin complained to John Chancellor, the High Commissioner of Palestine (1928 – 1931), that Jews were bringing benches and tables to the Wall and driving nails into it to hang lamps, in response to which Chancellor ordered that a narrow alley be made at the Wall through which mules were herded, often dropping excrement, thereby both desecrating the Temple area and severely restricting Jewish access there.

In response to Muslim attacks on individual Jews praying at the Kotel, a massive Jewish demonstration was held in Tel Aviv on August 14, 1929, where some 6,000 protestors roared “The Wall is ours.” The next day, which was Tisha B’Av (a tragic day of fasting), several hundred youths raised the Zionist flag and sang Hatikva at the Wall, in response to which an organized mob of 2,000 Muslim Arabs descended on the Kotel, injuring the shamash and burning sacred Jewish books. The escalation of tensions on both sides led to the “Buraq Uprising,” Arab rioting from August 23-29 during which 133 Jews were murdered and over 200 others were injured, in many instances as British police stood by and watched. The infamous 1929 Hebron massacre of August 24, 1929, became the single deadliest attack on Jews in Eretz Yisrael during the period of British rule.

* * * * *


Shlomo Ben-Yosef (1913-1938) was a member of the Irgun best known for his participation in an April 21, 1938, revenge strike against a bus carrying Arab civilians in retaliation for a March 28, 1938, attack by Arabs who ambushed a car carrying ten Jews on the Acre-Safad road and murdered six of them. Ben-Yosef’s retaliatory attack came to be emblematic of the Irgun’s rejection of the Jewish establishment’s policy of restraint. For this reason – and because he became the first Jew to be executed by the British authorities (by hanging) during the Mandate period – he became a martyr for the Revisionist cause and is commemorated by the State of Israel as one of twelve Olei Hagardom (“they who ascended to the gallows”) who were sentenced to death by hanging by the British. An Israeli Nathan Hale, he proudly declared his pride in dying for his country and, while being escorted to the gallows, he sang the Betar anthem.

Ben-Yosef’s execution provoked outrage and mourning across the Yishuv. Shops were closed, black flags were displayed from windows, and demonstrations against the execution were broken up by the British, who imposed curfews in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. There were also demonstrations of mourning across European Jewish communities in Europe, with tens of thousands of Jews fasting in mourning in response to a plea from the rabbinate. Given the prominence of Ben Yosef’s execution, it is not surprising that our satirist included it in his Dayenu spoof.

* * * * *


Everybody knows the story of The Exodus, but less well known is the tragic story of the Struma, a manifestly unseaworthy vessel – little more than a pile of junk, with its ancient engine having been recovered from the bottom of the Danube River – that was commissioned by the Revisionist Zionist organizations in Romania, particularly Betar, to carry 769 passengers fleeing Axis-allied Romania to British-controlled Eretz Yisrael during World War II. As such, it could not have come as a great surprise that when the Struma set sail from the port of Constanta on the Black Sea on December 12, 1941 – as the last vessel to leave Europe to escape the Holocaust – her diesel engine died several times before her arrival in Istanbul, including a failure on the very day she set sail.

When the Struma’s engine finally died and the vessel drifted overnight, the crew broadcast distress signals but, when the Romanian tugboat returned the next day, its crew refused to repair her engines without payment. Most of the refugees on board, who had spent an exorbitant fee to secure passage on the Struma, contributed their few remaining possessions of value, including treasured family wedding rings and heirlooms, and the tugboat crew finally repaired the engine. However, on December 15, 1941, the engine died again near the shores of Turkey, so the Struma was towed into the quarantine section of Istanbul harbor – where she sat anchored and isolated for more than two months. There, the refugees learned for the first time that a reprehensible fraud had been perpetrated upon them and that the immigration certificates into Eretz Yisrael that had been promised to them never existed.

In a particularly heinous act, which earned him everlasting infamy – and which led the Jews to refer to him as “Haman” – Sir Harold MacMichael, the British High Commissioner of Palestine, not only refused entry to the Struma, but also urged the Turks not to permit the Jewish refugees to disembark. The entire world left the vessel to sit rotting in the water during one of the coldest winters in decades with its starving and freezing passengers abandoned.

Finally, the Turks sent a small party of police to board the ship on February 23, 1942, but the refugees repelled them. A force of some 80 police followed soon after and, surrounding the ship with motorboats, forcefully overcame passenger resistance, and attached the Struma to a tug, which towed her through the Bosporus and out into the Black Sea, where she it was abandoned without food, water or fuel. As the vessel was being towed, many passengers hung signs over the sides and visible on the banks of the water that read “Save Us.”

No one did.

On the morning of February 24, 1942, the Struma was torpedoed and sunk by the Soviet submarine Shch 213, killing 768 men, women and children, making it the largest exclusively civilian naval disaster of World War II. More than 100 passengers survived the original bombing, as they clung to pieces of wreckage in the icy water, but no rescue came and all but one of them died from drowning or hypothermia.

* * * * *


The story of the deportation of tens of thousands of Jews during the Shoah to various remote and often hostile countries around the world is both generally unknown to the public and an understudied area of Holocaust studies, which are invariably Eurocentric. In this all-but- forgotten story, 3,500 Jews, after escaping Hitler and arriving in Eretz Yisrael, were exiled by the British and imprisoned on the island of Mauritius, a remote British colony in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar.

In May 1940, Berthold Storfer, a controversial Jewish businessman who critics view alternatively as a heroic Jewish rescuer and a despised Nazi collaborator, developed a strategy to extricate approximately 3,500 Jews from Germany aboard three ships: the Atlantic (carrying 1800 passengers); the Pacific (962 passengers); and the Milos (709 passengers). This three-ship transport became the last large illegal transport to escape the Nazis before Hitler launched his plan for the mass murder of the entire Jewish people. However, after treacherous voyages during which many Jews died of typhoid and hunger, the British authorities blocked their entry, brutally beat their Jewish passengers, shaved their heads to humiliate them and deported thousands of these Holocaust survivors to Mauritius. After another grueling voyage, 849 men, 635 women and 96 children were taken by British Palestinian Police to the Central Prison at Beau Bassin in Mauritius, a three-story jail on 12 acres surrounded by 15-foot stone walls.

The conditions of the Jews on the island were abominable, as they endured cyclones, had inadequate food, and suffered from various tropical diseases, including typhus and malaria, against which they had not been immunized and for which they received scant medical care. The men were incarcerated in a former jailhouse and the incomplete women’s prison consisted of thirty corrugated iron huts enclosed within high walls topped by barbed wire. It was not until August 11, 1945, that the British granted them permission to leave the island.

* * * * *


The St. James Palace Conference, also known as the London Conference of 1939, was called by the British Government to plan the future governance of Eretz Yisrael and an end to the Mandate. It opened on February 7, 1939, after which Colonial Secretary McDonald held a series of separate meetings with the Palestinian and Zionist delegations (because the Palestinian delegation refused to sit in the same room with Zionists). When MacDonald initially announced the proposed conference, he made clear that if no agreement was reached, the British would impose its own solution; indeed, when the process came to an end after five-and-a-half weeks with no agreement, the British announced proposals that were later published as the loathsome 1939 White Paper.

Wishing all a chag kasher v’sameach!


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Saul Jay Singer serves as senior legal ethics counsel with the District of Columbia Bar and is a collector of extraordinary original Judaica documents and letters. He welcomes comments at at [email protected].