Why is this night different from all others?

Back on April 1st, Jonathan Safran Foer wrote in the Sunday Review section of the NYT on the question “Why a Haggadah?” In the middle of this, a fine deployment of a linguistic formula.

All my life, my parents have hosted the Seder on the first night of Passover. As our family expanded, and as our definition of family expanded, we moved the ritual dinner from our dining room to our more spacious, mildewed basement. One table became many table-like surfaces pushed awkwardly together. I always knew Passover was approaching when my father would ask me to take the net off the ping-pong table. All were covered in once matching, stained tablecloths.

At each setting was a Haggadah that my parents had assembled by photocopying favorite passages from other Haggadot and, when the Foers finally got Internet access, by printing online sources. Why is this night different from all others? Because on this night copyright doesn’t apply.


5 Responses to “Why is this night different from all others?”

  1. Julian Lander Says:

    I assume that you know that the formula, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” is part of the traditional Passover text. So to me, as a Jew, this is a very tired old joke, with almost no power to amuse. (And while I don’t know the intricacies of copyright law, I suspect that this use of copyright material may well fall under a fair-use exception to the law, but I freely admit I could be wrong about that.) My family did and now I do something very similar, although I have not been very aggressive about searching out additional sources for the Passover Haggadah, something I plan to do for next year as part of my ongoing response to the changes in family size, ages, and religious affiliations and experiences.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Yes, of course, I know the status of the formula (and know that it’s often used as the lead-in to a joke). I suppose it was a mistake to assume that readers would know this; this is probably another case where my assumption that some cultural background would be shared either makes my posting baffling to some readers or causes some readers to think that I’m clueless.

      As part of the joke, the copyright reference shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

  2. Julian Lander Says:

    The New York Times tends to assume some familiarity with Jewish culture in its readers. A few years ago, a young man put on his phylacteries (tefillin) on an airplane. They’re black leather-bound boxes with leather straps attached, and the flight crew interpreted them as potentially indicative of terrorist activity. I believe that the flight was either delayed or made an emergency landing, and the young man was instructed to kneel on the tarmac by the authorities. The Boston _Globe_ made a reference to “religious articles” with no further explanation, while the _Times_ specified that the issue was with phylacteries (I don’t remember which language was used in the description), providing no further explanation of what they were or why the flight crew might have been alarmed.

    • Victor Steinbok Says:

      Well, the NYT makes that assumption because it’s in NY City, it caters to largely literate readership and of those most are with a liberal bend.Given these restrictions, much of that readership (historically) is Jewish or familiar with Jewish customs better than the rest of the country. The other assumption that the NYT tends to make (relatedly) is that someone who’s not familiar with a word printed in the paper is likely to look it up in a dictionary–an assumption that would likely fail with most other daily publications in the US.

  3. The Ridger Says:

    I don’t think it’s because they’re liberal or literate; I think it’s because there’s a large Jewish population in New York. People are more familiar with what’s around them, generally.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: