Vehi SheAmda, How do you pronounce it?

How do you sing the paragraph in the Hagaddah Vehi SheAmda? Is it Vehi SheAmda LavoSeinu (Ashkenazic) or LavoTeinu (Sefardic) pronunciation ? In Israel a duet, that has BOTH pronunciations simultaneously has become very popular. Yonatan Razel, a Sephardi, sings it Lavoteinu. Along with him is Yaakov Shwekey singing Lavoseinu, in his usual Chassidic–Ashkenazic accent, even though he is from a Syrian–Jewish family. (BTW, Shwekey has a new album Libi BaMizrach, in a Sefardic accent, an example of hafuch al-hafuch).

In the aforementioned duet for the Pesach passage Shwekey sings Ashkenazic. What is symbolic is that Shwekey and Razel make beautiful music together, each maintaining his own identity and accent. You can hear their “legendary performance of Vehi SheAmda at Caesaria”

Although I have reservations about the razzle-dazzle of Razel/Shwekey in Caesaria, the fact that this was the site where the Romans once tried to destroy Judaism is something to ponder.

A similar Sefardi-Ashkenazi duet took place last week. One of the world’s top Ashkanazi cantors, Hazzan Yitzhak Meir Helfgot, sang at a hazanut concert accompanied by the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra in Tel Aviv’s bastion of secular culture, the Mann Auditorium. Hazzan Helfgot sang a duet with Amir Benayoun, who is the quintessential Moroccan paytan. Although I was not privileged to see it, I did hear this duet rebroadcast Friday (11bNisan,April 15) on Israel Army radio, Galey Zahal. A charedi couple, Yedidya and Sivan Meir, have a regular program Fridays at noon, and this Friday they played the Netanel Helfgot – Amir Benayoun duet, a Shlomo Carlebach rendition of Lecha Dodi. The popular program of this charedi couple, aimed at a young secular audience, can be heard on the Galey Zahal website, although the one on April 15 is not yet posted.

The Helfgot-Benayoun duet is another example of mizug galuyot, where each tradition is preserved while they can sing together. This reminds me that when the twelve tribes of bnei Israel crossed the Sea, they crossed together but in twelve parallel but distinct tunnels with transparent walls(Yalkut Meam Loez,Beshalah 5,28).

I’ll be thinking of this when we sing Vehi SheAmda at the Seder.

Shira Schmidt

Shira Leibowitz Schmidt was raised in an assimilated Jewish home in New York, and became observant while studying at Stanford University in California. In June 1967 she told her engineering school professor she would miss the final exam because she was going to Israel to volunteer during the Six Day War. “That’s the most original excuse I have ever been offered,” he responded. She arrived during the war and stayed, receiving her BSc in absentia. She subsequently met and married the late Elhanan Leibowitz, and they raised their six children in Beersheba. Mrs. Leibowitz acquired a Masters in Urban & Regional Planning from the Technion, and an MSc in Civil Engineering from University of Waterloo. Today she lives with her husband, Dr. Baruch Schmidt, in Netanya. She co-authored, with Nobel prize-winning chemist Roald Hoffmann, Old Wine New Flasks. She has co-translated from Hebrew to English (with Jessica Setbon) From the Depths (the autobiography of Rabbi Israel Meir Lau); The Forgotten Memoirs (memoirs of Rabbis who survived the Shoah, edited by Esther Farbstein); and Rest of the Dove (Parashat Hashavua by Rabbi Haim Sabato). She and her husband appear in the documentary film about the Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe, “Hidden Face.” She is available to lecture in Israel and in the US and can be contacted via

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5 Responses

  1. Joe Hill says:

    Yaakov Shwekey singing Lavoseinu, in his usual Chassidic–Ashkenazic accent

    Actually, Shwekey is singing it in a Litvish-Ashkenazic accent, not Chassidic–Ashkenazic.

  2. cohen says:

    Razel is not a spharedi.(His father, formerly a psychologist for the Ministry of Education and today very charedi,was originally from Holland.)

  3. L. Oberstein says:

    This past week, I listened to an interview of the columnist Charles
    Krauthamer on Jerudalem Post Radio. He was critical of Israeli policy ,feeling
    that the Oslo Accords were a mistake and set up Israel for concessions it
    didn’t have to make ,even endangering the status of Jerusalem. At the end of
    the conversation, the interviewer asked Mr. Krauthamer if as a Jew he had any
    comment tieing in his assessment of Israel’s situation with the holiday of
    Passover. Krauthamer answered that he could sum it up in two words, ” Vehi

    Without commenting one way or the other on Krauthamer’s political analysis, his
    use of these two words from the Passover Haggadah reveals much about his strong
    Jewish identity going back to his observant parents. This is how I understand
    what he was saying.
    The Haggadah tells us that “in every generation they rise up to annihilate us
    but the Holy One Blessed Be He ever saves us from their hands.” What Charles
    Krauthamer was saying in these two Hebrew words was that as dire as Israel’s
    situation may be at any given point in time, we have the assurance that we will
    come though it because “the Holy One Blessed Be He ever saves us from their
    This comment illustrates that without faith in the Netzach Yisrael, the Eternal
    One of Israel,one can despair. With faith, we can believe that despite dire
    predictions, our existence is not in doubt.

    Several years ago, during the Intifada, I was very depressed about Israel’s
    “matzav” (situation). One day I covered my head with my tallis before reciting
    the Silent Amidah and broke down in tears. I asked the One Above to have mercy
    on the Jewish People, to save us from the bombings that were killing so many
    people and making life in Israel so dangerous. I was worried about the long term
    viabililty of the State of Israel in a sea of hatred. I wrote an email to
    Rabbi Berel Wein and asked him if he could give me some way to see the light at
    the end of the tunnel, so to speak. Rabbi Wein responded that we are living in a
    period similar to that described in the Bible in the Book of Judges. In those
    days, there were periods of peace intersperced with periods of turmoil. One
    verse says “and the land was quiet for seventy years.” This is Israel’s
    situation, no permanent solution ,but periods of relative quiet until some day
    in the future, things will be better.

    Because I have a sense of Jewish Eternity and feel that we are part of an
    unbroken chain of existence, Rabbi Wein’s connection of the Era of the Judges to
    the current events in the State of Israel made perfect sense to me and calmed me
    down and gave me hope. We are part of the chain, our situation is part of the
    pattern and “this too will pass”.

    As we each sit down with out loved ones to break the middle matzah and lean on
    our left sides as they did so many centuries ago, let us remember that we as a
    collective have endured much worse and that our people will come through
    whatever happens . Am Yisrael Chai.

  4. Shades of Gray says:

    “I’ll be thinking of this when we sing Vehi SheAmda at the Seder”

    “… an example of hafuch al-hafuch”

    Yaakov Shwekey recently sang Vehi SheAmda at a Chol HaMoed Succos concert at Brooklyn College; apparently, people enjoy “Vehi SheAmda” all year round! The following Chol HaMoed Pesach at the same venue, Baruch Levine did a rendition of his “Chasan HaTorah”(from Simchas Torah). As he put it, “if Shwekey can sing ‘Vehi SheAmda’ on Succos, I can sing “Chasan HaTorah” on Pesach…” 🙂

  5. Steve Brizel says:

    What a great and historically ironic venue for a superb duet that I took in while on a break yesterday from one of our many expeditions for last minute Pesach needs. Just think of how many people are learning Torah full and part time today and contrast that the number of people interested in the decline and fall of Rome, its culture and language, etc.

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