|Jewish and Israeli |
| Historical • Contemporary |
Piyyut • Zemirot • Nigun
Pizmonim • Baqashot
|Israeli • Klezmer • Sephardic • Mizrahi|
| Not Jewish in Form: |
Classical • Mainstream and Jazz
| Israeli Folk Dancing • Ballet |
Horah • Hava Nagila • Yemenite dance
|Hatikvah • Jerusalem of Gold|
| Adon Olam • Geshem • Lekhah Dodi|
Ma'oz Tzur • Yedid Nefesh • Yigdal
|Music for Holidays|
|Hanukkah • Passover • Shabbat|
|Music of the Haggadah|
| Ma Nishtana • Dayenu • Adir Hu|
Chad Gadya • Echad Mi Yodea
|Music of Hanukkah|
|Blessings • Oh Chanukah • Dreidel Song|
|Al Hanisim • Mi Y'malel • Ner Li|
"Ma'oz Tzur" (Hebrew: מעוז צור), is a Jewish liturgical poem or piyyut. It is written in Hebrew, and is often sung on the holiday of Hanukkah, after lighting the festival lights. The name is a reference to the Hasmonean stronghold of Beth-zur. This Hebrew song is thought to have been written sometime in the 13th century. It was originally sung only in the home, but has been used in the synagogue since the nineteenth century or earlier. Of its six stanzas, often only the first stanza is sung (or the first and fifth).
In English, there is a popular non-literal translation that is sung, called "Rock of Ages", which is based on the German version by Leopold Stein (1810-1882), and was written by Talmudic linguist Marcus Jastrow and Gustav Gottheil.
The hymn is named for its first two words in Hebrew, which mean "Stronghold of Rock" as a name or epithet for God.
"Ma'oz Tzur" is thought to be have written in the 13th century, during the Crusades, as Zunz ("Literaturgesch." p. 580) is inclined to believe. The first letters of the first five stanzas form an acrostic of the composer's name, Mordechai (the five Hebrew letters מרדכי). He may have been the Mordecai ben Isaac ha-Levi who wrote the Sabbath table-hymn "Mah Yafit" (Majufes), or even the scholar referred to in Tos. to Niddah 36a. Or, to judge from the appeal in the closing verse, he may have been the Mordecai whose father-in-law was martyred at Mayence (now Mainz, Germany) in 1096.
Another acrostic is found in the first letters of the opening words of the final stanza. As in many examples of piyyut, they congratulate the poet with the word hazak (meaning "[may you be] strong").
The poem recalls the many times when Jewish communities were saved from the people around them. The second stanza tells of the exodus from Egypt. The third stanza tells of the end of the Babylonian captivity. The fourth retells the miracle of the holiday of Purim. The fifth tells of the Hasmonean victory that is commemorated by Hanukkah.
The first and last stanzas are written in the present tense. The first expresses hope for the rebuilding of the Temple and for the defeat of enemies, who are mentioned in canine terms (menabe'ach, barking). The final stanza once again calls for divine retribution against the enemies of the Jewish people. The term "Admon", meaning "the red one", is understood by some to refer to the emperor, Friedrich Barbarossa, whose name means Frederick "Redbeard". (This reading is likely inaccurate, since the last stanza is generally believed to have been composed around the turn of the 16th Century C.E., some three hundred years after Frederick I died.) It can also refer to Christianity in general, as in traditional Jewish sources Christianity is viewed as being born of Rome, which is called "Edom" (the root of the word "Admon") because the original nation of Rome is considered to consist of the descendants of Esau, who were known as Edom. This stanza was dropped from many printings of the poem, perhaps from fear of a Christian reaction against it, as well as in countries under communist rule, for reasons more than obvious.
In her book Ve-Higadeta Le-Vanekha (title meaning "you shall tell your children"), Mikhal Gur-Arie explains (in Hebrew) why "Ma'oz Tzur" is sung especially on Hanukkah rather than Purim or Passover, whose events are also mentioned in the poem:
- On Passover we read in the Haggadah: "In every generation there are those who rise up to finish us off, but the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from their hands." On Purim, after the reading of the Megillah in the synagogue, we say the blessing "Blessed are You... Who plead our plea, ...and rose against those who would rise against us...." There is no need to say "Ma'oz tzur" except on Hanukkah.
Thus the singing of "Ma'oz tzur" on Hanukkah may be a substitute for the ritual storytelling that takes place on Purim and Passover.
The bright and stirring tune now so generally associated with "Ma'oz tzur" serves as the "representative theme" in musical references to the feast (comp. Addir Hu; Aḳdamut; Hallel). Indeed, it has come to be regarded as the only Hannukah melody, four other Hebrew hymns for the occasion being also sung to it (comp. Zunz, l.c. pp. 422, 429; D. Kaufmann, in "Ha-Asif," ii. 298), as well as G. Gottheil's paraphrase, "Rock of Ages," in the "Union Hymnal" (No. 107). It was originally sung for "Shene Zetim" ("Olives Twain"), the "Me'orah," or piyyut, next preceding the Shema in the Morning Service of the (first) Shabat in the eight days of the Feast of Dedication. Curiously enough, "Shene Zetim" alone is now sometimes sung to a melody which two centuries ago was associated rather with "Ma'oz tzur." The latter is a Jewish-sounding air in the minor mode, and is found in Benedetto Marcello's "Estro Poetico Armonico," or "Parafrasi Sopra li Salmi" (Venice, 1724), quoted as a melody of the German Jews, and utilized by Marcello as the theme for his "Psalm XV." This air has been transcribed by Cantor Birnbaum of Königsberg in the "Israelitische Wochenschrift" (1878, No. 51)
The present melody for the Hanukkah hymn has been identified by Birnbaum as an adaptation from the old German folk-song "So weiss ich eins, dass mich erfreut, das pluemlein auff preiter heyde," given in Böhme's "Altdeutsches Liederbuch" (No. 635); it was widely spread among German Jews as early as 1450. By an interesting coincidence, this folk-melody was also the first utilized by Luther for his German chorales. He set it to his "Nun freut euch lieben Christen gmein" (comp. Julian, "Dictionary of Hymnology," s. v. "Sing praise to God who reigns above"). It is familiar among English-speaking people as the tune for a translation by F. E. Cox of the hymn "Sei lob und ehr dem höchsten gut," by J. J. Schütz (1640-1730). As such it is called "Erk" (after the German hymnologist), and, with harmonies by Bach, appears as No. 283 of "Hymns, Ancient and Modern" (London, 1875). The earliest transcription of the Jewish form of the tune is due to Isaac Nathan, who set it, very clumsily indeed, to the poem "On Jordan's Banks" in Byron's "Hebrew Melodies" (London, 1815). Later transcriptions have been numerous, and the air finds a place in every collection of Jewish melodies. It was modified to the form now favored by English Jews by the delicate liturgical taste of Mombach, to whom is due the modulation to the dominant in the repetition of the first strain, shown in the transcription above.
Modern creative mention
The piyyut inspired Israeli songwriter Naomi Shemer to write the song "Shivchei Ma'oz" (meaning "praises of the fortress"), as performed by the band Pikud Darom in 1969. In this song Shemer drew a connection between the Jewish hymn and the military positions that were attacked in the War of Attrition of the time.
מָעוֹז צוּר יְשׁוּעָתִי, לְךָ נָאֶה לְשַׁבֵּחַ
| Ma'oz Tzur Yeshu'ati, lekha na'eh leshabe'ah.|
Tikon beit tefilati, vesham toda nezabe'ah.
Le'et takhin matbe'ah mitzar hamnabe'ah.
|O mighty stronghold of my salvation, to praise You is a delight.|
Restore my House of Prayer and there we will bring a thanksgiving offering.
When You have prepared the slaughter for the barking foe,
רָעוֹת שָׂבְעָה נַפְשִׁי, בְּיָגוֹן כֹּחִי כָּלָה
| Ra'ot sav'ah nafshi, byagon kohi kala.|
Hayai mareru bkoshi, beshi'abud malkhut egla.
Uvyado hagdola hotzi et hasgula.
|My soul had been sated with troubles, my strength has been consumed with grief.|
They had embittered my life with hardship, with the calf-like kingdom's bondage.
But with His great power He brought forth the treasured ones,
דְּבִיר קָדְשׁוֹ הֱבִיאַנִי, וְגַם שָׁם לֹא שָׁקַטְתִּי
| Dvir kodsho hevi'ani, vegam sham lo shakateti.|
Uva noges vehiglani, ki zarim avadti.
Vyein ra'al masakhti, kim'at she'avarti.
|To the holy abode of His word He brought me. But there, too, I had no rest|
And an oppressor came and exiled me. For I had served aliens,
And had drunk benumbing wine. Scarcely had I departed
כְּרוֹת קוֹמַת בְּרוֹשׁ בִּקֵּשׁ, אֲגָגִי בֶּן הַמְּדָתָא
| Krot komat brosh bikesh, Agagi ben Hamdatah.|
venihiyeta lo lefah ulemokesh, vega'avato nishbata.
Rosh yemini niseta, ve'oyev shmo mahita.
|To sever the towering cypress sought the Agagite, son of Hammedatha [Haman],|
But it became [a snare and] a stumbling block to him and his arrogance was stilled.
The head of the Benjaminite You lifted and the enemy, his name You obliterated
יְוָנִים נִקְבְּצוּ עָלַי, אֲזַי בִּימֵי חַשְׁמַנִּים
| Yevanim nikbetzu alai, azai bimei Hashmanim.|
Ufartzu homot migdalai, vetim'u kol hashmanim.
Uminotar kankanim na'asa nes lashoshanim.
|Greeks gathered against me then in Hasmonean days.They breached the walls of my towers and they defiled all the oils;|
And from the one remnant of the flasks a miracle was wrought for the roses.
חֲשׂוֹף זְרוֹעַ קָדְשֶׁךָ וְקָרֵב קֵץ הַיְשׁוּעָה
| Hasof zroa kodshekha, vekarev ketz hayeshu'a.|
Nkom nikmat dam avadeikha me'uma haresha'a.
Ki arkha hasha'a, ve'ein ketz limei hara'a.
|Bare Your holy arm and hasten the End for salvation -|
Avenge the vengeance of Your servants' blood from the wicked nation.
For the triumph is too long delayed for us, and there is no end to days of evil,
Traditional English Verses
The following English translation is a popular, if somewhat loose, version written by Talmud linguist Marcus Jastrow and Gustav Gottheil:
Rock of Ages let our song
Praise thy saving power;
Thou amidst the raging foes;
Wast our sheltering tower
Furious they assailed us,
But Thine arm availed us,
And Thy word broke their sword,
When our own strength failed us.
Children of the martyr race
Whether free or fettered
Wake the echoes of the songs
Where ye may be scattered
Yours the message cheering
That the time is nearing
Which will see all men free
And tyrants disappearing
Kindling new the holy lamps,
Priests approved in suffering.
Purified the nation's shrine,
Brought to God their offering.
And His courts surrounding,
Hear in joy abounding,
Happy throngs, singing songs,
With a mighty sounding
- ספר לקט יושר
- A Ma'oz Tzur commentary
- The Strange 6th Verse of Maoz Tzur
- Much of the content of this article comes from מעוז צור (Ma'oz tzur) in the Hebrew-language Wikipedia, retrieved January 13, 2006. That article cites the following references:
- Sarah Friedlander Ben-Arie, Ma'oz tzur, a study in piyyut (in Hebrew), at site "Invitation to Piyyut"
- Various performances of Ma'oz tzur (in Hebrew), at site "Invitation to Piyyut"
- Rabbi David Chai Ha-Kohen, Ma'oz tzur (in Hebrew)
- Yosef Rot Rottem, Thoughts for Hannukah on "Ma oz" tzur (in Hebrew; pun in title means "what is the power of the rock"), at site of Beit Beryl school
Bibliography of Jewish Encyclopedia
- Cantor Eduard Birnbaum, Chanuca-Melodie für Pianoforte, mit Vorbemerkung, Königsberg, 1890;
- E. Breslaur, Sind Originale Melodien bei den Juden Geschichtlich Nachweisbar? p. 70, Leipsic, 1898;
- Cohen and Davis, Voice of Prayer and Praise, No. 294 (and especially Mombach, in Nos. 64 and 66), London, 1899;
- Journal of the Folk-Song Society, i. 36, London, 1900;
- Jewish Chronicle (London), Nov. 23, 1888; Dec. 20, 1889; Dec. 5, 1890; Dec. 25, 1891;
- Louis Lewandowski, Chanukka-Hymne (two voices and piano), Berlin;
- J. Rosenfeld, Chanukka Hymne für Kinderstimmen, Berlin;
- D. Rubin, Maoz Tsur für Chor und Orgel;
- A. Schoenfeld, Nationalgesang zur Erinnerung an die Siege der Makkabär, Posen
- This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, a publication now in the public domain. 
- by Cyrus Adler, Francis L. Cohen
- Some or all of this article is forked from Wikipedia. The original article was at Ma'oz Tzur. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.
- Irwin Oppenheim, "Chanukah Songs" at Chazzanut Online. Web page includes MIDI audio of the German and Italian tunes for Maoz Tzur and of the Dutch tune for Shene Zetim.
- Sephardic Pizmonim Project: Contains the song and can be heard according to Sephardic tradition.