Ma'oz Tzur

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"Ma'oz Tzur" (Hebrew: מָעוֹז צוּרMāʾōz Ṣūr) is a Jewish liturgical poem or piyyut. It is written in Hebrew, and is 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. In more recent years, of its six stanzas sometimes only the first stanza is sung (or the first and fifth).


The hymn is named for its Hebrew incipit, which means "Strong Rock (of my Salvation)" and is a name or epithet for God.

"Ma'oz Tzur Yeshuati" is thought to have been written in the 13th century, during the Crusades.[1] 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",[2] or even the scholar referred to in the Tosafoth to Talmud (Bavli) 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 as part of the First Crusade.

The hymn retells Jewish history in poetic form and celebrates deliverance from four ancient enemies, Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Haman and Antiochus. Like much medieval Jewish liturgical poetry, it is full of allusions to Biblical literature and rabbinic interpretation. Thus, malchut eglah denotes Egypt (Jeremiah 46:20); noges is Nebuchadnezzar; y’mini is Mordechai (Esther 2:5); y’vanim is Antiochus; shoshanim is the Jewish people (Shir HaShirim 2:2); b’nei vinah are the rabbinic sages; and shir refers to the Hallel psalms.[3][4]

A second acrostic is found in the first letters of the opening words of the final stanza, the acrostic contains the word hazak (meaning "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. Only 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 metaphorically referred to as barking (menabe'ah). The final stanza once again calls for divine retribution against the enemies of the Jewish people. The term Admon, meaning "the red one", was understood by some to refer to the emperor, Friedrich Barbarossa, whose name means Frederick "Redbeard" but this reading is inaccurate, since the last stanza is generally believed to have been composed around the turn of the 16th century, some three hundred years after Frederick I died or together with the other five verses. Therefore, it refers to Christianity in general, which in traditional Jewish sources 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, because the red color is traditionally associated with Communism. The six stanzas refer to the four exiles of the Jewish people: the Babylonian exile, the Persian exile, the Greek exile and the exile of Edom.


The bright and stirring tune now so generally associated with "Ma'oz tzur" serves as the "representative theme" in musical references to the feast (compare Addir Hu, Aḳdamut, Hallel). It is sung almost universally by Jews on this festival (although there are many other traditional melodies [5]). It has come to be regarded as the only Hannukah melody, four other Hebrew hymns for the occasion being also sung to it [6][7]). It was originally sung for "Shene Zetim" ("Olives Twain"), the "Me'orah," or piyyut, preceding the Shema of shaharith of the (first) Shabat of Hanukah. Curiously enough, "Shene Zetim" alone is now sometimes sung to a melody which two centuries ago was associated 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)[8]

The most popular 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 g'mein".[9] It is 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 (BWV 388), appears as No. 283 of "Hymns, Ancient and Modern" (London, 1875). The earliest transcription of the Jewish form of the tune is by Isaac Nathan, who set it 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 favoured by British Jews by Julius Mombach, to whom is due the modulation to the dominant in the repetition of the first strain. In Mombach's version the closing phrase of each verse is not repeated.[10]

Modern creative mention[edit]

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.


Radomsk Hasidic Ma'oz Tzur sheet music. Former Chief Rabbi Yonah Stenzel
Hebrew Transliteration Translation[11]

מָעוֹז צוּר יְשׁוּעָתִי, לְךָ נָאֶה לְשַׁבֵּחַ
תִּכּוֹן בֵּית תְּפִלָּתִי, וְשָׁם תּוֹדָה נְזַבֵּחַ.
לְעֵת תָּכִין מַטְבֵּחַ מִצָּר הַמְנַבֵּחַ.
אָז אֶגְמוֹר בְּשִׁיר מִזְמוֹר חֲנֻכַּת הַמִּזְבֵּחַ.

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.
Az egmor beshir mizmor hanukat hamizbe'ah.

My Refuge, my Rock of Salvation! 'Tis pleasant to sing Your praises.
Let our house of prayer be restored. And there we will offer You our thanks.
When You will have slaughtered the barking foe.
Then we will celebrate with song and psalm the altar's dedication.

רָעוֹת שָׂבְעָה נַפְשִׁי, בְּיָגוֹן כֹּחִי כָּלָה
חַיַּי מֵרְרוּ בְקֹשִׁי, בְּשִׁעְבּוּד מַלְכוּת עֶגְלָה
וּבְיָדוֹ הַגְּדוֹלָה הוֹצִיא אֶת הַסְּגֻלָּה
חֵיל פַּרְעֹה וְכָל זַרְעוֹ יָרְדוּ כְּאֶבֶן בִּמְצוּלָה.

Ra'ot save'ah nafshi, beyagon kohi kala.

Hayyai mereru vekoshi, beshi'abud malkhut egla.
Uvyado hagdola hotzi et hasgula.
Heil par'o vekhol zar'o yaredu ke'even bimtzula..

My soul was sated with misery, My strength was spent with grief.
They embittered my life with hardship, When enslaved under the rule of Egypt.
But God with his mighty power Brought out His treasured people;
While Pharaoh's host and followers Sank like a stone into the deep.

דְּבִיר קָדְשׁוֹ הֱבִיאַנִי, וְגַם שָׁם לֹא שָׁקַטְתִּי
וּבָא נוֹגֵשׂ וְהִגְלַנִי, כִּי זָרִים עָבַדְתִּי
וְיֵין רַעַל מָסַכְתִּי, כִּמְעַט שֶׁעָבַרְתִּי
קֵץ בָּבֶל זְרֻבָּבֶל, לְקֵץ שִׁבְעִים נוֹשַׁעְתִּי.

Dvir kodsho hevi'ani, vegam sham lo shakateti.

Uva noges vehiglani, ki zarim avadti.
Vyein ra'al masakhti, kim'at she'avarti.
Ketz Bavel Zerubavel, leketz shiv'im nosha'ati.

He brought me to His holy abode; Even there, I found no rest.
The oppressor came and exiled me, Because I served strange gods,
and drank poisonous wine.[a] Yet scarcely had I gone into exile,
When Babylon fell and Zerubbabel took charge; Within seventy years I was saved.

כְּרוֹת קוֹמַת בְּרוֹשׁ, בִּקֵּשׁ אֲגָגִי בֶּן הַמְּדָתָא
וְנִהְיָתָה לוֹ לְפַח וּלְמוֹקֵשׁ, וְגַאֲוָתוֹ נִשְׁבָּתָה
רֹאשׁ יְמִינִי נִשֵּׂאתָ, וְאוֹיֵב שְׁמוֹ מָחִיתָ
רֹב בָּנָיו וְקִנְיָנָיו עַל הָעֵץ תָּלִיתָ.

Kerot komat berosh bikesh, Agagi ben Hamdatah.

veniheyata lo lefah ulemokesh, vega'avato nishbata.
Rosh yemini niseta, ve'oyev shmo mahita.
Rov banav vekinyanav al ha'etz talita.

The Agagite,[b] son of Hammedatha, plotted to cut down the lofty fir;[c]
But it proved a snare to him, and his insolence was silenced.
You raised the head of the Benjamite,[d] but the enemy's name You blotted out.
His numerous sons and his household You hanged upon the gallows.

יְוָנִים נִקְבְּצוּ עָלַי, אֲזַי בִּימֵי חַשְׁמַנִּים
וּפָרְצוּ חוֹמוֹת מִגְדָּלַי, וְטִמְּאוּ כָּל הַשְּׁמָנִים
וּמִנּוֹתַר קַנְקַנִּים נַעֲשָׂה נֵס לַשּׁוֹשַׁנִּים
בְּנֵי בִינָה יְמֵי שְׁמוֹנָה קָבְעוּ שִׁיר וּרְנָנִים

Yevanim nikbetzu alai, azai bimei Hashmanim.

Ufartzu homot migdalai, vetim'u kol hashemanim.
Uminotar kankanim na'asa nes lashoshanim.
Bnei vina yemei shmona kav'u shir urenanim.

The Greeks gathered against me, in days of the Hasmoneans.

They broke down the walls of my towers, and defiled all the oils.
But from the last remaining flask a miracle was wrought for the Jews.[d]
Therefore the sages of the day ordained these eight for songs of praise.

חֲשׂוֹף זְרוֹעַ קָדְשֶׁךָ וְקָרֵב קֵץ הַיְשׁוּעָה
נְקֹם נִקְמַת עֲבָדֶיךָ מֵאֻמָּה הָרְשָׁעָה
כִּי אָרְכָה הַשָּׁעָה וְאֵין קֵץ לִימֵי הָרָעָה
דְּחֵה אַדְמוֹן בְּצֵל צַלְמוֹן הָקֵם לָנוּ רוֹעִים שִׁבְעָה

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.
Dkheh admon betzel tzalmon, hakem lanu ro'im shiv'a.

O bare Your holy arm and bring the end of salvation[e].

Wreak vengeance upon the wicked nation, On behalf of your faithful servants.
For deliverance has too long been delayed; And the evil days are endless.
O Reject the enemy[f] into the shadows of idolatry[g], and set up for us the seven shepherds.[h]

a. ^ Follower of heretical teaching i.e. heretical doctrines
b. ^ Haman
c. ^ Mordecai
d. ^ Literally "the roses," an affectionate name for Israel
e. ^ "Yeshua" literally means "salvation" but is a play on words, as it is similar to the Hebrew word for Jesus.
f. ^ Literally "the Red One" referring to Esau (Edom) (Genesis 25:25). Most likely refers to Christianity.
g. ^ "Tzalmon" literally means "idol" or "image," but in Medieval times referred to the cross of Christianity.
h. ^ Who will deliver Israel from oppression (Micah 5:4)

English Version[edit]

A popular non-literal translation, called "Rock of Ages", is based on the German version by Leopold Stein (1810–1882), and was written by Talmudic linguist Marcus Jastrow and Gustav Gottheil.[12]

These are the original English lyrics,[13] which are sometimes changed into gender neutral language. See, for example[14]

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.

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.

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, tyrants disappearing.


  1. ^ Zunz "Literaturgesch." p. 580
  2. ^ The triumph of Mordechai
  3. ^ Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ Zunz pp. 422, 429
  7. ^ D. Kaufmann, in "Ha-Asif," ii. 298
  8. ^ Adler, Cyrus; Cohen, Francis L. "MA'OZ ẒUR".
  9. ^ Julian, "Dictionary of Hymnology," s. v. "Sing praise to God who reigns above"
  10. ^ Adler, Cyrus; Cohen, Francis L. "MA'OZ ẒUR".
  11. ^ Translation and notes from The Authorised Daily Prayer Book, Eli Cashdan (London 1990)
  12. ^ "Maoz Tzur (Rock of Ages)" at Jewish Heritage Online Magazine. Retrieved January 13, 2006.
  13. ^ Chanukah Songs - German Maoz Tzur at Retrieved December 7, 2011.
  14. ^ Hanukkah Songs: Maoz Tzur (Rock of Ages) - All About the Hanukkah Song Maoz Tzur, By Ariela Pelaia, at

External links[edit]

  • 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.