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"Ma'oz Tzur" (Hebrew: מעוז צור), 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. Of its six stanzas sometimes only the first stanza is sung (or the first and fifth).
"Ma'oz Tzur" is thought to have been written in the 13th century, during the Crusades. 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", 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.
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 46:2); "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 .
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, for reasons more than obvious.
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 ). It has come to be regarded as the only Hannukah melody, four other Hebrew hymns for the occasion being also sung to it ). 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)
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 gmein" . 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, 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 (clumsily) 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 Julian Lazarus Mombach, to whom is due the modulation to the dominant in the repetition of the first strain.
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.
Hebrew Transliteration Literal Translation
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 to your praises.
Let our house of prayer be restored. And there we will offer You our thanks.
When You will have utterly silenced The loud-mouthed 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 sav'ah nafshi, byagon kohi kala.
Hayai mareru bkoshi, beshi'abud malkhut egla.
Uvyado hagdola hotzi et hasgula.
Heil par'o vekhol zar'o yardu 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 (1). Yet scarcely had I gone into exile,
When Babylon fell and Zerubabel 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.
Krot komat brosh bikesh, Agagi ben Hamdatah.
venihiyeta lo lefah ulemokesh, vega'avato nishbata.
Rosh yemini niseta, ve'oyev shmo mahita.
Rov banav vekinyanav al ha'etz talita.
The Agagite (2), son of Hammedatha, Plotted to cut down the lofty fir tree (3);
But is proved a snare to him, And his insolence was silenced.
You raised the head of the Benjamite (3), But the enemy's name You blotted out.
His numerous sonsand 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 hashmanim.
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 (4).
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 hasten the time of salvation.
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 thrust the enemy (5) into the shadows of death, And set up for us the seven Shepherds (6).
(1) Follower of heretical teaching ie heretical doctrines (2) Haman (3) Mordekhai (4) Literally the lily, an affectionate name for Israel (5) Literally "the Red One"referring to Esau Edom, see Genesis 25:25 (6) Who will deliver Israel from opression see Mikhah 5:4 
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. This version is singable and is closely adapted from the original Hebrew. However it should be noted that this translation is a recent creation adopted by the American branch Reform Judaism, critics[who?] have said it takes quite a bit away from the original, and is written to empower Reformed Judaism's forced secularism[clarification needed]. Critics[who?] note that when the original was written, Hebrew was not the standard speaking language either, and was used by Jews to separate and give warmth to their sacred language[clarification needed].
Rock of strength! Great Aid of yore! ‘Tis sweet due praise to sing thee;
Rear our House of Prayer once more! Thank-off’rings there we’ll bring thee;
When dread immolation,Checks the foe’s elation,
I’ll complete with paeans meet, the altar’s consecration.
Evils sore my soul oppressed, Grief consumed my vigor;
Bitter bondage life distressed, Thro’ proud Egypt’s rigor;
But, whilst Heaven’s devotion, Led us forth from Goshen,
Pharaoh’s race, Sank apace, Like pebbles in the ocean.
Scarce led unto Hashem’s holy fane, From duty’s path I swerved there,
By harsh oppressor captive ta’en, Because strange gods I served there.
The madd’ning cup I tasted, Till, seventy sad years wasted
In Babylon spent, Zerubabbel, sent, To my deliv’rance, hasted.
To check our growth when Haman sought, Our pine-like stature felling,
In self-laid snare himself was caught, Soon ceased his proud heart’s swelling:
Whilst Israel’s power extended, The foeman’s race was ended,
When kith and kin, Were, for his sin, On gallows-tree suspended,
When Maccabees with Syrian foe,The mastery disputed,
My forts were crushed, my walls laid low,My Temple-oil polluted;
One cruse, to Heaven’s pure nation,Sufficed for dedication;
Whence sages mine Eight days assign, To song and jubilation.
Bare Your holy arm once more, and hasten the End for salvation.
Avenge the vengeance of servants Your, from the wicked nation.
Our salvation’s too long delayed, and there is no end to the evil days
Repel Edom in the shadow deep, and bring seven shepherds without delays.
Another popular translation, written by 19th century rabbis and leaders Gustav Gottheil and Marcus Jastrow, is often taught to children in [Hebrew school].
Rock of ages, let our song Praise your saving power You amid the raging foes Were our sheltering tower
Furious they assailed us But your arm availed us And your word Broke their sword When our own strength failed us
Children of the wanderers Whether free or fettered Wake the echoes of the songs Where you may be scattered
Yours the message cheering That the time is nearing Which will see all men free Tyrants disappearing
- ^ Zunz "Literaturgesch." p. 580
- ^ Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple http://www.oztorah.com/2007/07/the-strange-6th-verse-of-maoz-tzur
- ^ http://www.piyut.org.il/browsing/123.html
- ^ http://www.piyut.org.il/tradition/207.html?currPerformance=232
- ^ Zunz pp. 422, 429
- ^ D. Kaufmann, in "Ha-Asif," ii. 298
- ^ Julian, "Dictionary of Hymnology," s. v. "Sing praise to God who reigns above"
- ^ Translation and notes from The Authorised Daily Prayer Book, Eli Cashdan (London 1990)
- ^ "Maoz Tzur (Rock of Ages)" at Jewish Heritage Online Magazine. Retrieved January 13, 2006.
- 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.
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