The words to
the popular Hebrew Hanukkah song Ma'oz Tzur (Rock of Ages) were probably
written in 13th or 14th-century Germany. The author "Mordecai"
signed his name as an acrostic in the first five stanzas but nothing else certain
is known about him, although several theories have been raised..
The original text consists
of six stanzas. The first expresses Israel's messianic hopes for the reestablishment
of the ancient Temple worship. The following stanzas praise God for delivering
the Jews from the Egyptian bondage, from the Babylonian exile, from Haman's plot
and from the Seleucid Greek threat. The hymn concludes with a plea for Israel's
sung English version of this hymn, popularly called Rock of Ages, was
written by 19th-century American Jewish rabbis and leaders Marcus
and Gustav Gottheil,
and is based on the 19th-century German version by Leopold Stein.
The most common
melody for Ma'oz Tzur is of West European (Ashkenazi) origin. Scholars
suggest it dates from an old German folksong that spread among the Jews in the
15th century; this melodic line appears in a well-documented church melody of
that period, used by Martin Luther (1483-1546) for his German chorals. The earliest
preserved Jewish source of the melody is a manuscript from Hanover, dated 1744.
We include here a recording of this melody as
sung by the Zamir Chorale of Boston, Joshua Jacobson, Artistic Director.*
The melody sung by the Italian Jews was first notated by the gentile composer
Benedetto Marcello in Venice in 1724. Although less well known, this melody
has gained in popularity in recent years. You may enjoy this recording,
also by the Zamir Chorale.
of Ages (popular
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 will have prepared the
slaughter for the blaspheming foe,
Then I shall complete with a song of hymn
the dedication of the Altar.
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
Marcus Mordecai Jastrow (1829-1903) was a Polish-born rabbi and lexicographer
and a leader of the historical school in the United States. [back]
 Gustav Gottheil (b. Posen, 1827-1903), Reform
rabbi, liturgist, and U.S. Zionist leader; published a hymnal in 1886.[back]
from: Zamir Chorale of Boston, Joshua Jacobson, Artistic Director. "Lights:
Music for Chanukah." Copyright � 1990 by AFKA Records. By permission
of the Zamir Chorale of Boston. [back]
Music transcription courtesy of Irwin Oppenheim, Chazzanut
Arrangement: Jeremy Mayle
about The Zamir Chorale
Interview with Joshua Jacobson,
liturgical music, with a large collection of cantorial sheet music,
annotated links and background
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