Maoz Tzur

Traditional Ashkenazi
melody, arranged by A. Binder

Traditional Italian chant


Sheet music with chords

Listen to midi file [2]

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 speedy redemption.

The commonly sung English version of this hymn, popularly called Rock of Ages, was written by 19th-century American Jewish rabbis and leaders Marcus Jastrow [1] and Gustav Gottheil,[2] 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.[1]


Maoz Tzur (literal translation)

Rock of Ages (popular English version)

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.

(complete text)

Hebrew text

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

(complete text)


[1] Marcus Mordecai Jastrow (1829-1903) was a Polish-born rabbi and lexicographer and a leader of the historical school in the United States. [back]

[2] Gustav Gottheil (b. Posen, 1827-1903), Reform rabbi, liturgist, and U.S. Zionist leader; published a hymnal in 1886.[back]

excerpted [1]Recordings 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]

[2] Music transcription courtesy of Irwin Oppenheim, Chazzanut Online; Arrangement: Jeremy Mayle
Zamir symbol
Buy the CD

More about The Zamir Chorale of Boston
Interview with Joshua Jacobson, Artistic Director
Chazzanut Online: Jewish liturgical music, with a large collection of cantorial sheet music, annotated links and background

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