Chazzanut Online

Chanukah Songs


German Maoz Tzur

"Maoz Tzur" is without any doubt the most popular Chanukah [Hanukkah] song. The Maoz Tzur tune that is by now considered to be "traditional" in most parts of the Jewish world, is an adaptation of a German folk song.

Sam Englander wrote a nice piano arrangement of the German Maoz Tzur. Listen to a midi or study the original sheet music to play it yourself!

Some notes on this tune's interesting history and relation with "Shnei Zeitim" (see also below) can be found in a 1904 Jewish Encyclopedia article. It also features a transcription of Israel Mombach's variation on the German Maoz Tzur melody. (listen to midi) This variation gained popularity in the English speaking world.

A literal translation of Maoz Tzur with some commentary can be found on They also give detailed instructions on how to light the Chanukah candles, and say the appropriate blessings.

Rock of Ages

In the US, the following Maoz Tzur paraphrase by Marcus Jastrow (1829-1903) and Gustav Gottheil (1827-1903) became very popular:

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.

Note that this is not a literal translation. It was based on a similar German hymn by Leopold Stein (1810-1882).

Shenei Zeitim

Shenei Zeitim is a liturgical poem or piyut which is said on the first Shabbat of Chanukah.

It is inserted just before "'Or Chadash 'al Tsiyon Ta'ir," i.e. in the first blessing before the Shema'. (Or Chadash means "a new light." It provides a handy bridge between the poem and the regular liturgy.)

A.Z. Idelsohn writes in his "Jewish Liturgy," Appendix IV, p.319:

"Shne zeitim, Meora, is a poem by the above mentioned Solomon [Shlomoh ben Yehudah of Roma, 10th century]. The author draws from Zachariah IV:3-14 [which is the haftarah of the first Shabbat of Chanukah]. This poem is a fervent prayer for the re-establishment of Zion, the Sanctuary, and the priestly service. It used to be sung in a tune which is a variation of the tune of [the German] Maoz Tzur."

Indeed, Victor Tunkel wrote to me:

"There is a recording of Sh'ney Zeytim in the National Sound Archives of the JNUL, as sung by a man from Mulhouse (Alsace). It sounds like a primitive version of the [German] Maoz Tsur tune."

Dutch Practice

In Holland, however, this Chanukah poem has traditionally been sung to its own peculiar tune. This tune has become so popular over the years, that it saved the text belonging to it from oblivion.

The custom of using this melody just as well for singing Shir Hama'alot during Chanukah, gives evidence of the tunes popularity. Furthermore it is used to tone the "Yechadeshehu" for the month preceding Chanukah, while the Yechadeshehu for the month following Chanukah is sung to the tune of Maoz Tzur. (Yechadeshehu is part of a special blessing in honour of the next month, said on the last shabbat before Rosh Chodesh.)

I made the following sheet music transcription of the Dutch "Shenei Zeitim" tune (click to enlarge):

Sheet Music

Also available are:

The Dutch Nusach also has a specific kaddish tune for Chanukah, that is based on, but not identical to the German Maoz Tzur melody. It was transcribed by Lissauer. Listen to a Midi, or view the sheet music.

Marcello Maoz Tzur

Cantor Sam Weiss noted a structural resemblance between the tune of Shenei Zeitim and the Italian Maoz Tzur tune that was transcribed by Marcello:

"It provides an interesting support -- from a different angle -- for Werner's conjecture of a musical connection between the two Piyyutim. [Between Maoz Tzur and Shenei Zeitim, IO] It seems safe to say that the elaborate Dutch melody has at its core the simpler Marcello Maoz Tzur tune (see especially the arch of the two opening measures). This is certainly not to say that one is a variant (or even a development) of the other, but that the Dutch melody at least implies a "memory" of the Marcello melody."

Sam Weiss was so kind to provide me with a gif and a midi file of the Marcello tune.

Sheet Music

Victor Tunkel suggested the following:

"It [the Dutch Shenei Zeitim tune, IO] is of course quite different from the tune that was the precursor of the German Maoz Tsur. And I can't see any resemblance to the Marcello either. I would think it a 19th century composition?"

If anybody knows of another melody for Shenei Zeitim, or knows of the descent of the Dutch tune, I'm very interested.

Read More

  • Go to the large Zemerl collection of Chanukah songs, with lyrics, sound samples and some sheet music.
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Keywords: chanukah songs, chanukah sheet music, hanukkah songs, chanuka, ma'oz tsur, maoz tzur, rock of ages.