Rock of Ages (Maoz Tzur)

The timeless song of the Maccabees' fight for freedom.

This well-known Hanukkah song, whose words were composed in the 13th century, summarizes historical challenges faced by the Jewish people that have been overcome with God’s help. Yet this joyous song also contains a later addition, a sixth stanza composed three centuries after the original Maoz Tzur was written. The tune’s origins are not documented, but it is believed to be an adaptation of contemporary folk songs or hymns.

The appearance of this little-known, rarely sung stanza, which calls on God to wreak vengeance on enemies of the Jews and, as some translations word it, “thrust the enemy into the shadows of death,” poses a challenge to modern Jewish sensibilities. It is a raw, emotional reaction to persecution faced by the Jewish community in Christian Europe. While being able to identify with the emotions that arise out of the historical circumstances, the call for Divine retribution is foreign to the modern ear. Nonetheless, the theological question of God’s role in history raised in the last stanza of this song is a question that is still asked today.

English:
Rock of Ages let our song,
Praise thy saving power;
Thou amidst the raging foes,
Wast our sheltering tower.


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Furiously they assailed us,
But Thine arm availed us
And Thy word broke their sword,
When our own strength failed us.
And Thy word broke their sword,
When our own strength failed us.

Hebrew:
Maoz tzur y’shuati
l’cha naeh l’shabeach
Tikon beit t’filati
v’sham todah n’zabeach.

L’eit tachin matbeach
mitzar hamnabeach
Az egmor b’shir mizmor
chanukat hamizbeach
Az egmor b’shir mizmor
chanukat hamizbeach.

מָעוֹז צוּר יְשׁוּעָתִי
לְךָ נָאֶה לְשַׁבֵּחַ
תִּכּוֹן בֵּית תְּפִלָּתִי
וְשָׁם תּוֹדָה נְזַבֵּחַ.

לְעֵת תָּכִין מַטְבֵּחַ
מִצָּר הַמְנַבֵּחַ.
אָז אֶגְמוֹר בְּשִׁיר מִזְמוֹר
חֲנֻכַּת הַמִּזְבֵּחַ.

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