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Ma'oz Ẓur

MA'OZ ẒUR (Heb. (מָעוֹז צוּר (יְשׁוּעָתִי; "O Fortress, Rock (of My Salvation)", see: Isa. 17:10), initial words and title of a hymn sung, in the Ashkenazi ritual, in the synagogue and at home after the kindling of the *Hanukkah lights. The song originated in Germany probably in the 13th century (Zunz. Lit Poesie, 580); the author is an otherwise unknown poet by the name of Mordecai as shown by the acrostic of the first five stanzas. Some scholars indentify him with Mordecai b. Isaac, the author of the Sabbath table hymn Mah Yafit. The original Ma'oz Ẓur consists of six stanzas, the first expressing Israel's messianic hopes for the reestablishment of the ancient Temple worship. The following three stanzas praise God for the deliverance of Israel from the Egyptian bondage, from the Babylonian exile, and from *Haman's plot. The fifth stanza summarizes the miracle of Ḥanukkah, and the last one is a plea for the speedy redemption of Israel. The reference in it to Admon – as a synonym for Edom – has been understood to refer to the German Emperor Frederic Barbarossa (1121–90 C.E.). This last verse is now omitted and does not figure in most siddur editions, though its acrostic חָזָק (ḥazak, "strong"), seems to show that it is part of the original composition. Another six verses have been added to Ma'oz Ẓur in the course of time by various authors, the first, so it is claimed, by Moses *Isserles. The theme of these additions, too, is a plaint against persecution by Edom and Ishmael (Christians and Arabs), and a prayer for divine vengeance and redemption. An English version of this hymn, called Rock of Ages, was written by M. *Jastrow and G. *Gottheil. It differs slightly from the original Hebrew text, with its strong plea for vengeance. Some editions of British prayer books (J.H. Hertz, 1963, p. 950) changed the Hebrew text itself. In Conservative and Reform synagogues the English version is sung in addition to or instead of Ma'oz Ẓur.

Musical Rendition

The most commonly sung melody of Ma'oz Ẓur is of West European Ashkenazi origin and may be dated from around the early 15th century. E. *Birnbaum and A.Z. *Idelsohn, on the basis of the similarity of isolated motives, related it to a group of early Protestant chorales and a German soldiers' song. There is a much closer correspondence in the entire melodic line to the church melody Patrem omnipotentem which appears in several Bohemian-Silesian manuscripts, the earliest of which is dated 1474. The earliest notation attesting to the use of the melody for Ma'oz Ẓur so far located is found in the manuscript of Judah Elias of Hanover (1744) as a "melodic reminder" in settings of Hodu for Ḥanukkah. The first printed version appears in Isaac *Nathan's Hebrew Melodies (1815) set to Byron's "On Jordan's Banks." None of the standard sources of the 19th and early 20th centuries has the repetition of the last sentence of the stanza, which is a recent and inept "improvement." In Ashkenazi usage, from the beginning of the month of Kislev onward and during the week of Hanukkah, various prayers are also sung to the Ma'oz Ẓur melody or feature its motives. Other melodies also exist, but their distribution is limited. The melody of the Tedesco (German-Italian) Jews was first notated by the gentile composer Benedetto Marcello in his Estro poetico-armonico (Venice, 1724, 18032). It is still sung in Italy, and sometimes also in Israel and the United States. However, the standard West European Ashkenazi melody has become the dominant and representative one, in spite of objections to its "non-Jewish" character.



Idelsohn, Melodien, 6 (1932), pt. 1no. 53; pt. 2 no. 43, both "Hodu for Ḥanukkah "from cantors' manuals of the end of the 18th century; Idelsohn, Melodien, 8 (1933), no. 311. Judah Elias of Hanover, Ms. dated 1744, two Hodu for Ḥanukkah published by A. Nadel: one, no foliation indicated, in Der Orden Bne Briss (Sept.–Oct. 1935), 95; another Hodu no. 215, in Musica Hebraica, 1–2 (1938), 28, 69. The Ms. is lost; John Braham and Isaac Nathan, A Selection of Hebrew Melodies… by Lord Byron (London, 1815), 31–36 ("On Jordan's Banks"); Ms. formerly in the possession of the Lieben family of Prague, dated 1820 or 1826, lost, 2 copies made in 1920, one in Jewish Museum, Prague (no no. given), one in JNUL, Jacob Michael Collection of Jewish Music, Ms. no. JMA 4705. fol. 16a. Published by H. Avenary in Taẓlil, 7 (1967), 127; A. Baer, Baal T'fillah (18832), no. 188; E. Birnbaum, Chanuca Melodie "Maos Zur" fuer Pianoforte bearbeitet (1889), textless; M. Wodak, Hamnazeach (1898), no. 94. GERMAN-ITALIAN: Benedetto Marcello, Estro poetico-armonico (Venice, 1724–26, 18032), tom. III, xii–xiv, setting for 1 voice and 2 instruments, prefaced on p. xii by notation of the synagogal tune. Published in Idelsohn, Melodien, 6 (1932), appendix, no. 2 (p. 231), and elsewhere. GERMAN: Elhanan Kirchhan (Kirchhain), Simḥat ha-Nefesh (Fuerth, 1726/27), fol. 6b, textless, but with superscription in Judeo-German "Sing the song with devotion on the eight Ḥanukkah days" and fits the meter and rhythm of Ma'oz Ẓur. Published a) Facsimile ed., 1926, b) Idelsohn, Melodien, 6 (1932), appendix, no. 7 (p. 233). SILESIAN-POLISH: (based on Eli Ẓiyyon). Idelsohn, Melodien, 9 (1932), no. 413, after E. Kirschner, in Mitteilungen zur juedischen Volkskunde, 16 (1905), 113. MORAVIA: Ms. Lieben (1820 or 1826; see above) fol. 16b. HASIDIC: attributed to R. Mordecai "The ḥazzan of Saslaw" pupil of the Ba'al Shem Tov, fl. c. 1770, in M.S. Geshuri Ha-Niggun ve-ha-Rikkud ba-Ḥasidut, 1 (1956), 270. ḤASIDIC-GUR: L. Levi (see bibl.), music supplement p. 12. ITALY-GORIZIA: L. Levi (see bibl.), loc. cit.


Landshuth, Ammudei, 202; Abrahams, Companion, ccv-vi; Davidson, Oẓar, 3 (1930), 159 no. 1955; J.T. Levinski, Sefer ha-Mo'adim, 5 (1954), 180f.; A. Carlebach, in: Shanah be-Shanah 5730 (1969), 270–4; Hertz, Prayer, 275; Union Prayer Book, 1 (1924), 354; Sabbath and Festival Prayer Book (1946), 365. MUSICAL RENDITION: L. Levi, in: Sefer ha-Mo'adim, 5 (1954), 182–5; D. Kaufmann, in: He-Assif, 2 (1885), 298; Zunz, Lit Poesie, 422, 429; H. Avenary, in: Taẓlil, 7 (1967), 125–8; Idelsohn, Melodien, 9 (1932), xii; idem, in: HUCA, 11 (1936), 569–91; E. Werner, in: MGWJ, 81 (1937), 393–416.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.