Jewish Journal

Maoz Tzur—Chanukah’s greatest hit

by JewishJournal.com

December 3, 2007 | 11:35 pm

We love The Dreidel song:

We love Ocho Candelikas:

But neither one touches the most beautiful Chanukah song: Maoz Tzur (“Rock of Ages”). [CLICK HERE FOR INSTRUMENTAL VERSION]

The melody is based on a medieval German folk song, they say, and it appears in some Lutheran liturgy and Bach collections.  This WikiPedia entry has the whole story as well as the translation of the original Hebrew lyrics which are a bit more bloody and graphic than the poetic—politically correct—English versification we all know.

The first verse starts with a general thank you:

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.

But moves to the specfic from the rhetorical:

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

Next verse recounts the Exodus, and thanks God, the third tells of the destruction of the First Temple and the Babylonian Exile, the fourth verse tells the Purim story, and the fifth is about Chanukah.

Then comes the mysterious sixth verse—omitted from some versions because it seems to liken “The Red One” to the oppressors of old, and this evil Red Dude is thought to be an allusion to Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa (red beard):

Bare Your holy arm and hasten
the End for salvation -
Avenge the vengeance of Your servants’ blood
from the wicked nation.
For the triumph is too long delayed for us,
and there is no end to days of evil,
Repel the Red One in the nethermost shadow
and establish for us the seven shepherds.

From all accounts Red Fred seemed to be pretty good to the Jews (comparatively), at least according my research, and I don’t know why the writer of the sixth verse put him on his hit list.

The bloody lyrics and Red Fred mystery make the elegant melody and counterpoint even shinier, I think, and isn’t that what Chanukah’s all about?

Happy Chanukah to all!

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