The Origin of Maoz Tzur

As a kid, my mother would usually usher us into the table, light the menorah and everyone sings the Maoz Tzur. I have always wondered why of the many Jewish songs, we choose to sing Maoz Tzur during the holiday so I’ve made a little research of this famous Jewish song and its significance to the celebration of Hanukkah.

It is part of Jewish tradition to sing Maoz Tzur during Hanukkah celebrations. The Maoz Tzur is a chant traditionally sang after lighting the Hanukkah menorah and reciting the Brachah Hanukkak blessings. According to Wikipedia, Maoz Tzur is thought to have been written sometime in the 13th century. This was originally sung in the home of Jewish families but was later on used in synagogues during the 19th century.   The text of this song reminisces on the many times that Jewish communities were saved from other people. The second stanza of the song recalls the exodus from Egypt. The third stanza talks about the end of the Babylonian captivity. The fourth stanza recalls the miracle of Purim, and the last stanza retells the Hasmonean victory.  Its English version which is commonly sung is called Rock of Ages. This was written by two 19th century American Jewish rabbis Gustav Gottheil and Marcus Jastrow. This version is based on the 19th century interpretation by Leopold Stein.

Maoz Tsur is a beautiful song which expresses our gratitude to God for saving us from our foes. It is a song of appreciation to God for our freedom and our hope for the restoration of Israel. It is believed that Maoz Tzur is sung specifically on Hanukkah rather than Purim or Passover to serve as a substitute for the ritual storytelling which is done during Purim and Passover.

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