Hanukkah Songs: Hanerot Halalu and Maoz Tzur

Two Essential Songs for Chanukah

New York Children Celebrate Start Of Hannukah
Stephen Chernin / Getty Images

On nearly every Jewish holiday, traditional songs are sung by young and old alike to celebrate and commemorate the importance of the day. These songs are deeply-seated in the Torah and tradition, but many have evolved to have important modern meanings and tunes. For Chanukah, there are two major songs that are sung right after the lighting of each night's candles: Maoz Tzur and Hanerot Halalu.

Maoz Tzur

Maoz Tzur (מעוז צור), which means "Stronghold of Rock" in Hebrew, is a popular Hanukkah song that is often sung after reciting the Hanukkah (Chanukah) blessings and lighting the Menorah.

It is also a favorite song in synagogue religious schools, where children will sometimes put on a holiday performance for their parents and family in celebration of Hanukkah.

Maoz Tzur is a liturgical poem called a piyyut (פיוט). The first letters of the first five stanzas form an acrostic, meaning they spell the poet's name, Mordecai (מרדכי), in Hebrew (mem, reish, dalet, kaf, yud). The poem is believed to have originated in 13th century Europe and is usually sung to the tune of an old German folk song. Some believe the tune should be credited to Judas Alias of Hanover (1744) and others cite correspondence about the tune in 15th century Bohemian-Silesian manuscripts.

The six-stanza poem recounts the many times that God has delivered the Jewish people from their foes. The first stanza, which is the one that is usually sung on Hanukkah, thanks God for this protection. The next five stanzas talk about the Israelite Exodus from Egypt as well as the Israelite liberation from Babylonia, Persia, and Syria.

The fifth verse retells the story of Hanukkah, saying: "The Greeks gathered against me ... they broke down the walls of my towers, and defiled all the oils. But from the last remaining flask a miracle was wrought." Get the complete six stanzas

Note: Some translate Maoz Tzur as "Rock of Ages," which refers to a specific form of the song that is a non-literal translation based on a German version composed by Leopold Stein in the 19th century. These lyrics tend to be gender neutral. The song title also refers to the Christian hymn "Rock of Ages," written in the 18th century. ​

Hebrew

מעוז צור ישועתי,
לך נאה לשבח,
תיכון בית תפילתי,
ושם תודה נזבח.
לעת תכין מטבח
מצר המנבח.
אז אגמור
בשיר מזמור
חנוכת המזבח.

Transliteration (First Stanza Only)

Ma-oz Tzur Y'shu-a-ti
Le-cha Na-eh L'sha-bei-ach
Ti-kon Beit T'fi-la-ti
V'sham To-da N'za-bei-ach
L'eit Ta-chin Mat-bei-ach
Mi-tzar Ha-mi-ga-bei-ach
Az Eg-mor B'shir Miz-mor
Cha-nu-kat Ha-miz-bei-ach
Az Eg-mor B'shir Miz-mor
Cha-nu-kat Ha-miz-bei-ach

Popular English Translation (First Stanza Only)

Rock of ages, let our song
Praise Your saving power;
You, amid the raging foes,
Were our sheltering tower.
Furious they assailed us,
But Your arm availed us,
And Your word,
Broke their sword,
When our own strength failed us.

Hanerot Halalu

Hanerot Halalu (הנרות הללו), an ancient chant mentioned in the Talmud (Soferim 20:6), reminds Jews of the sacred nature of the Hanukkah (Chanukah) lights that commemorate and publicize the Hanukkah miracles. The song says that one's sole intent in kindling Hanukkah lights is to publicize the miracle, and thus it is forbidden to use the lights in any other way.

After the reciting of the Hanukkah blessings and lighting the new light for that night, Hanerot Halalu is traditionally recited as additional lights are lit.

Hebrew

הנרות הללו שאנו מדליקין
הנרות הללו שאנו מדליקין
על הניסים ועל הנפלאות
ועל המלחמות ועל התשועות
שעשית לאבותינו, שעשית לאבותינו
בימים ההם, בימים ההם
בימים ההם, בזמן הזה

על ידי כוהניך, כוהניך הקדושים
וכל שמונת ימי החנוכה
הנרות הללו קודש הן
ואין לנו רשות להשתמש בהם,
אלא לראותם בלבד
ואין לנו רשות להשתמש בהם,
אלא לראותם בלבד.

Transliteration

Hanerot halalu anachnu madlikin
Al hanissim ve'al haniflaot
Al hatshu-ot ve'al hamilchamot
She-asita la'avoteynu
Bayamim hahem, bazman hazeh
Al yedey kohanecha hakdoshim.

Vechol shmonat yemey Chanukah
Hanerot halalu kodesh hem,
Ve-ein lanu reshut lehishtamesh bahem
Ela lirotam bilvad
Kedai lehodot leshimcha
Al nissecha veal nifleotecha ve-al yeshuotecha.

Translation

We light these lights
For the miracles and the wonders,
For the redemption and the battles
That you made for our forefathers
In those days at this season,
Through your holy priests.

During all eight days of Chanukah
These lights are sacred
And we are not permitted to make
Ordinary use of them,
But only to look at them;
In order to express thanks
And praise to Your great Name
For your miracles, Your wonders
And your salvations.

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Your Citation
Katz, Lisa. "Hanukkah Songs: Hanerot Halalu and Maoz Tzur." ThoughtCo, Jul. 4, 2017, thoughtco.com/hanukkah-songs-hanerot-halalu-maoz-tzur-2076173. Katz, Lisa. (2017, July 4). Hanukkah Songs: Hanerot Halalu and Maoz Tzur. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/hanukkah-songs-hanerot-halalu-maoz-tzur-2076173 Katz, Lisa. "Hanukkah Songs: Hanerot Halalu and Maoz Tzur." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/hanukkah-songs-hanerot-halalu-maoz-tzur-2076173 (accessed November 20, 2017).