The Sin Of \"Ma\'oz Tzur\"

The Sin of “Ma’oz Tzur”

Published in "Davar" in Cha'nu'ka 1956 by Cantor and musicologist Leib Glantz

The Cha’nu’ka holiday annually reminds us that for centuries the Jewish people lived as minorities among other nations, and had to struggle constantly in order to avoid integrating the customs and culture of those among whom they lived.

Among the Jewish people were those who sought to assimilate. There was also what might be described as unintentional assimilation.

In our music this assimilation actually occurred. Current “Israeli” songs that are sung in Hebrew are frequently just imitations of Cossack, Gypsy and Wallachian melodies. In our concert halls and on the radio [in Israel] we hear melodies “borrowed” from Russia, Romania and Hungary as well as American Jazz and Arabian Debka melodies.

This in itself is not necessarily a bad thing as long as it does not affect our cantorial tradition, which represents an original cultural treasure of the Jewish people. Lately, we find ourselves praying in the synagogue or listening to cantorial music on the radio, as if we are listening to an aria from an opera.

One of the most popular Jewish holiday melodies, a tune sung throughout the Jewish world, is “Ma’oz Tzur,” (O mighty rock of my salvation, to praise Thee is a delight), which accompanies the blessings of the Cha’nu’ka candles on the eight nights of the holiday. Shocking as it may sound, the origins of this traditional “Jewish” holiday song are three famous German melodies:

- A German Lutheran Choral hymn from the fifteenth century;
- A German song from the sixteenth century;
- The cantionales from Magenza and other cantionales (fifteenth
and sixteenth century).

Can this really be our “national” Cha’nu’ka song?

In order to correct this “sin” I have composed a melody for Ma’oz Tzur that is based on the original Nu’sach (prayer mode) of the traditional blessings of the Cha’nu’ka candles. This Nu’sach has been a Jewish legacy for generations. The melodic composition of the music and its rhythm strictly adhere to the special spirit of the Cha’nu’ka Nu’sach, free of foreign influence or imitation. Hopefully, this Ma’oz Tzur will capture the hearts of those who yearn for true authentic culture in Israel.

(This article originally appeared in Hebrew in the Israeli daily Newspaper "Davar."

This article is one of many that appear in the 560 page book (in English) about Chazzan Leib Glantz - "The Man Who Spoke To God." Included in the book are two high quality CDs with Glantz singing 30 of his most important compositions.
You can log on to the book's website:

* * *

Posted by JerryGlantz at 15/12/09 17:05:10
Was the original melody for Maoz Tzur ever recorded? I quickly scanned the recordings at FAU Judaic Sound Archives, but I didn't see it.
Posted by riverdalian at 16/12/09 09:38:53
Where can we listen to this version? It does not appear to be on any of the albums at FAU.
Posted by Simcha at 16/12/09 10:09:43
I am very happy to post the Maoz Tzur notes as well as Leib Glantz singing his composition (thanks for this recording discovered by Mr. Noam Brown).

Musical notes as printed in the Leib Glantz book - "The Man Who Spoke To God" -

/Users/jerryglantz/Desktop/ LEIB GLANTZ FOLDER/LG BOOK Material/Book Material FOLDER/Musical Note Examples (Evan Cohen)/relgbook 2/LG Maoz Tzur Examples/LG Maoz Tzur.TIF

Musical notes published by Copyright in 1955 by 'MERKAZ LETARBUT U'LECHINUCH, Israel -

/Users/jerryglantz/Desktop/ LEIB GLANTZ FOLDER/LG BOOK Material/Noam Brown downloads/Maoz Tsur 1.pdf

Recording sung by Leib Glantz -

/Users/jerryglantz/Desktop/ LEIB GLANTZ FOLDER/LG BOOK Material/Maoz Tsur sung by LG.wav

Chanuka blessings to all the members of the Cantorsworld Forum.
Posted by JerryGlantz at 16/12/09 13:05:36
Thanks Jerry. However I believe what you posted is a link to your hard drive which none of us have access to. You need to upload it to your web site or a file sharing service such as mediafire or email it to someone who can make it available for you. If you wish you can email it to me at simcham613 at gmail.
Posted by Simcha at 16/12/09 14:06:48
the famous maoz zur was recorded by cantor salomo pinkasowicz (1920's) and by cantor wolf wilder in the 1920's as well !
(there might be some others who recorded as well)

the is a recording of cantor moshe kussevitsky singing this song on the radio as well !

A Freilichen Chanuka
Posted by dr at 16/12/09 14:22:15
Sorry to be against you in this point but maoz Zur melody
its clearly stolen from Giuseppe Verdis opera don Carlo begininning of the third act and this is final however your melody is good enough to be succesfull without all those bobe maises.In that sense i wish you good luck as composer and a freilikhe chanike
Posted by regesh at 16/12/09 17:06:31
Regesh, a freilichen Chanuka to you too.

I'm afraid your post is missing both common sense and humility.

Firstly, Chazzan Leib Glantz claims Maoz Tzur originates in German melodies from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and you "refute" his point by referring to Verdi? In which century do you think Verdi lived?.."and this is final"..!

Secondly, Mr. Glantz did not compose this- he is quoting an article written by his father, the great cantor, composer and authority, Leibele Glantz, who definitely can manage without your "haskume" and wishes, especially since he is not alive.
Posted by morris at 17/12/09 09:29:52
Regesh, I read your point with great interest. I hvae but one small question. How do you explain the fact that the Maoz Tzur melody was publisehd in a Jewish context as early at 1815 by Isaac Nathan in an edition of Byron's Hebrew Melodies, but Don Carlo did not premier until 1865? Moroever The Maoz Tzur melody that Glantz railed against is authoritatively reported to have been sung by German Jews and non-Jews as early as the 1400's. In light of the evidence, I'm curious as to how you can believe that Verdi coined this melody and that Ashkenazi Jews stole it from him and it became so ubiquitous in so little time.
Posted by schwartzesq at 17/12/09 09:31:40
Dear Forum readers,

By no strange coincidence, as this subject matter is on the minds of many during the Chanukah holiday I'm attaching here a compendium of notes I copied and pasted from e-mails I had with friends. The article written by Cantor Feldman is especially of interest since he asserts that the tunes of the song has its origins from the church.

Sent: Tue, Dec 15, 2009 11:34 am
Subject: origins of Maoz Tzur song

Dear Friends,

My guest this past Shabbos told me that the tune people sing for Maoz Tzur originated from a church song centuries ago.

It made me wonder how it could be that Jews would ever adopt a tune from the church into a Jewish religious song so I did some research online and what I found is interesting.

I've attached an MP3 file featuring a well known speaker who is a cantorial and musical teacher. He asserts that the tune comes from an old German 'folksong'. There's a big difference.

J. Freedman

Thank you for your communication. I personally do not have the time and/or interest to invest in the research of this particular song. However, a more holistic and educated form of research on the origins of any melody would be to explore other musical creations of that genre, (folk, liturgical, military, etc.) socio-economic nature (peasant, shepherd, gentry, etc.) and time in history (Medieval, Golden Age, Romantic, etc.).

The discerning ear of a musicologist familiar with the various identifying characteristics of compositions is needed to clearly explore the accurate origins of any musical piece.

In reference to the claim that the popular tune of the Chanukah hymn Maoz Tzur is of German folksong origin, one must research and identify the following attributes of the music of that genre, and of that time:

1. Nature of scale and progression
2. nature of rhythm assignment
3. nature of complexity of composition
4. number of movements presented
5. close comparison to other compositions of German Folsong genre of that time.

Folksongs often contain religious themes, and are therefore incorporated into synagogue service , or lehavdil church gospel and liturgical song. This leads to the need to investigate if the above mentioned tune was or was not adopted or even converted into a Christian hymn.

Thank you.


And, FYI, here's an article you may find interesting:


All our music has been adopted from the goyim, due to the long golus.

We have no authentic, original music (or art, for that matter!) of our own.

What do you think YOU sing at every wedding? It's NOT Jewish. It's klezmer - which is Eastern European gypsy music!

So I'm not as surprised as you are.

Ever sing "bentching"? Doesn't that sound like a German folk song too? (P.S. Isn't it interesting that there's only ONE niggun for Birchat Hamazon?) Actually, the bentching melody sounds a lot like Maoz Tzur, doesn't it?

We Ashkenazim borrowed European styles, the Sephardiim borrowed Arabic styles, and we have no idea what Dovid Hamelech's music sounded like. Some people say that Birchas Kohamin, and maybe parts of the Yomim Noraim music (Alenu, as sung in Mussaf?) are directly descended from the Bais HaMikdosh, but no one really knows for sure.

Think about it... what "style" is considered "Jewish" in the art world? There is none! We mostly see old "Renaissance" style Jewish paintings.

We don't even have an authentic clothing style. Everything's borrowed. The chassidim are wearing Napoleonic style coats! And the litvaks are wearing Clark Kent fedoras! It's actually quite ridiculous and sad.

Even upon returning to Israel, there's no definitive "Israeli" music, art or fashion. Modern Israeli music is "middle-Eastern" influenced. The national anthem, HaTikva, is borrowed from a German song! Even the food - tehina and chummus - aren't Israeli/Jewish.

It takes hundreds of years for a culture to define it's own tastes and styles.

We have a long way to go.

In the meantime, when you go to a wedding and they're playing the Piamenta's "Siman Tov", remember that's it's a 100% EXACT COPY of an Australian song from the group "Down Under".


Keep in mind, most people have NO IDEA where songs come from. It could VERY WELL come from a Church.

You sounded so "relieved" it wasn't from a church. But it could just have easily come from one. Or at the very least be influenced by a listener of a church song.

Do you know that many of woodcuts in old Pesach machzorim come from the Church? If I'm not mistaken there's a tradition of having a "rabbit" illustration somewhere in the Hagadah. And everyone was mystified, until someone explained that making woodcuts was very expensive, and the printing presses were are run and owned by the church, so they simply borrowed existing woodcuts for the Hagadah.

Does that horrify you? Oh my G-d... a woodcut from a Christian book used for the church... in our Sefer!

Same idea.


P.S. Not to single out Lubavitch I feel many, if not most, Russian, Polish, or Hungarian tunes and songs frum Jews sing at home and/or shul originate from goyim and perhaps once sung in churches. So, I don't understand why they are sung by our people especially the Russian ones in their language?


This is a very interesting subject. My mother told me a long time ago, when I was a child, that the Chasidisch chazan on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur was singing the davening with Hungarian folk tunes and dance (chardash) that she recognized as a child. (I did not want to believe her.) In college, I found out the Broadway show "Porky and Bess" within which the show tunes were written by George Gershwin, who was Jewish, used old cantorial melodies from his growing years in Europe.

I think most chazanim incorporate new melodies from their era. That would explain the Arabic melodies that come from Sepharadim, Sholomo Carlbach tunes in a Carlbach minyan, etc.


A link to the following information from Cantor Feldman was sent to me by AZ:



(Cantor Feldman is learned in his professions. He has a Cantorial diploma from the Belz Cantorial School of Yeshiva University. Cantor Feldman also received a Bachelor of Arts from Yeshiva College and Rabbinic Ordination from its Rabbinical School. He has two Masters Degrees and a Doctorate from Columbia University in special education.)

Chanukah's Top Hit

The festival of Chanukah envelops our families with warmth and brings light into our homes. It is a holiday that celebrates the triumph of the Jewish peopleand is punctuated by candles, latkes, dreydels (tops), gifts (of course) and music. Though the story of the Maccabees, their victory and the miracle of the oil is known by all from childhood, the history of the songs we sing by the menorah lights may not be. Our rich musical heritage offers Hebrew, Yiddish and English songs, which include Mi Yimalel, Oy, Hanukkah, an East European Yiddish folk song of the 19th century and I Have a Little Dreydel by S.E. Goldfarb. This repertoire has continued to grow, particularly in the United States in the last few decades, with a remarkable output by noted cantors, composers and performers.

Maoz Oz Tzur is the most well known of the Hanukkah songs (our 'top hit,' so to speak). It has a fascinating history, with unlikely origins, evolving and resonating with remarkable staying power. First, a brief look at the text. The hymn, "Maoz Tzur' ("Fortress Rock"), was believed to have been written by a 13th-century poet named Mordecai bar Yitzhak. The poem contains six stanzas, making reference to Egypt, Babylonia, Persia and Syria; from persecution and slavery to freedom. The poet spelled his name in an acrostic in the first five stanzas; hazak (strong) is the sixth stanza acrostic.

Maoz Tzur's melody can be traced back to the 15th century. Though there is a slight difference of opinion amongst leading Jewish musicologists, the consensus is that the musical origins of this Hanukkah song is from German folk songs dating from the 15th and 16th centuries. Evolving in sections, the final one was linked with a popular German song, made famous in a musical setting in approximately 1560. It is interesting to note that while the music of our people has, throughout the centuries, been influenced by the music of the communities in which we lived, the same can be said for some of the Church music composed during this period. It has been documented that the same German folk songs that evolved into our Maoz Tzur can be found in Protestant chorales. Both Martin Luther, one of the 16th century's first Protestant reformers, and the great German Baroque composer, Johann Sebastian Bach, wrote four-part chorales based on these same tunes.

The first recognizable documentation of Maoz Tzur, as we know it, can be found in the 1815 English collection entitled Hebrew Melodies. The tune to Maoz Tzur was set to a poem entitled "On Jordan's Banks.' The evolution of this collection is fascinating, joining together the celebrated English poet Lord Byron and two distinguished Anglo-Jewish musicians from London. The first was Isaac Nathan (1791-1864), the son of a cantor from Canterbury, who was recognized as a composer and singer. The second was the tenor John Braham (1777-1856), who was the most renowned tenor of his time.

Prior to Hebrew Melodies, Isaac Nathan had set to music a work of Lord Byron's in 1813, and provided him a printed copy the following year. Nathan subsequently wrote Lord Byron a passionate letter, dated June 30, 1814, from which the following is excerpted:

I have with great trouble selected a considerable number of very beautiful Hebrew melodies of undoubted antiquity, some of which proved to have been sung by the Hebrews before the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem.... I am taking great liberty with your Lordship in even hinting that two songs written by you would give the work great celebrity.. I have since been persuaded by several Ladies of literary fame and known genius, to apply to your Lordship.... if your Lordship would permit me to wait on you with the Melodies and allow me to play them over to you, I feel certain from their great beauty, you would become interested in them, indeed, I am convinced no one but my Lord Byron could do them justice....

Lord Byron accepted Isaac Nathan's heartfelt request and gave over his copyrights to Nathan. As it turns out, Lord Byron himself had tried to set his poetry to Hebrew melodies at one time. The songs in this compilation were arranged for choir and a piano accompaniment was written for each one. Some of the tunes were what we would call traditional. Others were composed by cantors or melodies that became associated with several cantors. Hebrew Melodies (the Maoz Tzur tune included) was dedicated to Princess Charlotte of Wales, who was a patron of Isaac Nathan and one of his voice students.

Alongside the evolution and documentation of what we would call the Western European melody for Maoz Tzur, another well-known musical setting of the hymn was documented by the Italian composer Benedetto Marcello (1686-1739). The German Jews who had settled in Italy during the 17th and 18th centuries sang this particular melody. It was known as 'Ebrei tedeschi' from Marcello's 'Estro Poetrico Armonico' (Venice, 1724-1727). This was an eight-volume collection, containing 50 settings, which included both instrumental and vocal works. Each volume contained Marcello's commentary, including discussions about the music of the Hebrews. Marcello even makes reference to the differences in the chants between the Spanish and German Jews. These comments strongly indicate that both Sephardic and Ashkenazic melodies were sung in the Venetian synagogue. Marcello notes the tune as "Intonazione Sopra Maoz Tzur.

Although the Maoz Tzur melody that Marcello documented is known and performed today, it is the Ashkenazic Maoz Tzur that we traditionally sing following the lighting of the menorah is the dominant musical symbol of the festival. When I was younger and sang in the Zamir chorale, I sung and heard the Marcello version of Maoz Tzur for the very time. It is most beautiful and much more musically sophisticated that the Maoz Tzur that we sing.

It is exciting to think that the tunes that fused together during the 15th and 16th centuries found their way into the daily and supplementary prayers that are recited in the synagogue during the Chanukah holiday and are sung in every Jewish home. When we join together to light the candles this Hanukkah, though the history of "Maoz Tzur" may not extend back to Maccabean times, we should lremember its centuries-long evolution and journey is a musical miracle of resilience.

Chag Sameach!


Regards & Happy Chanukah to all,
Jack Freedman

Posted by Jack Freedman at 17/12/09 16:41:55
To morris and shwartzes :ok!!! point for both of you(specially for morris) or may be Verdi used it as atribute to our people since the main topic in the Opera Don Carlo is the Inquisition.The truth is that last time I heard Don Carlo last year at the Heikhal hatarbut with Zubin metah he tried to shows us the similarity turning around his face and smiling.........
Posted by regesh at 17/12/09 18:17:02
Here is a link to two files generously provided by Dr. Jerry Glantz.

Maoz Tsur 1.pdf
Maoz Tsur sung by LG.mp3
Posted by Simcha at 22/12/09 16:09:28
and in tHis link the introduction before the trio who zubin Menta showed as quit similar to maoz zur, have in mind that are many versions of don carlo (5acts ,4 acts, italian, russian ,french,.. so nothing in Don carlo is final (im in makhloikes with myself)hohohoooho!!!
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