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A Reconstructionist Maoz Tzur for Hanukkah

Rabbi Alan LaPayover

Rabbi Alan LaPayover

Library Director, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

Maoz Tzur, Rock of Ages, is a Hanukkah classic. The singing of this medieval poem anchors our Hanukkah celebrations and helps us to remember the Jewish people’s deliverance from our enemies. However, some of the violent imagery in this 13th-century poem runs contrary to our modern, progressive values. One stanza in particular calls on God to “wreak vengeance on enemies of the Jews.”

As you would expect, Reconstructionists have created an alternate version of Maoz Tzur. In writing this version, Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, sought to address these troubling aspects. Instead of anticipating God “preparing the slaughter of the blaspheming foe,” the Reconstructionist version of Maoz Tzur looks forward to the end of slaughter. The words and melody give us an opportunity to express our hopes for how the world may change for the better as we bask in the glow of the Hanukkah candles.

And it goes like this:
מָעוֹז צוּר יְשׁוּעָתִי לְךָ נָאֶה לְשַׁבֵּֽחַ
תּכּוֹן בֵּית תְּפִלָּתִי וּבְשִׁיר תּוֹדָה נְנַצֵּֽחַ
לְעֵת תַּשְׁבִּית מַטְבֵּֽחַ וּשְׁאוֹן קְרָב תְּשַׁבֵּֽחַ
אָז אֶגְמוֹר בְּשִׁיר מִזְמוֹר חֲנֻכַּת הַמִּזְבֵּֽחַ

Ma’oz tzur yeshu’ati leha na’eh leshabe’ah.

Tikon beyt tefilati uveshir todah nenatze’ah.

Le’et tashbit matbe’ah ushe’on teshabe’ah.

Az egmor beshir mizmor hanukat hamizbe’ah.

יְוָנִם נִקְבְּצוּ עָלַי אֲזַי בִּימֵי חַשְׁמַנִּים
וּפָרְצוּ חוֹמוֹת מִגְדָּלַי וְטִמְּאוּ כָל־הַשְׁמָנִּים
וּמִנּוֹתַר קַנְקַנּים זָרַח אוֹר לְשׁוֹשַׁנּים
בְּנֵי בִינָה יְמֵי שְׁמוֹנָה קָבְעוּ שִׁיר וּרְנָנִים

Yevanim nikbetzu alay azay bimey hashmanim.

Ufaretzu homot migdalay vetime’u khol-hashemanim.

Uminotar kankanim zarah or leshoshanim.

Benay vinah yemay shemonah kave’u shir urenanim.

O God, to Thee our praises ring,
Thou Rock of our salvation;
Accept the thanks our people bring
On this Feast of Dedication.
When the force of hate is demolished,
And war at last abolished,
We then will greet with joy complete
Thine altar’s consecration.

When the Maccabees to the Temple came,
Having saved their nation,
To light again the Menorah’s flame,
With song and jubilation,
Of pure oil there was none,
Save one small flask alone;
Its holy light, shone pure and bright,
In eight-day celebration.

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