Happy first night of Chanukah!


In honor of which, I bring you two–yes, two!–Chanukah songs.

The first is “Candlelight,” sung by the Maccabeats:

Video by Uri Westrich

In case you were wondering about the lines in “Candlelight” that run:

We say “ma’oz tzur”
Oh, yeah, for all eight nights,

that is my second song, a very traditional Chanukah song.

“Ma’oz Tzur,” sung by students of Israel’s Technion*:

Video by Technion

This traditional melody for “Ma’oz Tzur” has been identified as mostly likely having been adapted from an old German folk song, possibly sometime in the 15th century.

(Okay, yes, yes, I know. There’s a lot of “maybe” and “perhaps” about that. But hey, there isn’t going to be a whole lot of certainty about 15th century folk song melodies. It is, after all, a teensy bit before recording equipment was invented. And while there was a sort of musical notation in Europe as far back as that, that was for Church music; there weren’t a whole lot of folk songs being notated. If any.)

The lyrics go back even farther–they are thought to have been written in the 13th century and we even know the poet’s first name, as he wrote it into the hymn as an acrostic: The first letters of the first five stanzas spell out Mordechai–מרדכי in Hebrew. The first stanza expresses a hope that the Temple will once more be restored, and the sixth and last stanza (which opens with another acrostic: chazak–חזק in Hebrew–which means “be strong”) again returns to the hope for salvation and return. Each of the four paragraphs in between refers to a time when Jews have been saved in the past: From slavery in Egypt; from captivity in Babylonia; from slaughter in the Purim story; and from the Hellenized Syrians in the Chanukah story.

The song is generally sung right after lighting the menorah (or, more exactly, the chanukiah–eight branches plus an extra, rather than the seven branches in the great menorah in the Temple). Part of the mitzvah of lighting the menorah is to enjoy the light of the menorah, and standing around it while singing makes sure we don’t run off and ignore it.

Now go have some latkes or sufganiyot! Chag sameach (happy holiday)!


* In case you are unfamiliar with the institution, Technion can be described as the MIT of Israel. These students certainly sing Ma’oz Tzur way, WAY better than I can–and they are appropriately ingenious with their instruments. And just look at how they light their Chanukah menorah!: