Chanukah Tunes

    Each night of Chanukah, after the candles are lit, the following two songs are sung:

    The History
    The chant, "Hanerot Halalu", is of very ancient origin and is mentioned with slight variations in the Talmudic "minor tractate" in Soferim 20:6. The recital of this prayer, like the kindling of the lights itself, serves both "to make the miracle known", and as a reminder that "these lights are sacred throughout the eight days of Chanukah, and we are not permitted to make ordinary use of them but only to look at them."

    The Song
    The song refers to the various forms of miracles, wonders and victories which G-d performed for the Jewish people at the time of the story of Chanukah. This period is described as "in those days at this season", highlighting the fact that we celebrate the Chanukah festival today for the same reasons and at the same time as it was celebrated then. The words of the song describe the unique status of the candles as commemorations of the miracle of Chanukah, and the prohibition against using them as a light source.

    When do we sing it?
    A "shamash" (literally "servant") flame is lit in compliance with the prohibition against enjoying the lights, so that any incidental pleasure or benefit that comes from the lights can be considered as coming from it, and not from the other flames. Indeed, the song ends with an acknowledgement that it is by not using the Chanukah lights for any personal pleasure that we emphasize that our sole intent in lighting them is to publicize the miracle. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch adds that we give thanks to "God's Name" by recognizing and acknowledging all miracles wrought in our history by God and publicizing them to all.

    After the reciting of the blessings over the lighting of the Chanukah candles, and the lighting of the new light for that night, the words of "Hanerot Halalu" are recited. The additional lights are lit as it is recited.

    The Words

    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.

    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.

    Maoz Tzur

    The words "Maoz Tzur" meaning "Fortress, Rock [of my salvation ]" are the opening words of the ever popular song sung by Ashkenazim after the lighting of the Chanukah lights.

    This popular song is thought to have originated in Germany in the 13th century. It was written by an unknown author named Mordechai, according to the acrostic of the first five stanzas. The famous melody has been traced back to a manuscript of a certain Judas Alias of Hanover (1744) and some scholars claim a correspondence to tunes found in Bohemian-Silesian manuscripts of the 15th century.

    In the hymn, the poet recalls the various exiles endured by the Jewish people and praises God for redeeming them from each of them. Central motifs are the desire to return to the glorious days of the Temple and the anticipation of the dawn of Messianic Redemption--it should happen speedily in our days, Amen.

    The Words

    Ma'oz tzur yeshu'ati
    Lecha na'eh leshabe'ach
    Tikon bet tefilati
    Vesham todah nezabe'ach
    Le'et tachin matbe'ach
    Mitzar ham'nabe'ach
    Az egmor beshir mizmor
    Chanukat hamizbe'ach.
    Mighty Rock of my Salvation
    To praise You is a delight.
    Restore my House of Prayer,
    And there'll be a thanksgiving offering.
    When you prepare the slaughter
    for the blaspheming foe,
    I'll complete with a hymn
    the dedication of the altar.

    More Chanukah Tunes

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