Essential Hanukkah Songs

Lighting the Menorah
Angela Coppola / 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 Hanukkah, there are two major songs that are sung right after the lighting of each night's candles: Maoz Tzur and Hanerot Halalu. Several other much more modern songs have also become Hanukkah's "classics" over the past hundred years.

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 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. An audio recording is available at Chabad.org.

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." 

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. ​

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. A recording of the Hanerot Halalu is available at Chabad.org.

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.

Sevivon Sov Sov Sov

Sevivon means dreidel, and the words to Sevivon Sov Sov Sov were written around the turn of the 20th century by Russian-Israeli children's author and poet Levin Kipnis. The song refers to a great miracle that happened "there;" when it is sung in Israel, however, the song refers to a miracle that happened "here." You can hear a version of the song on Chabad.org.

Transliteration:

Sevivon Sov Sov Sov
Chanukah Hu Chag Tov
Chanukah Hu Chag Tov
Sevivon Sov Sov Sov

Chag Simcha hu la'am
Nes Gadol Haya Sham
Nes Gadol Haya Sham
Chag Simcha hu la'am

Translation:

Dreidel spin spin spin
Chanukah is a nice holiday
Chanukah is a nice holiday
Dreidel spin spin spin

It's a joyous holiday for the nation
A great miracle happened there
A great miracle happened there
It's a joyous holiday for the people

Oh Hanukkah Oh Hanukkah

Written by Mordkhe Rivesman (1868–1924), a Lithuanian American, "Oh Hanukkah Oh Hanukkah" was also called “Latke Song” and, when sung in Yiddish, was titled “Khanike Oy Khanike.” A Hanukkah favorite, it's well-known even among non-Jewish Americans. An audio version is available on Chabad.org.

Lyrics

Oh Hanukkah oh Hanukkah
Come light the Menorah
Let's have a party
We'll all dance the Horah

Spin the whirling dreidels
All week long
Eating the sizzling latkes
Sing a happy song

Now light them tonight then
The candles all in a row
We tell the wondrous story
of G‑d in all His glory
The wonders of long ago.

The Dreidel Song

The Dreidel Song is also called "I Have a Little Dreidel," or, in Yiddish, " "Ikh Bin A Kleyner Dreydl." The lyrics for the song were written in 1927 by Samuel Goldfarb; the music and the words to the Yiddish version were composed by Mikhl Gelbart. The Dreidel Song has become an American classic, sung and played at the Hanukkah season across the United States. An audio version is available on Chabad.org.

Lyrics

I have a little dreidel
I made it out of clay
And when it’s dry and ready
Oh dreidel, I shall play

Oh, dreidel, dreidel, dreidel
I made you out of clay
And when you’re dry and ready
Oh Dreidel we shall play

Oh, dreidel, dreidel, dreidel
I made you out of wood
And when you are all ready
I’ll play you when I could

Oh, dreidel, dreidel, dreidel
I made you out of glass
And when you are all ready
I’ll play you on the grass

Oh, dreidel, dreidel, dreidel
I made you out of gold
And when you are all ready
I’ll play you in the cold