Unetanneh Tokef, Unethanneh Toqeph, Un'taneh Tokef, or Unesanneh Tokef (ונתנה תוקף) ("Let us speak of the awesomeness ") is a piyyut that has been a part of the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur liturgy in some traditions of rabbinical Judaism for centuries. It introduces the Kedusha of Musaf for these days. It is chanted while the Torah ark is open and the congregants are standing. The ArtScroll machzor calls it "one of the most stirring compositions in the entire liturgy of the Days of Awe."
Recorded in the 13th century commentary Or Zarua, by Rabbi Isaac ben Moses of Vienna (died ca. 1270), who attributes the writing to Rabbi Ephraim of Bonn (a compiler of Jewish martyrologies, died ca. 1200).
Ben Moses claimed that Unetanneh Tokef was composed by an 11th-century sage named Rabbi Amnon of Mainz (or Mayence, in Germany) – who, apart from this one story, is utterly unknown to history. As a friend of the (otherwise unnamed) Archbishop of Mainz (or, perhaps, the otherwise unnamed Governor), Rabbi Amnon was pressured to convert to Catholicism. As a delaying tactic, he requested three days to consider the offer; immediately he regretted intensely giving even the pretense that he could possibly accept a foreign religion. After spending the three days in prayer, he refused to come to the archbishop as promised, and, when he was forcibly brought to the archbishop's palace, he begged that his tongue be cut out to atone for his sin. Instead, the archbishop ordered his hands and legs amputated — limb by limb — as punishment for not obeying his word to return after three days and for refusing to convert. At each amputation, Rabbi Amnon was again given the opportunity to convert, which he refused. He was sent home, with his severed extremities, on a knight's shield.
This event occurred shortly before Rosh Hashanah. On that holiday, as he lay dying, Rabbi Amnon asked to be carried into the synagogue, where he recited the original composition of Unetanneh Tokef with his last breath (the story contains an ambiguous phrase that some commentators interpreted as saying that he did not merely die but that his body miraculously vanished). Three days later, he appeared in a dream to Rabbi Kalonymus ben Meshullam (died 1096), one of the great scholars and liturgists of Mainz, and begged him to transcribe the prayer and to see that it was included in the text of the High Holiday services. Thus, the legend concludes, Unetanneh Tokef became a part of the standard liturgy.
While medieval history testifies amply to the intense persecution of Jews by Christians at the time of the Crusades, there are difficulties with the legend that it was composed by Amnon. Not least of these is its portrayal of Amnon as an illustrious Torah giant, while Jewish history of that period provides no record of a 'Rav Amnon of Mainz' at all. It seems unlikely that a person of such tremendous stature would be remembered only in a single legend. Scholars have long known that there is no historical foundation for the story of Rabbi Amnon and that this story may have been inspired or derived from the Christian legend associated with Saint Emmeram of Regensburg. Moreover, the discovery of the Unetaneh Tokef prayer within the earliest strata of the Cairo Geniza materials, dating well before the 11th century, makes it almost impossible that the prayer could have been composed as the legend claims.
Additionally, some scholars see parallels with non-Jewish hymnology, suggesting that elements of the prayer stemmed from other sources. It is possible that the Rabbi Amnon story was entirely invented, not necessarily by the author of Or Zarua, to legitimize a piyyut of doubtful origin or simply to satisfy popular curiosity about the background of such an impressive liturgical work. Indications of this are the absence of evidence of the existence of a Rabbi Amnon, the fact that the name Amnon is a variant of the Hebrew word for "faithful", the extravagance of the story, the conspicuous inclusion of Kalonymus, and evidences that this piyyut or something very similar was already in use before the time ascribed. Additionally, both the language and style are different from the other poems of Kalonymus.
Yaakov Spiegel has argued that the prayer was written by Yannai in the sixth century. Authorship from Israel is supported by internal evidence, such as the concluding three-part remedy of 'repentance, prayer, and charity', which is found in exact permutation in Genesis Rabbah (composed in Israel), yet not in Babylonian sources (e.g., Talmud Bavli cites a four-part remedy). Stylistically, the prayer indicates its composition in the land of Israel during the Byzantine period (namely 330–638).
Position in the prayer service
In the Ashkenazic ritual, Unetanneh Tokef is inserted during the Mussaf service, when the chazzan repeats the Amidah, as a Silluk (parting poem) just before intoning the kedusha. In the Sephardic ritual, Unetanneh Tokef is usually omitted, as Sephardic Jews do not recite piyyutim during the Amidah. Nevertheless, because of the importance of this prayer, many Sephardic congregations (mainly Moroccan) recite it immediately prior to the commencement of the Mussaf service. The congregation stands up to chant it and the Torah Ark is opened. It is one of the few piyyutim that is recited on both days of Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur in the Polish tradition whereas it's only said on Rosh Hashanah by Sephardim and German Ashkenazim who have another silluk for Yom Kippur: "Mi Ya'arokh Eilekho". In Reform practice, it was taken from the recitation of the Amidah and presented as an independent item in both the Minhah and Yizkor services, early Reform practice had the line about the angels trembling deleted but this has been restored in more recent Reform prayerbooks.
Themes and sources of Unetanneh Tokef
Unetanneh Tokef is recited immediately prior to and as an introduction for the kedusha prayer, during which the angelic sanctification of God is mentioned. Unetanneh Tokef adapts this daily praise to the specific elements intrinsic to the High Holidays, namely the Divine judgment of all existence. In most printed editions, Unetanneh Tokef consists of four paragraphs, each reflecting a different aspect of this general topic.
The theme of a divine decree being written derives, at least in part, to a Talmudic teaching:
- On Rosh Hashana, three books are opened [in Heaven] – one for the thoroughly wicked, one for the thoroughly righteous, and one for those in-between. The thoroughly righteous are immediately inscribed clearly in the Book of Life. The thoroughly wicked are immediately inscribed clearly in the Book of Death. The fate of those in-between is postponed from Rosh Hashana until Yom Kippur, at which time those who are deserving are then inscribed in the Book of Life, those who are undeserving are then inscribed in the Book of Death. (T.B., Rosh Hashana 16b)
Fear and trembling
The first paragraph depicts the judgment day, where the angels in heaven tremble at the awe-inspiring event of the annual judgment of all creation, with the implication that man should also approach this day with trepidation. The heavenly Book of Chronicles is opened, in which every human being's fate will be inscribed.
|Hebrew Text||Translation||Biblical/Rabbinical sources|
|וּנְתַנֶּה תֹּקֶף קְדֻשַּׁת הַיּוֹם כִּי הוּא נוֹרָא וְאָיוֹם וּבו תִנָּשֵׂא מַלְכוּתֶךָ וְיִכּון בְּחֶסֶד כִּסְאֶךָ וְתֵשֵׁב עָלָיו בֶּאֱמֶת. אֱמֶת כִּי אַתָּה הוּא דַיָּן וּמוֹכִיחַ וְיוֹדֵעַ וָעֵד וְכוֹתֵב וְחוֹתֵם וְסוֹפֵר וּמוֹנֶה. וְתִזְכֹּר כָּל הַנִּשְׁכָּחות, וְתִפְתַּח אֶת סֵפֶר הַזִּכְרוֹנוֹת. וּמֵאֵלָיו יִקָּרֵא. וְחוֹתָם יַד כָּל אָדָם בּו. וּבְשׁוֹפָר גָּדוֹל יִתָּקַע. וְקוֹל דְּמָמָה דַקָּה יִשָּׁמַע. וּמַלְאָכִים יֵחָפֵזוּן. וְחִיל וּרְעָדָה יֹאחֵזוּן. וְיֹאמְרוּ הִנֵּה יוֹם הַדִּין. לִפְקד עַל צְבָא מָרוֹם בַּדִּין. כִּי לֹא יִזְכּוּ בְעֵינֶיךָ בַּדִּין.||"Let us now relate the power of this day's holiness, for it is awesome and frightening. On it Your Kingship will be exalted; Your throne will be firmed with kindness and You will sit upon it in truth. It is true that You alone are the One Who judges, proves, knows, and bears witness; Who writes and seals, Who counts and Who calculates. You will remember all that was forgotten. You will open the Book of Remembrances — it will read itself – and each person's signature is there. And the great shofar will be sounded and a still, thin voice will be heard. Angels will hasten, a trembling and terror will seize them — and they will say, 'Behold, it is the Day of Judgment, to muster the heavenly host for judgment!' — for even they are not guiltless in Your eyes in judgment."||Book of fate:
The great shofar will be sounded
The still thin sound:
Guilt of angels:
He judges us
The second paragraph continues this point, depicting how every event that will occur in the upcoming year is "written on Rosh Hashanah and sealed on Yom Kippur". This paragraph is known by its opening words, BeRosh Hashana, and it is traditional that the litany of possible destinies is read with increasing speed from the phrase "Who shall rest and who shall wander" to the end of the paragraph. This paragraph reaches its climax with the final line, said by all the congregants in unison, "But repentance, prayer, and charity avert the severe decree." This verse is usually printed in more emphatic typeface and usually with, in smaller type, the words "fasting", "voice", and "money" above "repentance", "prayer", and "charity" respectively – those words are not read aloud but are intended as instructions on how to perform the three acts necessary to avoid (or reduce) the dire punishments. This verse expresses the formula by which a man may obtain a reduction in the severity of the original decree, as expressed in the Bible (Second Chronicles 7:14), the Talmud (T.B., Rosh Hashana 16b; T.J. Ta'anith 2:1) and Midrah (Bereshis Rabbah 44:13).
|Hebrew Text||Translation||Biblical/Rabbinical Sources|
|וְכָל בָּאֵי עוֹלָם יַעַבְרוּן (תעביר) לְפָנֶיךָ כִּבְנֵי מָרוֹן. כְּבַקָּרַת רוֹעֶה עֶדְרוֹ. מַעֲבִיר צאנוֹ תַּחַת שִׁבְטוֹ .כֵּן תַּעֲבִיר וְתִסְפֹּר וְתִמְנֶה וְתִפְקֹד נֶפֶשׁ כָּל חָי. וְתַחְתּךְ קִצְבָה לְכָל בְּרִיּוֹתֶיךָ (בריה). וְתִכְתֹּב אֶת גְּזַר דִּינָם:
בְּראֹשׁ הַשָּׁנָה יִכָּתֵבוּן וּבְיוֹם צוֹם כִּפּוּר יֵחָתֵמוּן כַּמָּה יַעַבְרוּן וְכַמָּה יִבָּרֵאוּן מִי יִחְיֶה וּמִי יָמוּת. מִי בְקִצּוֹ וּמִי לא בְקִצּוֹ מִי בַמַּיִם. וּמִי בָאֵשׁ מִי בַחֶרֶב. וּמִי בַחַיָּה מִי בָרָעָב. וּמִי בַצָּמָא מִי בָרַעַשׁ. וּמִי בַמַּגֵּפָה מִי בַחֲנִיקָה וּמִי בַסְּקִילָה מִי יָנוּחַ וּמִי יָנוּעַ מִי יִשָּׁקֵט וּמִי יִטָּרֵף מִי יִשָּׁלֵו. וּמִי יִתְיַסָּר מִי יֵעָנִי. וּמִי יֵעָשֵׁר מִי יִשָּׁפֵל. וּמִי יָרוּם וּתְשׁוּבָה וּתְפִלָּה וּצְדָקָה מַעֲבִירִין אֶת רעַ הַגְּזֵרָה
|"All mankind will pass before You like a flock of sheep. Like a shepherd pasturing his flock, making sheep pass under his staff, so shall You cause to pass, count, calculate, and consider the soul of all the living; and You shall apportion the destinies of all Your creatures and inscribe their verdict.
On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed – how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die at his predestined time and who before his time; who by water and who by fire, who by sword and who by beast, who by famine and who by thirst, who by upheaval and who by plague, who by strangling and who by stoning. Who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquility and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted. But Repentance, Prayer, and Charity annul the severe Decree."
|Like a shepherd:
God scrutinizes man:
Repentance, prayer, and charity annul the severe decree:
We are helpless
The third paragraph begs for Divine mercy on the basis of the fact that man by nature is sinful and innately impotent and mortal, which conditions will cause a merciful Deity to forgive his trespasses. The passage here echoes the despair found in the book of Koheleth (Ecclesiastes), but concludes—as does Isaiah 40:7, from which it apparently draws—with the contrasting affirmation that God is eternal and enduring. The text of אדם יסודו מעפר ("A man's origin is from dust") is very similar to Wisdom of Solomon 2:1, where it is presented as the philosophy which the Book of Wisdom sets out to discredit.
|Hebrew Text||Translation||Biblical/Rabbinical Sources|
|כִּי כְּשִׁמְךָ כֵּן תְּהִלָּתֶךָ קָשֶׁה לִכְעֹס וְנוחַ לִרְצות כִּי לֹא תַחְפּץ בְּמוֹת הַמֵּת כִּי אִם בְּשׁוּבו מִדַּרְכּוֹ וְחָיָה וְעַד יוֹם מוֹתוֹ תְּחַכֶּה לּוֹ אִם יָשׁוּב מִיַּד תְּקַבְּלוֹ. אֱמֶת כִּי אַתָּה הוּא יוֹצְרָם וְ[אַתָּה] יוֹדֵעַ יִצְרָם כִּי הֵם בָּשָׂר וָדָם. אָדָם יְסוֹדוֹ מֵעָפָר, וְסוֹפוֹ לֶעָפָר בְּנַפְשׁוֹ יָבִיא לַחְמוֹ מָשׁוּל כְּחֶרֶס הַנִּשְׁבָּר כְּחָצִיר יָבֵשׁ וּכְצִיץ נוֹבֵל כְּצֵל עוֹבֵר וּכְעָנָן כָּלָה וּכְרוּחַ נוֹשָׁבֶת וּכְאָבָק פּוֹרֵחַ וְכַחֲלוֹם יָעוּף.||"For Your Name signifies Your praise: hard to anger and easy to appease, for You do not wish the death of one deserving death, but that he repent from his way and live. Until the day of his death You await him; if he repents You will accept him immediately. It is true that You are their Creator and You know their inclination, for they are flesh and blood. A man's origin is from dust and his destiny is back to dust, at risk of his life he earns his bread; he is likened to a broken shard, withering grass, a fading flower, a passing shade, a dissipating cloud, a blowing wind, flying dust, and a fleeting dream."||If a man repents, God accepts:
God knows man's inclination:
Man is but flesh and blood:
God is enduring
Finally, the fourth paragraph lyrically praises God as exalted above all existence, and begs Him to sanctify His Name by redeeming Israel – transitioning directly into the kedusha:
|Hebrew Text||Translation||Biblical/Rabbinical Sources|
|וְאַתָּה הוּא מֶלֶךְ אֵל חַי וְקַיָּם אֵין קִצְבָה לִשְׁנוֹתֶיךָ. וְאֵין קֵץ לְאֹרֶךְ יָמֶיךָ וְאֵין לְשַׁעֵר מַרְכְּבוֹת כְּבוֹדֶךָ. וְאֵין לְפָרֵשׁ עֵלוּם שְׁמֶך שִׁמְךָ נָאֶה לְךָ. וְאַתָּה נָאֶה לִשְׁמֶךָ. וּשְׁמֵנוּ קָרָאתָ בִּשְׁמֶךָ.||"But You are the King, the Living and Enduring God.
There is no set span to Your years and there is no end to the length of Your days. It is impossible to estimate the angelic chariots of Your glory and it is forbidden to pronounce Your Name. Your Name is worthy of You and You are worthy of Your Name, and You have included Your Name in our name."
|God enduring: "Your kingship is an eternal kingship. Your dominion is for all generations." (Psalms 145:13)
You have included Your Name in our name: The name Israel , ישראל, contains within it אל, El , one of the names of God.
- In 1990, Israeli composer Yair Rosenblum composed a new musical setting for the prayer. This version was first performed at a memorial for 11 soldiers from kibbutz Beit Hashita who fell during the 1973 Yom Kippur war, and is now often played on Israeli radio during the High Holy Days.
- Leonard Cohen's Who by Fire is inspired by this poem.
- Nulman, Macy, Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer (1993, NJ, Jason Aronson) s.v. Unetaneh Tokef, page 332; The Orot Sephardic Yom Kippur Mahazor (1997, NJ, Orot Inc.) page 1090.
- The Complete ArtScroll Machzor – Yom Kippur (Nusach Ashekenaz), (1991, Brooklyn, Mesorah Publ'ns Ltd.) page 530; similarly, Birnbaum, Philip, High Holyday Prayer Book, (1951, NY, Hebrew Publ'g Co.) page 359; Golinkin, David, Solving a Mahzor mystery, Jerusalem Post, 7 Oct 2005; Munk, Elie, The World of Prayer (1961, NY, Feldheim Publ'rs) vol. 2, page 209.
- Nulman, Macy, Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer (1993, NJ, Jason Aronson) s.v. Unetaneh Tokef, page 332; The Orot Sephardic Rosh Hashahhah Mahazor (1996, NJ, Orot Inc.) page 512; The Orot Sephardic Yom Kippur Mahazor (1997, NJ, Orot Inc.) page 1089.
- Nulman, Macy, Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer (1993, NJ, Jason Aronson) s.v. Unetaneh Tokef, page 332; The Orot Sephardic Yom Kippur Mahazor (1997, NJ, Orot Inc.) page 1089. The translation of the Or Zarua version of this story can be found in Hoffman, Lawrence A., Who By Fire, Who By Water – Un'taneh Tokef (2010, Vermont, Jewish Lights Pub'g) pages 26–28; also "The Origin of the Piyut Unetanneh Tokef", newsletter of Beurei HaTafila, Aug. 3, 2012, pages 1–3 http://www.beureihatefila.com/files/2012-08-03_Tefila_Newsletter.pdf. Kalonymus may be the true author of this stirring recitation. Munk, Elie, The World of Prayer (1963, NY, Feldheim) vol.2, pages 209, citing Zunz. However, there is evidence that a very similar piyyut was being recited in Italy in contemporary with Kalonymus. Hoffman, op.cit., page 23.
- "Schechter Institute – Insight Israel". Schechter.edu. Retrieved 2013-03-14.
- Werner, Eric, The Sacred Bridge (1959, NY, Columbia Univ. Press) page 253 (quoting the liturgical scholar Menahem Zulay). Planer, John H., The Provenance, Dating, Allusions, and Variants of U-n'taneh tokef and Its Relationship to Romanos's Kontakion, Journal of Synagoague Music, vol. 38 (Fall 2013) page 166. Photograph in Brander, Kenneth, U'Netaneh Tokef: Will the Real Author Please Stand Up , (2013, NY, Yeshiva University) The Benjamin and Rose Berger Torah-to-Go, Tishrei 5774, page 14. http://ebookbrowsee.net/rosh-hashanah-to-go-5774-pdf-d557435989
- Mack, Hananel, Day of Judgment for Angels, too, Haaretz, Sept. 26, 2003 (which suggests it dates to the period of Yannai (6th or 7th century).
- "YUTorah Online – U-Netaneh Tokef Kedushat Ha-Yom: Medieval Story and Modern Significance (Rabbi Dr. Jacob J Schacter)". Yutorah.org. 2005-10-02. Retrieved 2013-03-14.
- Martin, Bernqrd, Prayer in Judaism (1968, NY, Basic Books) page 209. Emmeram is not included in Butler's Lives of the Saints and his story resembles Rabbi Amnon only in the prolonged execution by amputation, no miraculous prayer or hymn involved.
- Brander, Kenneth, U'Netaneh Tokef: Will the Real Author Please Stand Up , (2013, NY, Yeshiva University) The Benjamin and Rose Berger Torah-to-Go, Tishrei 5774, page 14. http://ebookbrowsee.net/rosh-hashanah-to-go-5774-pdf-d557435989
- "Blog Archive » Un'tanneh Tokef – the prayer that tears the heart". OzTorah. Retrieved 2013-03-14.. Werner, Eric, The Sacred Bridge (1959, NY, Columbia Univ. Press) pages 252–255.
- Hoffman, Lawrence A., Who By Fire, Who By Water – Un'taneh Tokef (2010, Vermont, Jewish Lights Pub'g) pages 13–25; Gillman, Neil, Reading the Liturgy Through the Spectacles of Theology: The Case of U-n'taneh Tokef, Journal of Synagogue Music, vol. 33 (Fall 2008), pages 48–49; also "The Origin of the Piyut Unetanneh Tokef", newsletter of Beurei HaTafila, Aug. 3, 2012, page 5, http://www.beureihatefila.com/files/2012-08-03_Tefila_Newsletter.pdf . Mayence, in 1096, the time of Kolonymus was the scene of terrible slaughter of Jews (see Rhineland massacres) as an incident of the First Crusade. See "The Crusades as the Story of Rabbi Amnon", newsletter of Beurei HaTafila, Aug. 17, 2012, page 8, http://www.beureihatefila.com/files/2012-08-17_Tefila_Newsletter-1.pdf .
- Idelsohn, A.Z., Jewish Liturgy and Its Development (1932, NY, Henry Holt) page 220.
- Hoffman, Lawrence A., Who By Fire, Who By Water – Un'taneh Tokef (2010, Vermont, Jewish Lights Pub'g) pages 23–24; Werner, Eric, The Sacred Bridge (1959, NY, Columbia Univ. Press) pages 253 (quoting Menahem Zulay); Brander, Kenneth, U'Netaneh Tokef: Will the Real Author Please Stand Up , (2013, NY, Yeshiva University) The Benjamin and Rose Berger Torah-to-Go, Tishrei 5774, page 14, http://ebookbrowsee.net/rosh-hashanah-to-go-5774-pdf-d557435989 .
- "The Piyyut (Poem) Akdamut Milin: The Enigma and Perseverance of Tradition | Duke Center for Jewish Studies". Jewish Studies at Duke University. Retrieved 2016-09-08.
- Schmeltzer, Menahem, 'Penitence, Prayer, and (Charity?),' in Minhah le-Nahum: Biblical and other studies presented to Nahum M. Sarna in honour of his 70th birthday, ed. Brettler, Marc and Fishbane, Michael, p.291, Scheffield Academic Press 1993.
- Planer, John H., The Provenance, Dating, Allusions, and Variants of U-n'taneh tokef and Its Relationship to Romanos's Kontakion, Journal of Synagogue Music, vol. 38 (Fall 2013) page 171.
- Friedland, Eric L., Were Our Mouths Filled with Song: Studies in Liberal Jewish Liturgy (1997, Cincinnati, Hebrew Union College Press) pages 25–26, 38, 125.
- Jacobson, B.S. , Yamim Noraim – Days of Awe, Programme of Study and Analysis of Sources (1936, German ed., 1978, English transl., Tel-Avin, Sinai Publ'g) page 53; Gold, Avie [& Scherman, Nosson], Rosh Hashana – Its Significance, Laws, and Prayers (1983, Brooklyn, Mesorah Publ'ns) pages 94–95.
- The Jewish Study Bible, Oxford University Press, 2004, commentary to Deuteronomy 29:19 and elsewhere
- Gruber, Mayer I., "Tur-Sinai's Job in the Jewish Liturgy", Review of Rabbinic Judaism, vol. 6, nr. 1 (Feb. 2003) pages 87–100, suggests that Unetanneh Tokef is the earliest piyyut to invoke Job's dream vision in defense of mankind (page 92), and relays (page 93) the opinion from Goldschmidt, Daniel, High Holiday Prayerbook According to the Rites of the Ashkenazim (1970, Jerusalem, in Hebrew) vol. 1, page 169, that the word דקה ("gentle") is a later addition to the piyyut, inspired by First Kings 19:12, added to the phrase from Job.
- Chabad Lubavitch World HQ news, "A Conversation with Rabbi Jonathan Sacks", Oct. 2, 2014 http://lubavitch.com/news/article/2031299/A-Conversation-With-Rabbi-Jonathan-Sacks-Podcast.html .
- Nulman, Macy, Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer (1993, NJ, Jason Aronson) s.v. Berosh Hashana, pages 97–98; Orot Sephardic Rosh Hashannah Mahazor (1996, NJ, Orot Inc.) page 524; Munk, Elie, The World of Prayer (1963, NY, Feldheim) vol.2, pages 209–210; Scherman, Nosson, The Complete ArtScroll Machzor: Rosh Hashanah (1985, Brooklyn, Mesorah Publ'ns) pages 480–481; Montefiore, C.G., Rabbinic Conceptions of Repentance, Jewish Quarterly Review, vol. 16, nr. 2 (Jan. 1904) page 232.
- Although the next line is clear and unambiguous in its image of shepherd inspecting his lambs, this line is obscure and ambiguous. This and the next line appear together in the Talmud, Mishna Rosh Hashana I.2 (16a), and the same translation problems exist there. The sentence begins clearly enough, "All humanity will parade before You as if ...." but the last words are obscure. Kivnei maroen – כּבני מרוׂן – is not clear. This phrase appears in the Mishna and Talmud, as cited – and both the Rodkinson and Soncino translations render it "like the children of Maroen" – referencing a place or person not mentioned in Scripture (one theory was that Maroen was intended to read marom – "the heights" or "heaven" [as in Job 25:2, Jeremiah 25:30, etc.], so it meant "the children of heaven" – possibly angels) , and in the Talmud two pages later (18a) the sages disagree on the meaning of the phrase. "Here [in Sura, Babylonia] they translated it (using a term that suggests that it was not a Hebrew or Aramaic phrase, but from some other language) 'like lambs' (evidently from the equally obscure Syriac Aramaic 'emruna' – lamb). Resh Lakish [in the land of Israel] said 'like the ascent of Beit Maron" [a place not mentioned in Scripture, Rodkinson translates this – with even less justification – "like the steps of the Temple"; some Talmud manuscripts and medieval commentators render this instead "like the ascent of Beit Horon" – a place mentioned several times in the Bible and other ancient sources] (suggesting a narrow and steep ascent in which climbers must go single file and carefully). Rav Yehudah said in the name of Samuel, 'like the soldiers of David.'" This last suggestion has gotten support from Greek; if, instead of two words this expression is one long word (a possibility for which there is some evidence, such as a Vienna manuscript of the Talmud), it could mean "like soldiers being reviewed", borrowing the Greek work noumeron – a numbering, a mustering. The three suggestions convey very different attitudes of the humanity that is being inspected, respectively (1 – sheep) timid with eyes downcast, (2 – ascent) terrified with every step, and (3 – soldiers) courageous and determined; Riskin, Shlomo, Rejoicing in the Temporary, Jerusalem Post, 28 Sept 2011; Philologos, "Passing Before the Divine Eye", The Forward, 14 Sept 2007; Brüll, Nehemiah, Jachbücher für Jüdische Geschichte und Literatur (1874, Frankfurt) vol. 1, page 187. And Marcus Jastrow, in his Dictionary of Aramaic, did not need to go to the Greek; he supposed that maroen is related to the Biblical Hebrew marah – מרה – to rebel, to disobey, as in First Kings 13:26, Jeremiah 4:17, etc., and suggests that maroen means "rebels who surrender". (Jastrow, Dictionary of the Targumim ..., 1903, page 838 left column, s.v. מרוֹן.) , which would suggest that, in the Days of Awe, mankind presents itself for Divine inspection, in humiliation and dread, like the defeated ragtag rebels that they are. Planer, John H., The Provenance, Dating, Allusion, and Variants of U-n'taneh tokef and Its Relationship to Romanos's Kontakion, Journal of Synagogue Music, vol. 38 (Fall 2013) pages 173–174, 180–181; Weider, Naphtali, A Controversial Mishnaic and Liturgical Expression, Journal of Jewish Studies (Oxford), vol. 18 (1967), pages 1–7; Riskin, Shlomo, Rejoicing in the temporary, Jerusalem Post, 28 Sept 2011; Hoffman, Joel, Count on it, Jerusalem Post, 11 Sept 2009; Golinkin, David, Solving a Mahzor mystery, Jerusalem Post, 7 Oct 2005; Philalogos, On Language: Passing Before the Divine Eye, The Forward, 14 Sept 2007. Rashi preferred the first interpretation, of counting sheep, and that is the translation given in the vast majority of mahzorim.
- The word used here – רעשׁ – ro'ash – used in both Biblical Hebrew and in Aramaic, suggests a natural and widespread disaster and is usually translated as "earthquake", sometimes as "tempest".
- Toledano, Eliezar, Mahazor Kol Yehudah, The Orot Sephardic Yom Kippur Mahazor (1997, NJ, Orot Inc.) page 1093; Scherman, Nosson, ed., Rosh Hashana – Its Significance, Law and Prayers (1983, Brooklyn, Mesorah Publ'g) page 71; Munk, Elie, The World of Prayer (1961, NY, Feldheim Publ'rs) vol. 2, page 210.
- "Teshuvah, Tefillah, Tzedakah", Kosher Spirit, Tishrei 5770 (Sept. 2009) page 23.
- Munk, Elie, The World of Prayer (1961, NY, Feldheim Publ'rs) vol. 2, pages 209–210; Brander, Kenneth, U'Netaneh Tokef: Will the Real Author Please Stand Up , (2013, NY, Yeshiva University) The Benjamin and Rose Berger Torah-to-Go, Tishrei 5774, page 13. http://ebookbrowsee.net/rosh-hashanah-to-go-5774-pdf-d557435989
- Gillman, Neil, in Proceedings of the Cantors Assembly, Jubilee Celebration, NY, June 1998 page 30; the ArtScroll machzorim render this line "remove the evil of the decree", the Orot machzorim render it "nullify the evil aspect of the decree".
- "Who by fire, who by water". Hadassahmagazine.org. 1973-10-06. Retrieved 2013-03-14.
- "Leonard Cohen's Lyricism". The Jewish Week. 2012-09-27. Retrieved 2013-03-14.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Unetanneh Tokef.|
- Orthodox Union site with background
- Video of Cantor Simon Cohen in concert recital of second paragraph, YouTube
- Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, The Story of the "Unetaneh Tokef" Prayer