Fear and Glory: Rosh Hashanah’s “Unetanneh Tokef”

A jewish child blows a shofar. Credit: David Cohen/Flash90

Today’s episode is about the story behind the prayer we most usually associate with Rosh Hashanah, “Unetanneh Tokef.” We don’t know who wrote the poem, although it’s attributed to an 11th century sage who lived in Germany. Modern scholars say the prayer is much older than originally believed, perhaps as early as the 8th century. Host Marcela Sulak explains the legend behind this piece of liturgy from the high holiday services and reads the prayer for the new year.

Here is the beginning of the poem:

We shall ascribe holiness to this day.
For it is awesome and terrible.
Your kingship is exalted upon it.
Your throne is established in mercy.
You are enthroned upon it in truth.

“ונתנה תוקף” by סא”ל שי אברמסון & המקהלה והתזמורת הפילהרמונית אס.אף.ווי

Unetanneh Tokef (Wikipedia)

2 comments on Fear and Glory: Rosh Hashanah’s “Unetanneh Tokef”

  1. Zmira Cohen says:

    Thank you for this excellent site.
    I really enjoy the linguistic info.
    Regarding the music:
    Is it possible to tell us where one can get the musical notation for the new Israeli songs you have on line?
    I belong to a Jewish choir and we are constantly looking to learn and perform new Israeli ( & other Jewish , Yiddish , Ladino , or just plain melodious pieces , mostly with a Jewish connotation) songs.
    It’s quite hard to develop our selves , as we suffer from the limitations of the so called ‘kol isha’ campaign .
    Nevertheless we pursue our goal to sing wherever we can & hopefully some day , commonsense will prevail.By the way in Cape Town , this issue did not start to rear its ugly head , till about 2000. Before that we had a wonderful group of 30 odd strong , which sang regularly at public events of all kinds and brought a strong connection to Israel & the Jewish world ,, plus much joy to all concerned.
    Shanah tova, & a g’mar chatimah tova to all of you who keep the site going.

    1. TLV1 says:

      Hi, unfortunately we do not know what resources are available today for musical notation. It may be worthwhile to reach out to ACUM. Shanah Tova to everyone in SA.

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