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 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.  Describing the important place this prayer has in the service, the ArtScroll machzor is but one of a multitude of sources that calls it "one of the most stirring compositions in the entire liturgy of the Days of Awe." 
Composition of Unetanneh Tokef
Recorded in the 13th century commentary Or Zarua, by Rabbi Isaac ben Moses of Vienna (died ca. 1270), and attributed to a writing (now lost) of Rabbi Ephraim of Bonn (a compiler of Jewish martyrologies, died ca. 1200), that Unetanneh Tokef was composed by a purported 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 Archbishop of Mainz (or, perhaps, the Governor)(otherwise unnamed), 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 immediately 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 record 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. 
However, modern scholarship has demonstrated that the prayer is in fact considerably older than it was traditionally believed, with fragments found in the Cairo Geniza dating to the 8th Century.
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 Rabbi Amnon of Mainz. Not least of these is its portrayal of R' 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. 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 total 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 extravagence 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. 
Rather, the prayer was likely written by a payetan (perhaps Yannai, 7th century or earlier) in the Land of Israel centuries earlier.  Authorship in the Land of Israel is corroborated also 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 the Land of Israel), yet not in Babylonian sources (e.g., Talmud Bavli cites a four-part remedy)
Unetaneh Tokef displays significant liturgical skill, seamlessly fusing concepts and language from ancient Biblical and Rabbinical source materials (see #Themes and Sources of Unetanneh Tokef).
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 entonning 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 Sepharadic 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 Sepharadim and German Ashkenazim who have another silluk for Yom Kippur: "Mi Ya'arokh Eilekho".
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.
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, who by beast, who by famine, who by thirst, who by upheaval, 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 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 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.
- 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). 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
- "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.
- 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; 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 .
- 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.
- 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.
- 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..
- 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
- "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