Rosh Hashanah, in Hebrew, means Head of the Year. It is one of Judaism’s holiest days and begins this year the night of Sunday, September 9th until the night of Tuesday, September 11th. There are many moving prayers and traditions designated for the High Holy days, but I would like to highlight one prayer that goes back to approximately the 10th or 11th century called U-Netaneh Tokef (“Let us tell the mighty holiness of this day”).
There is some evidence that this prayer originated in ancient Israel. Nonetheless, Jewish tradition maintains that it was authored by the distinguished Jewish leader, Rabbi Amnon of Mainz, Germany, who lived around the time of the Crusades in Europe. He was martyred shortly after refusing to renounce his Jewish faith. Before dying, he recited U-Netaneh Tokef in front of the Holy Ark of his synagogue.
This solemn prayer has a hauntingly beautiful quality and speaks of the G-d’s Judgment on this day, as can be seen in the following translation:
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 [steadfast] 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 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 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.
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 [regarding] 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 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 Repentence, Prayer, and Charity annul the severe Decree.” (Translation from Wikipedia)
To further appreciate the text, I have included the following two links. The first is by the popular Jewish singer, Avraham Fried, and the second is by Israel army’s chief cantor, Shai Abramson. Both are very powerful.
Shana Tova!! Enjoy!!
Contributed by: Leib Klein, Librarian, Boro Park 53rd Street
(This was originally posted in 2015, with updated dates for 2018.)