U-NETANNEH TOKEF (Heb. וּנְתַנֶּה תֹּקֶף; lit. "Let us declare the mighty importance [of the holiness of the day]"), a piyyut (silluk) recited before the Kedushah of the Musaf of Rosh Ha-Shanah and the Day of Atonement. The prayer epitomizes the significance of the High Holy Days as "the day of judgment" on which all creatures pass, one by one, before God, like a flock before the Shepherd Who decrees their fate. It emphasizes man's precarious and painful lot and his futile strivings. Following an enumeration of the manifold fates which may be decreed for a man during the year to come, the prayer, however, goes on to stress the belief that "repentance, prayer and charity avert the severe decree": God is full of forgiveness toward man who "came from dust and who shall return to dust" and whose days are "as a fleeting shadow, as a passing cloud … and as a dream that vanishes." Because this prayer, in simple yet very expressive words, voices the basic idea of the Day of Judgment, it came to be one of the most solemn parts of the High Holy Day liturgy and is recited with awe and in a soul-stirring mood.
Written by Kalonymus b. Meshullam *Kalonymus, the paytan of Mayence (11th century), a well-known legend ascribed its composition to a R. Amnon of Mainz (for details see *Amnon of Mainz). The prayer became part of the traditional Ashkenazi, Polish, and Italian liturgies.
Davidson, Oẓar, 2 (1929), 199, no. 451; Landshuth, Ammudei, 45f.; Idelsohn, Liturgy, 220; P. Birnbaum, High Holiday Prayer Book (1951), 359–64.
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