Breaking down the Yamim Nora'im

Breaking Down Unetaneh Tokef

  • Considered one of the central pieces of liturgy for this season, this piyyut (liturgical poem) introduces the bulk of the Musaf service on each day of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
  • Consisting of four paragraphs, this piyyut offers central themes that take the reader on a journey from trembling before God to praising the enduring nature of God. In between, themes of helplessness, fear, and awareness of God’s judgment are explored.
  • The poem is intended to remind each of us of human fallibility in the face of Divine power, as well as stirring within us genuine awareness of the potential consequences of our actions and the actions of those around us.
  • A central question of the poem explores who will be sealed in the Book of Life and who will be written in the Book of Death. This question first appears in the Babylonian Talmud.