Friday, September 17, 2010

Unetanneh Tokef

I've written in the past about Unetanneh Tokef, perhaps the single most powerful prayer of the High Holidays (but not for any lack of competition). The prayer was probably written in the Galilee in the Byzantine era; it's earliest copy comes from the Cairo Geniza.

A 13th century story tells how R. Amnon of Magenza (=Mainz) was tortured to death for refusing to convert to Christianity, and died as he was reciting Netanneh Tokef; whether the story is true or not I can't say, but it's old, it reflects real conditions in medieval Europe, and if one had the strength to die reciting a prayer this would be as good as any.

The Hebrew text, an English translation and analysis can all be found here.

At 1:50 pm on Yom Kippur of 1973 Egypt and Syria attacked Israel, and the Yom Kippur War began. Like 9/11, or Kennedy's assassination, it was a moment in time no-one ever forgets; the war was the second most bloody of our many chapters of conflict, exceeded in bloodiness only by the war of 1947-49.

Kibbutz Beit Hashita in the Jezereel Valley, a community of a few hundred families, lost 11 of its men, the highest proportion of casualties in any Israeli town in that war. In spite of being a very secular, left-leaning kibbutz, when the kibbutzniks commissioned Yair Rosenblum to write them a commemorative text he simply put Unetanneh Tokef to music, combining various styles of Israeli music. The most famous recording is by Hanoch Albalek, a member of the kibbutz. It has long since become a nationally recognized version.

By way of closing the circle, one might add that Beit Hashita is near Beit Alfa, the site of a magnificent Byzantine-era synagogue, so perhaps the anonymous author of the original prayer lived close nearby; in any case he couldn't have been very far away, given the size of the Galilee.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting that Yaakov.

Have an easy fast.

Anonymous said...

all these beautiful young people and they talk about taking risks ...

thank you !


Anonymous said...

Ron Ben Yishai, ynet`s military reporter, has an article on his experiences in the Yom Kippur War.,7340,L-3954707,00.html
In hebrew only, but the google translation looks interesting.