Unetaneh Tokef Readings

An Alternate Unetaneh Tokef by Rabbi Joseph B. Meszler

On Rosh HaShanah it is written, on Yom Kippur it is sealed:
That this year people will live and die,
some more gently than others
and nothing lives forever.
But amidst overwhelming forces
of nature and humankind,
we still write our own Book of Life,
and our actions are the words in it,
and the stages of our lives are the chapters,
and nothing goes unrecorded, ever.
Every deed counts.
Everything you do matters.
And we never know what act or word
will leave an impression or tip the scale.
So if not now, then when?
For the things we can change, there is t’shuvah, realignment,
For the things we cannot change, there is t’filah, prayer,
For the help we can give, there is tzedakah, justice.
Together, let us write a beautiful Book of Life
for the Holy One to read.

An Unetaneh Tokef Reading for 2020-5781 By Rabbi David Kaufman

Let us proclaim the holiness of this day. It is awesome and full of dread.

Master of Remembrance. You bring to mind all that is forgotten.

The great shofar is sounded to bring us all to attention.

The still small voice is heard after life storms.

All are seized by fear and trembling as we proclaim,

“Behold the Day of Judgment!”

On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed, and

On Yom Kippur it is sealed.

Who will live lives of ease and who will live lives of challenge?

Who shall live and who shall die?

Who by war and who by hunger?

Who by earthquake and who by plague?

Plague? We always had to envision that as illness.

Plague? We had no experience. We didn’t remember.

Who will be vulnerable and who affected?

Who will be asymptomatic and who hospitalized?

Who will recover and who will not?

We are now reminded of plague.

Our generation has been granted the opportunity to face challenge.

How will we respond?

Un’taneh Tokef for 5781 by Rabbis Annie Belford and Debra Kassoff

Let these words of our prayers ascend
As we stand embodied, virtual, in our homes, on this screen, alone, together.

Knowing You are God, not knowing what that means…
We proclaim the sacred power of this day,
The sacred power of the shofar’s blast,
The power of the internet connecting us
While the power of an infinitesimally small virus reshapes the meaning of what human power can and cannot do…
It is awesome and full of dread.

Our prayers proclaim: You are Judge. You inscribe and seal.
This year we say: We are judged by our own choices, fates sealed by our actions.
Will we remember all that we have forgotten?
Will we remember civility and respect, conversation and kindness?
Will we remember the dignity of personal responsibility, the privileges and obligations of belonging to a community?
Can we awaken in time to our own soul truth: that every moment bears the promise, the opportunity of t ‘shuvah, of choice, of change, of return?
What will fill our Book of Memories in this year to come, when so much is still possible?

A Great Shofar will cry–t’kiah!
A still small voice will be heard.
But will we hear it? Will angels tremble? Will we, with our better angels, tremble? Will we awaken to wisdom and compassion? Or will we remain like slumbering sheep?

On Rosh HaShanah it is written; on the Fast of Yom Kippur it is sealed:
How many will pass away from this world; how many will be born into it.
How many of us will rise with compassion; how many of us will drift into numbness.
How many will be stricken with a novel virus; how many will be thrust into novel life paths.
Who will reach across barriers with love, and who will have barriers hurled upon them?
Who will recognize the ways life has given them advantages, and who will help others gain advantage?
Who will fall in love, and who will stumble in hate?
Who will find new perspectives, and who will see the world through a prism of banality?
Which book will you write yourself into this new year?
We have this as our guide: Tzedakah is the route of connection to others. T’filah is the route of connection to Source. And Tshuvah, is connection to the root of the soul[1]. These are the ways we choose life. These are the ways we choose love. These are the ways we choose You.

[1] Rav Avraham Isaac Kook, Orot HaTeshuvah


Alternative Unetaneh Tokef from Mishkah Hanefesh

On Rosh Hashanah, we plunge like swimmers into a sea of words.

On Yom Kippur, the sea rises, then crests- and we emerge,

sealed by the wax, warmed by the fire of braided candle.

The New Year is like a trailhead – opening wide before us;

The day of fasting- narrow, breathless, so quick to close.

We contemplate a New Year, and this we know:

Some of us will live and some of us will die.

Some will die young and some very old.

Some by water and some by fire.

Some by sword and some by beast.

Some by hunger and some by thirst.

Some by plague and some by earthquake.

Some by stoning and some by strangling.

Some of us will feel at ease; some will be restless.

Some will have peace of mind; some will have strife.

Some will be tranquil; some will be tormented.

Some will be raised high, some will be brought low.

Some will have riches, some will be impoverished.

Even so –

The way we act,

the way we speak,

the way we meet God’s image in ourselves and in others –

these things have great power to make our lives matter.


Let us make whole the broken shards,

green and thick the withering grass.

Let the wind fill us with urgency for life.

Let dreams give birth to justice and goodness.

God of holiness, God of hope,

let us glimpse Your truth, as we attach our hopes to Yours