Why I translated the title of “Unetanneh Tokef” as “Let us Cede Power”
“Let us Cede Power” is an interpretive translation of the title of this poem. Though not literal, I think it is true to the nuance of the Hebrew words. Hebrew prayers and poems are typically called by their first words, not by a crafted title. For people who are not already intimate with the language of Hebrew prayer, calling this poem by its first two words in Hebrew, Unetanneh Tokef, contributes to its inaccessibility. There is value in finding a translation that gives the words content without straying far from their meaning.
In context, the words “unetanneh tokef” are part of a four-word phrase. It’s difficult to translate the first two words on their own for two reasons.
How others translate the opening phrase of the poem
Here are several translations of the four-word phrase “Unetanneh tokef kedushat hayom” taken from popular high holiday prayer books. (Most prayer books offer no translation of the two-word title and simply call it "Unetaneh Tokef.")
More about the verb Unetanneh and its root
The root is ת.נ.ה, in binyan pi’el, in a form that means “let us.”
- Helen Plotkin