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What are "Selichot" and when are they recited?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

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Selichot: Supplications. 


Selichot is a series of penitential prayers and liturgy which are recited on select somber days throughout the year.


With the approach of a new year, our preparations for the High Holidays move into highest gear. Several days before Rosh Hashanah we begin to recite Selichot.


According to Ashkenazi custom, the first Selichot are recited on Saturday night after midnight Halachic time, and a minimum of four days of Selichot must be observed. Therefore, if the 1st day of Rosh Hashanah falls out on Thursday or Shabbat, the Selichot start on the Saturday night directly preceding the New Year. If Rosh Hashanah falls out on Tuesday or Wednesday,1 then Selichot commence on the Saturday night of the week before Rosh Hashanah. (See also When do we begin saying Selichot and why?)


Following the first midnight service, Selichot is recited daily before the Shacharit prayers until Rosh Hashanah (aside for the Sunday morning immediately after the 1st Selichot, which is covered by the midnight Selichot of the night beforehand).


Sephardim recite Selichot throughout the entire month of Elul.


Most Jewish communities continue reciting Selichot throught the Ten Days of Repentance (the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur). According to Chabad custom, however, Selichot are not recited during these days2 (with the exception of the 3rd of Tishrei, when Selichot are recited in honor of the Fast of Gedaliah3 ).


Selichot are also recited on Jewish public fast days. The fast day Selichot are incorporated into the morning prayers, after the recitation of the Amidah.


It is important to attend synagogue for Selichot, as its text contains several important passages which may only be said in the presence of a Minyan.


This year, 2010, Selichot (according to Ashkenazi custom) will begin on Sunday, September 5th (about 1am, a.k.a. Saturday night).

Footnotes

  • 1. Due to technical calendar reasons, the 1st day of Rosh Hashanah cannot fall out on Sunday, Wednesday, or Friday.
  • 2. The story is told about the fourth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch, who once asked his illustrious father, the Tzemach Tzedek, regarding the reason for this custom. "My son," he responded. "Now is no longer the time for words. Now we must translate words into deed..."
  • 3. See "Why do we fast on the Third of Tishrei (Tzom Gedaliah)?" . (http://www.askmoses.com/en/article/110,144476/What-are-Selichot-and-when-are-they-recited.html)

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RELATED CATEGORIES

Holidays » Rosh Hashanah » A Month of Preparation

Shabbat
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Rosh Hashanah
The Jewish New Year. An early autumn two day holiday marking the creation of Adam and Eve. On this day we hear the blasts of the ram's horn and accept G-d's sovereignty upon ourselves and the world. On Rosh Hashanah we pray that G-d should grant us all a sweet New Year.
Tishrei
The seventh month of the Jewish calendar. This month, which arrives in early autumn, has more holidays than any other month: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah.
Yom Kippur
Day of Atonement. This late-autumn high-holiday is the holiest day of the year. We devote this day to repentance and all healthy adults are required to fast.
Chabad
Chabad, an acronym for Wisdom, Knowledge, and Understanding, is the name of a Chassidic Group founded in the 1770s. Two of the most fundamental teachings of Chabad are the intellectual pursuit of understanding the divine and the willingness to help every Jew who has a spiritual or material need.
Ashkenazi
(pl. Ashkenazim). A Jew of Northern or Eastern European ancestry.
Sephardim
(Pl.: Sephardim) A Jew whose ancestors stem from Southern Italy, Spain, Portugal, North Africa or the Arabian countries.
Amidah
Highlight of every prayer, recited silently while standing. Weekday Amidah consists of nineteen blessings, Sabbath and holiday Amidah contains seven blessings.
Shacharit
Morning prayer service. One of the three prayers a Jew is obligated to pray every day.
Elul
The 6th month on the Jewish calendar, normally corresponding to August-September. This is the month which precedes Tishrei, the month of the High Holidays, and is a month of introspection and repentance.
Selichot
Penintential prayers recited before the High Holidays and on Jewish fast days.
Minyan
A quorum consisting of ten adult male Jews. A minyan is necessary to recite the kaddish or to publicly read from the Torah scroll.