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What special customs are observed during the month of Elul?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg


Library » Holidays » Rosh Hashanah » A Month of Preparation | Subscribe | What is RSS?


Elul is "spiritual inventory" month1: a time of accounting for the past year, and preparation for the rapidly approaching High Holidays and the new year. According to the teachings of Chassidut, during the month of Elul "the King is in the field." This is a time when G-d's ear and mercy are accessible to all, even to spiritual "commoners."2 (See also Elul: A time to reinvigorate our spiritual selves)

There are several customary Elul observances:

1. Beginning with the first day of Rosh Chodesh Elul (I.e. the 30th of Av), we add Psalm 27, "L'David Hashem ori," to the morning and afternoon prayers3. We continue this practice through Hoshanah Rabbah. According to the Midrash, this Psalm talks of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot4 . As we start preparing for these special days, we also start reading this Psalm. (See also Why do we recite Psalm 27 on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?)

2. Beginning with the second day of Rosh Chodesh Elul (i.e. the 1st of Elul), we start sounding the Shofar every day5 after the morning prayer services6. This is done every day of the month aside for Shabbat and the day directly preceding Rosh Hashanah. The blast of the Shofar is a call to action: it’s time to “get serious about life.”  (See also Why do we blow the Shofar every day during the month of Elul? and Why don't we blow Shofar on the day before Rosh Hashanah?)

3. The recurring theme during this auspicious time of the year is "Teshuvah, Paryer, and Charity." As a prelude to the judgment of the High Holidays, and as an auspicious time in its own right, Elul is a month in which we spend more time for introspection and Teshuvah, pray with more sincerity, and give extra charity.7

4. During this month (some even begin two weeks beforehand), it is customary to bless acquaintances with a "Ketivah Vachatimah Tovah" ("May you be written and sealed for the good" in the upcoming days of judgment)8.

5. It is customary to have one's Mezuzah's and Tefillin checked during the month of Elul, as well9. (See Why must mezuzahs be checked regularly by a scribe?)

6. 4-9 days before Rosh Hashanah (depending on what day of the week Rosh Hashanah begins), we start saying Selichot. (See What are Selichot?)

7. Additional customs in various communities include (but are not limited to): In some Sephardic communities Selichot is recited every day of the month. On the second day of Rosh Chodesh Elul some Chassidic communities begin reciting three consecutive Psalms daily, and continue until the day before Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur the remaining thirty-six Psalms are recited thus concluding the entire Book of Psalms10.


  • 1. Hayom Yom 27 Av
  • 2. Likutei Torah, Parshat Re'eh, p. 32a, Ani L'Dodi
  • 3. Kitzur 128:2. (Mishnah Berurah 581:2 brings this in the name of Achronim) Please note that there are different customs as to when we say Psalm 27. Some say that it should be said morning and evening (this is mentioned in the Kitzur and Mishnah Berurah referenced in this footnote), others say it morning and afternoon.
  • 4. Medrash Rabah Vayikrah 21:4
  • 5. This practice is a Jewish custom, and no blessing is recited.
  • 6. Orach Chaim 581:1
  • 7. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 128:1
  • 8. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 128:2
  • 9. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 128:3
  • 10. Hayom Yom p. 83 Elul 1


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(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.
Repentance. Or, more literally, "return" to G-d. Teshuvah involves regretting the past and making a firm resolution not to repeat the offense.
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.
A seven day autumn festival commemorating the miracle of the Heavenly Clouds which enveloped the Jews while traveling in the desert for forty years. On this holiday we dwell in makeshift booths and shake the Four Species.
Black leather boxes containing small scrolls with passages of the Bible written on them. Every day, aside for Sabbath and Jewish holidays, the adult Jewish male is required to wrap the Tefillin--by means of black leather straps--around the weaker arm and atop the forehead.
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.
(Pl.: Chassidim; Adj.: Chassidic) A follower of the teachings of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), the founder of "Chassidut." Chassidut emphasizes serving G-d with sincerity and joy, and the importance of connecting to a Rebbe (saintly mentor).
A rolled up scroll containing certain verses from the Torah which is affixed to the right-hand doorpost of doorways in a Jewish home.
The horn of a Kosher animal. The Shofar is sounded on the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, and is intended to awaken us to repentance. Also blown to signify the conclusion of the Yom Kippur holiday.
The teachings of the Chassidic masters. Chassidut takes mystical concepts such as G-d, the soul, and Torah, and makes them understandable, applicable and practical.
Rosh Chodesh
The "Head of the Month," Rosh Chodesh is observed the first day of every Jewish month. If the previous month had 30 days, then the last day of the previous month is also observed; hence a two-day Rosh Chodesh. Rosh Chodesh is a semi-holiday, marked by Torah-reading and special prayers.
(adj.) A Jew whose ancestors stem from Southern Italy, Spain, Portugal, North Africa or the Arabian countries.
"The Name." Out of respect, we do not explicitly mention G-d's name, unless in the course of prayer. Instead, "Hashem" is substituted.
(Pl. Midrashim). Non-legal material of anecdotal or allegorical nature, designed either to clarify historical material, or to teach a moral point. The Midrashim were compiled by the sages who authored the Mishna and Talmud (200 BCE-500 CE).
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.
The fifth month of the Jewish calendar, normally corresponding to July-August. The saddest month of the year due to the destruction of the Temples, and the many other tragedies which befell the Jews in this month.
King of Israel who succeeded Saul, becoming king of Israel in 876 BCE. Originally a shepherd, he became popular after he killed the Philistine strongman, Goliath. He is the progenitor of the Davidic royal dynasty -- which will return to the throne with the arrival of King Messiah.
The Book of Psalms. One of the 24 books of the Bible. Compiled by King David; mostly comprised of poetic praise for G-d. A large part of our prayers are culled from this book.
Penintential prayers recited before the High Holidays and on Jewish fast days.
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.