Selichot or slichot (Hebrew: סליחות) are Jewish penitential poems and prayers, especially those said in the period leading up to the High Holidays, and on Fast Days. In the Ashkenazic tradition, it begins on the Saturday night before Rosh Hashanah. If, however, the first day of Rosh Hashanah falls on Monday or Tuesday, Selichot are said beginning the Saturday night prior to ensure that Selichot are recited at least four times.
Selichot of the High Holidays
In the Sephardic tradition, recital of Selichot in preparation for the High Holidays begins on the second day of the Hebrew month of Elul. In the Ashkenazic tradition, it begins on the Saturday night before Rosh Hashanah. If, however, the first day of Rosh Hashanah falls on Monday or Tuesday, Selichot are said beginning the Saturday night prior to ensure that Selichot are recited at least four times. This may be because originally the pious would fast for ten days during the season of repentance, and four days before Rosh Hashanah were added to compensate for the four of the Ten days of Repentance on which fasting is forbidden – the two days of Rosh Hashanah, Shabbat Shuvah, and the day preceding Yom Kippur – and, while the fasts have since been abandoned, the Selichot that accompanied them have been retained. Alternatively, the Rosh Hashanah liturgy includes the Biblical phrase, “you shall observe a burnt offering”, and like an offering which needs to be scrutinized for defects for four days, so too four days of self-searching are needed before the day of judgment.
Selichot refers to both the poetic piyyutim that compose the service as well as to the service itself. In most modern Sephardic communities, Selichot services are identical each day. However, some North African communities still recite different Selichot every day, following the order in Siftei Renanot. In the Eastern Ashkenazic tradition, although the text and length of specific prayers vary from day to day, the overall format remains the same and is prefaced by Ashrei (Psalms 145) and the Half-Kaddish. In the Western Ashkenazic tradition, there is similarly an overall format, but it begins with Adon Olam or Lecha Hashem Ha’Tzedaka, and the Half-Kaddish follows the first set of the thirteen attributes.
Selichot are usually recited between midnight and dawn. Some recite it at night after the ‘Arvit service or in the morning before the Shacharit service due to the convenience of synagogue attendance at these times.
Arguably the most important and certainly most popular night of Selichot in the Ashkenazi tradition is the first night, when many women and girls, as well as men and boys, attend the late-night service on Saturday night. In some communities, the hazzan wears a kittel and sings elaborate melodies. In some congregations, it is not unusual for a choir to participate in this first night’s service. In the Eastern Ashkenazic tradition, this night also has more Selichot than any other night prior to Rosh Hashanah eve. The other nights are more sparsely attended and those services are often led by a layperson, rather than a trained musician, and with melodies that are less elaborate than the first night.
Leil Selichot begins after nightfall on Sat, 01 September 2018.