Tuesday, September 01, 2009


By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

As the month of Elul enters it is customary to include in all written correspondences blessings for the upcoming New Year.[1] Some even begin to do so shortly after Tisha B'av.[2] The source for this custom derives from the meeting between Moshe and Yitro, his father in law. At that time the Torah tells us that “Each man inquired on the other’s welfare[3]”. The Hebrew initials of this verse make up the word “Elul” thereby offering a Scriptural hint for this beautiful custom. Some continue to write wishes for a good year until Yom Kippur,[4] while others do so right through to Hoshana Rabba, at which time the true “sealing” of our fate takes place.[5]

Elul is also the month where elaborate prayers for penitence known as the “Selichot” prayers are recited.[6] Sefardim generally recite these prayers throughout the entire month of Elul,[7] while Ashkenazim do so commencing from the week[8] before Rosh Hashana is to arrive.[9] It is reported that the custom of the Arizal was like that of the Sefardim and he recited Selichot for the entire month of Elul.[10]

Click here for moreThere are number of customs as to when the Selichot prayers can or should be recited. They are ideally to be recited during the last three hours of the night,[11] while others do so anytime after midnight.[12] Others recite Selichot before the crack of dawn[13] or even early each evening,[14] It is important to note that there are authorities who strongly oppose reciting Selichot before midnight under any circumstances.[15] Some suggest that if for whatever reason the Selichot cannot be recited during its ideal time, then they should be recited prior to Mincha each day.[16] Selichot should preferably never be said alone,[17] especially those parts written in Aramaic.[18] The basic form of the Selichot prayers was given to us by none other than God Himself.[19]

It is interesting to note that the Selichot service is the only service outside of the standard order of daily prayers where the chazzan recites the “Titkabel” in the concluding Kaddish.[20] Indeed, the format of Selichot even resembles that of a Shacharit or Mincha service. For example the Selichot begins with "Ashrei" which corresponds to the Pesukei d'Zimra of Shacharit and of course, the Ashrei of Mincha. The body of the Selichot is compared to the “Shemoneh Esrei”. The “Tachanun” at the conclusion of Selichot mirrors the end of Mincha and the concluding prayers of Shacharit.

Although some have the custom to fast on the first day that Selichot are recited though simply engaging in extra kindness and good deeds is considered superior to fasting.[21] In some communities, the one who leads the Selichot prayers takes priority over all others in leading the remaining prayer services throughout the day.[22] The Kaddish before and after the first Selichot of the year are recited is customarily chanted in the traditional High Holiday tune.[23]


[1] Be’er Heitev 581:10, Kaf Hachaim 581:18
[2] Minhag Yisrael Torah 481:2
[3] Shemot 18:7
[4] Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 128:2
[5] Mishna Berura 661:2
[6] O.C. 581:1
[7] O.C. 581:1
[8] Kaf Hachaim 581:27-29. If there are less than four days in the week prior to Rosh Hashana then Selichot are further advanced by one additional week.
[9] Rema O.C. 581:1
[10] Kaf Hachaim 581:16
[11] O.C. 581:1
[12] Igrot Moshe 2:105
[13] Mateh Ephraim 581:11
[14] Igrot Moshe O.C. 2:105, O.C. 1:2
[15] Kaf Hachaim 581:2, Pitchei Olam 581:1
[16] Yechave Da'at 1:46
[17] Rema O.C. 565:5
[18] Mishna Berura 581:1, Kaf Hachaim 581:26
[19] Rosh Hashana 17b;Ritva, Tanna D’vei Eliyahu Zuta 23, Kaf Hachaim 581:13,14
[20] Mate Ephraim; Elef Hamagen 581:41
[21] Kaf Hachaim 581:9
[22] Rema O.C. 581:1, Kaf Hachaim 581:53. Those who disagree: Mateh Ephraim 581:31, Aruch Hashulchan 581:6, Binyan Shlomo 37
[23] Ktzeh Hamateh 581:39

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