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Selichot prayer leaf (c. 8th-9th century) discovered in the famous Mogao Caves of Dunhuang, Gansu province, China in 1908 by Paul Pelliot.

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. God's Thirteen Attributes of Mercy are a central theme throughout these prayers.

Selichot of the High Holidays[edit]

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 scrutinised for defects for four days, so too four days of self-searching are needed before the day of judgment.[1]

Selichot refers to both the poetic piyyutim that compose the service as well as to the service itself. Sephardic Selichot services are identical each day. In the Ashkenazic tradition, although the text and length of specific prayers varies from day to day, the overall format remains the same and is prefaced by Ashrei (Psalm 145) and the Half-Kaddish.

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. 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. 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.

Categories of Selichot[edit]

Categories of Selichot in the Ashkenazic tradition may include:

  • Selichah (סליחה) — Hebrew for "forgiveness." This is the default Selichah and comprises the vast majority of the Selichot service.
  • Pizmon (פזמון) — Hebrew for "chorus." These central Selichot vary according to the day and contain a chorus which is repeated after each stanza.
  • Akeidah (עקידה) — Hebrew for "binding", a word which specifically refers to the Binding of Isaac. This Selichah contains the theme of the Akeidah as a merit for God answering our prayers. It begins to appear on Rosh Hashanah eve and is placed immediately before the Pizmon.
  • Chatanu (חטאנו) — Hebrew for "we have sinned." Starting on the evening before Rosh Hashanah and continuing through Yom Kippur, this Selichah is said after the final recitation of the Thirteen Attributes and before the Vidui confessional. It contains as its refrain, "חטאנו צורנו סלח לנו יוצרנו", "We have sinned, our Rock, forgive us, our Creator". Perhaps the most famous Chatanu Selichah is the Eleh Ezkera Martyrology recited during Musaf on Yom Kippur, though the recitation of the aforementioned refrain is not always followed in this particular Chatanu.
  • Techinah (תחינה) — Hebrew for "petition." This Selichah begins to appear on the eve of Rosh Hashanah in the Tachanun section, at the very end of the Selichot service.

Selichot of Fast Days[edit]

On minor fast days (besides the Fast of Gedaliah, whose Selichot are preempted by the Selichot of the High Holidays), some communities recite Selichot after the conclusion of the Shacharit Amidah.[2][3] The content of these prayers is related to the specific fast day. Western Ashkenazic communities insert the recitation of the Selichot of minor fast days in the middle of the blessing for forgiveness (סלח לנו כי חטאנו) in the repetition of the Shacharit Amidah.

Selichot are not recited on the major fast day of Tisha B'Av.


  1. ^ Rabbi Raymond Apple. "Soul Searching in the Selichot". oztorah.com. 
  2. ^ Rabbi Naftali Silberberg. "What are "Selichot" and when are they recited?". AskMoses.com. 
  3. ^ ""Selichot", Basic Questions & Answers". ou.org. 

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selichot — Please support Wikipedia.
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24778 news items


Wed, 02 Sep 2015 14:00:00 -0700

We would meet up again to say Selichot. We dress ourselves as best as we could in the dim light. No one talking; we are all too tired to say anything. I wonder, “Did my father sleep and wake us up, or did he stay awake?” Downstairs, my father hands me ...


Wed, 02 Sep 2015 13:37:30 -0700

Selichot (Jewish penitential prayers) tours go through a variety of ways and sites. We've put together a number of must-see sites one should visit during a nightly visit. Note that one can reach them independently and free of charge, so anyone can just ...
Thu, 03 Sep 2015 06:30:00 -0700

The first Selichot service is held very early Sunday morning, approximately an hour after midnight, and the subsequent ones are held around dawn, before morning services on the days that follow. (Sephardic Jews begin saying Selichot three weeks earlier ...
Jewish News of Greater Phoenix
Wed, 02 Sep 2015 10:26:15 -0700

Beth El Congregation: 7:30 p.m. screening of the “One More Pallbearer” episode of “The Twilight Zone,” which offers a perspective on apologies and forgiveness, 1118 W. Glendale Ave., Phoenix. Followed by refreshments and a 9 p.m. Selichot service.

Jerusalem Post Israel News

Jerusalem Post Israel News
Mon, 31 Aug 2015 12:12:19 -0700

The name “Selichot” recalls the Psalmist's words, “Ki imm'kha has'lihah – For with You is forgiveness” (Psalm 130:4), a phrase with a rather more colloquial meaning in modern Hebrew. Not that Selichot were limited to Elul and Tishrei. In Mishnaic times ...

Sun Sentinel

Sun Sentinel
Mon, 31 Aug 2015 11:00:00 -0700

Udi Spielman, senior cantor of B'nai Torah, a Conservative synagogue in central Boca Raton, has devised a free, awe-inspiring Selichot service on Sept. 5 that will include a 20-piece orchestra accompanying the usual forgiveness prayers. (Submitted photo).


Fri, 28 Aug 2015 09:08:21 -0700

You're going to have to clue me in on this one, rabbi. I've been reading up on Selichot (penitential prayers) and the schedule seems so strange to me. First of all, why are there different possibilities of when to begin? There are some years, like when ...

Cleveland Jewish News

Cleveland Jewish News
Fri, 28 Aug 2015 05:02:54 -0700

Throughout the Hebrew month of Elul, Jews prepare themselves to ask for forgiveness during the High Holidays. Each year prior to Rosh Hashanah, they gather for solemn Selichot services to offer prayers of special intercession. This year, temples and ...

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