Special Prayer for Forgiveness

Question

Hi Rabbi, what are the selichot prayers that are said around Rosh Hashana time, and when do we begin saying them this year? Thanks and Shana tova!

2 months

Answers

  1. The actual Selichot are a collection of Torah verses and special poetic works in which we ask God for forgiveness — on a personal and communal level. A core part of the service is saying “The 13 Attributes of Mercy,” which are verses that God revealed to Moses at Mount Sinai as a key to forgiveness.

    The 13 Attributes of Mercy are: “Hashem! Hashem! A God Who is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, rich in steadfast kindness, extending kindness to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; yet He does not remit all punishment… (Exodus 34:6-7)

    The Machzor Vitry, an 11th century work describing the yearly cycle of observances and prayers, tells us that “it is a custom to begin on the Saturday night before Rosh Hashana to rise early to the synagogue, before the sun rises, and beg for mercy.” As one of the poetic texts recited at this service says: “At the conclusion of the Day of Rest (i.e. Shabbat), we come first to meet You. Incline Your ear from above, You Who dwells amongst praise, to hear the song and the prayer.” Sephardic communities begin reciting Selichot at the beginning of Elul so that a period of 40 days — the time Moses spent on Mount Sinai when receiving the Torah — is devoted to prayers of forgiveness.

    This year, 2020, Selichot (according to Ashkenazi custom) will begin on Saturday night, September 12th at about 1 am. Please check with your local synagogue. They are also said throughout the week, usually before the morning Shacharit prayer service. In most communities, Selichot continue throughout the Ten Days of Repentance until Yom Kippur.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team