Selichot – When to Start

Question

Why did my neighbor already begin saying Selichot (special supplications asking forgiveness) at his synagogue, but at our synagogue our Rabbi said we will begin closer to Rosh Hashana, after Shabbat on the first of September? Thank you.

, 3 years

Answers

  1. The month of Elul that we are presently in is described as being the month of repentance and mercy. It is considered to be a very special moment in the Jewish year that allows us to more easily access Divine mercy through our actions throughout the entire month. That is why the Sefardic communities have the custom to recite prayers of penance (called Selichot) during the entire month of Elul.

    The Ashkenazic communities, which you and your synagogue seem to be a part of, have a different custom. They recite Selichot for a minimum of four days before Rosh Hashana. The idea of four days originates from the concept that an offering that was brought to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem would be left for four days before it was sacrificed. During that time the animal would be checked to make sure that it had no blemishes that could disqualify it from being offered up on the altar. In symbolic terms, each person should regard themselves as an offering that we are bringing to God, and, therefore, the Ashkenazim begin reciting Selichot four days before Rosh Hashana.

    There is a technical problem that the Ashkenazic custom allows requires that the first recitation of Selichot always begin on Saturday night. As Rosh Hashana this year begins on Sunday night there are not four days between Saturday night and Rosh Hashana so the Ashkenazic communities will start saying Selichot on the Saturday night the week before Rosh Hashana and they will be every day (with the exception of Shabbat) until Rosh Hashana.

    By the way, in matters dealing with a person’s synagogue, my general practice is to refer the person’s question to the Rabbi of the synagogue. However, your question is one of general knowledge and can therefore be answered in this forum.

    Wishing you a good and sweet New Year!

     

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team