: סליחות) are Jewish
penitential poems and prayers, especially those said in the period leading up to the High Holidays
, and on Fast Days
. The Thirteen Attributes of God
are a central theme throughout the prayers.
Selichot of the High Holidays
In the Sephardic
tradition, Selichot begins during the series of Selichot services of the High Holidays on the second day of the Hebrew month of Elul. In the Ashkenazic
tradition, it begins on the Saturday night before Rosh Hashanah. (However, if Rosh Hashanah falls on Monday/Tuesday or Tuesday/Wednesday, Selichot are said beginning the Saturday night prior to ensure that there are at least four nights of Selichot).
Selichot refers to both the service itself as well as to each of the poetic piyyutim that compose the service. Sephardic Selichot services are identical each day. In the Ashkenazic tradition, different texts are recited on the different days. Though the length varies from day to day, the format remains constant. The service begins with the recitation of Psalms 145, followed by the Half-Kaddish.
Selichot are usually recited between midnight and dawn. Some recite it at night after the Maariv 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 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 Conservative 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.
Categories of Selichot
Categories of Selichot in the Ashkenazic tradition may include:
- Selicha (סליחה) — Hebrew for "forgiveness." This is the default selicha and comprises the vast majority of the Selichot service.
- Pizmon (פזמון) — Hebrew for "chorus." These central selichot 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 selicha 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 Selicha 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.
- Tachinah (תחינה) — Hebrew for "petition." This selicha 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
On minor fast days (besides the Fast of Gedaliah
, whose Selichot is preempted by the Selichot of the High Holidays), some communities recite Selichot at the conclusion of the Shacharit Amidah
. Each contain poetry 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. Neither are the penitential prayers of Tachanun and Avinu Malkeinu, due to the complete mourning on that day as well as the tradition that the gates of prayer are closed for the duration of the day.