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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; singular selichah (סליחה)) 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. In most modern Sephardic communities, Selichot services are identical each day. However, some North African communities still recite a different Selichot every day, following the order in Siftei Renanot.[2] In the Eastern 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 (Psalms 145) and the Half-Kaddish. In the Western Ashkenazic tradition, there is similarly an overall format, but it begins with Adon Olam or Lecha Hashem Ha'Tzedaka, and the Half-Kaddish follows the first set of the thirteen attributes.[3]

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. In some communities, 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. In the Eastern Ashkenazic tradition, 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 or after the Pizmon.
  • Chatanu (חטאנו) — Hebrew for "we have sinned." Starting on the evening before Rosh Hashanah [and in the Western rites, even on the first days] 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 or at other times in other rites, 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 and other days in some rites, 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.[4][5] 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.

Selichot rites[edit]

There are at least thirteen printed rites for selichot:[6] The following eight are variations of the Western Ashkenazic rite:

  1. Ashkenaz - This includes most of Germany, including Frankfurt.
  2. Alsace
  3. Furth
  4. Worms
  5. Fluss
  6. Cologne
  7. Switzerland
  8. Italian Ashkenazim

The follow five are variations of the Eastern Ashkenazic rite:

  1. Polin (Poland)
  2. Lita (Lithuania)
  3. Bohemia (Hungary)
  4. Posen
  5. Old Shul in Prague

Among 21st century Ashkenazi Jewish communities, the Polin and Lita variations are dominant. Lita is associated with Nusach Ashkenaz, and Polin with Nusach Sefarad.

The poems recited in the Lita and Polin variations, with their assigned numbers, are as follows: [7] [8] (Empty spots in the table mean no poem is recited.)

Day Lita Number Polin Number
1 Eich niftach peh 1 same 1
Ein mi yikra betzedek 2 same 2
Tavo lifanecha shaavat hinun 3 same 3
Bemotzaei menucha 4 same 4
2 Im avoneinu rabu lehagdil 5 same 5
Ivitecha kivitecha 6 Ein kemida basar 6
Yisrael nosha bashem 7 Malachei rachamim 7
3 Ein kemidat basar midotecha 8 Yisrael amcha orchim 8
Ani yom ira 9 Elecha nesuot eineinu 9
Malachei rachamim 10 Yisrael nosha bashem 10
4 Ani karaticha ki taaneni 11 Ani yom ira 11
Ayeh kol niflotecha 12 same 12
Hoker hakol vesoker 13 Beashmoret haboker 13
5 Yisrael amcha tehina orchim 14 Ivitecha kiviticha 14
Elokim beyisrael gadol nodata 15 Ayeh kinatcha 15
Yashmienu salachti 16 Shachar kamti 16
6 Ekra beshimcha lehahazik 17 Taarog elecha 17
Ayeh kinatcha ugvurotecha 18 Archu hayamim 18
Yoshev beseter elyon 19 Honeinu H honeinu 19
7 Betulat bat yehudah 20 Anachnu hahomer 20
Efes hod kevudah 21 Aryeh beyaar 21
Im avoneinu anu banu 22 Yoshev beseter elyon 22
Erev RH H elokei hatzevaot 23 same 23
Eichacha eftzeh peh 24 same 24
Adon moed ketikach 25 Ana orera ahavetcha 25
Merubim tzorchei amcha 26 El eloah dalfa eini 26
Ana orera ahavetcha 27 Adon moed ketikach 27
El eloah dalfa eini 28 Adon din im yedukdak 28
El emuna ezra hava 29 Adon befokdecha 29
Elokim yireh lo she 30 Adon beshoftecha 30
Emet ata hu rishon 31 Ach becha ledal 31
Hayim arukim tichtevenu 32 Adam eich yizkeh 32
Melech ehad yihyeh el amim 33 Ach bemetach din 33
Adon befokdecha 34 El emuna ezra hava 34
Adon beshoftecha 35 Hayim arukim 35
Ezak el elokim koli 36 Shlosh esreh midot haamurot 36
Av lerahem verav sloach 37 (Al tavo bemishpat imanu) 37
Shlosh esreh midot haamurot 38 Shofet kol haaretz 38
Mifleti eli tzuri 39 Mifleti eli tzuri 39
Shofet kol haaretz 40 Zechor brit avraham 40
Elecha tzuri kapayim 41 Tefila tikach 41
Zechor brit avraham 42
Enkat mesaldecha 43
Tefila tikach 44
Adonei haadonim hashkifa 45
1 Az terem nimtechu 46 same 42
Et H behimatzo 47 same 43
Avla nafshi 48 same 44
Imanta meaz areshet 49 same 45
Orcha veamitecha shelach 50 same 46
Tashuv terachamenu 51 same 47
Im afes rova hakan 52
Horeita derech teshuva 53 same 48
Yakru reecha 54 Az behar mor 49
Zechor brit avraham 55 same 50
Ayahed tzuri 56
Yaazov rasha netivo 57
Torah hakedosha 58 same 51
Geroni nihar 59
2 Elecha lev vanefesh 60 same 52
Ach becha mikveh 61 Ani karaticha 53
Aryeh beyaar dimiti 62 Elcha veashuva 54
Elokim ein biltecha 63 Ezak el elokim koli 55
Eich uchal lavo adecha 64 Amarnu nigzarnu 56
Ezrahi meever hanahar 65 Bein keseh leasor 57
Beashmoret haboker 66 Eitan limad daat 58
Adon bina hagigenu 67 Shaarei shamayim 59
Shevet hakise 68
3 Shiharnucha 69 same 60
Elecha hael 70 Ach becha mikveh 61
Taarog elecha 71 Elecha H shivati 62
Shomamti berov 72 Elokim ein biltecha 63
Yerushalaim et H 73 Eich uchal lavo adecha 64
Ezrahi heir 74 Yachbienu tzel yado 65
Shahar kamti 75 Ezrahi meever hanahar 66
Yoshev begavhei 76 Shevet kise 67
Shaarei shamayim 77
4 Eshet neurim 78 Shoshanat vered 68
Omnam anachnu 79 Elecha H ekra ayom 69
Arbaah avot nezikin 80 Ata mikedem elokeinu 70
Ata helki vetzur levavi 81 Shomamti berov yegoni 71
Shalom tishpot lanu 82 Taharut rogez 72
Eitan limad daat 83 Yashmienu salachti 73
Bein keseh leasor 84 Im afes rova hakan 74
Arid besichi 85
Melech melachim 86 same 75
5 Am H hizku 87 Am H hizku 76
H Elokei yisrael 88 Ani berov hasdecha 77
Ezon tahan 89 Elokim beyisrael 78
Elokim H heili 90 Ata helki 79
Ometz yosif 91 Tohelet yisrael 80
Az behar mor 92 Ezon tahan 81
H H el rachum 93 same 82
Hatanu tzurenu/Eich 94 El har hamor 83
Zechor brit avraham Mikveh yisrael 84
Shema yisrael/Amon 95
Mikveh yisrael moshia 97
Erev YK Adon befokdecha 97 Adon din im yedukdak 85
Adon din 98 Adon befokdecha 86
Yeratzeh tzom 99 same 87


  1. ^ Rabbi Raymond Apple. "Soul Searching in the Selichot". 
  2. ^ "סליחות - ג'רבא ולוב- שפתי רננות -". 
  3. ^ היידנהיים, וולף; Cohen, Shalom ben Jacob (1 January 1833). "סדר סליחות מכול השנה כמנהג אשכנז". ג. להרברגר – via Google Books. 
  4. ^ Rabbi Naftali Silberberg. "What are "Selichot" and when are they recited?". 
  5. ^ "Selichot, Basic Questions & Answers". 
  6. ^ Goldschmidt, Daniel (1970). Machzor for Yom Kippur. p. xiii. 
  7. ^ Seder HaSelichot Hashalem KeMinhag Lita, Shai LaMora. 
  8. ^ Seder HaSelichot Hashalem KeMinhag Polin, Shai LaMora. 

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