Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Slichot in a Nutshell

I hadn't planned to write about slichot for another week or two, but apparently Sephardi custom is to say Slichot for the entire month of Elul. That means they start tonight. Or so I think. Ask your rabbi. Ashkenazim should begin saying slichot on Saturday night, September 24, 2011. Since it'll be after midnight, it will technically be Sunday, Sept. 25.

What are slichot? They're penitential prayers. Now, they prepare us for the High Holydays, but they are said on somber days throughout the year. For instance, fast days. Notably, slichot are not recited on Tisha B'Av. I'd be curious to know why, if anyone here knows. My guess is that they are preempted by kinnot.

The content: depends on your minhag. I apparently don't remember this, but my research says that the Ashkenazim recite different slichot each day, but that the Sephardim recite the same service every day.

The timing is a little tricky. Each year, check with your rabbi to make sure you have the right beginning date. 

The first time you say slichot is at midnight or shortly thereafter on Saturday night. All other days (Jewish days, night and then day), slichot are said in the early morning before shacharit (morning prayers). However, you can continue say them shortly after midnight if you wish, apparently. The Ashkenazim only say slichot a minimum of 4 times before Rosh Hashanah, but may say them up to a week and a half before Rosh Hashanah.

Most Jews continue to say slichot during the 10 Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. (Note that Chabad does not.)

Some portions of selichot can only be said with a minyan, so it is preferable to go to synagogue instead of saying them at home.

A tricky semantics note: the word "slichot" refers to the prayers themselves, but also to the slichot service as a whole.


  1. Thanks for your helpful information. I pray Nusach Edot HaMizrach, but I haven't found it in my Koren Siddur - I also looked it up in my old Ashkenaz Artscroll siddur and I couldn't find it there either. Do you know where the best place is to find these prayers? Thanks.

    1. Originally posted: August 31, 2011 at 6:29 PM

      Check the table of contents. My pint-size Koren says Slichot are on p925. My Artscroll says p816. But you should check with your rabbi for details to make sure you're doing what your community does.

      UPDATE: Best to buy a slichot machzor from Artscroll.