The Significance of Selihot – San Diego Jewish World


By Rabbi Dr. Israel Drazin

Rabbi Israel Drazin

BOCA RATON, Fla. — The complete 1229-page book Selihot Minhag Lita, Hebrew and English Edition from Koren Press contains a wealth of information on many aspects of Judaism. Since the recitation of Selihot is done before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and is an important and often repeated part of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services, and these holidays teach essential lessons, Jews should read this book to familiar with what the tradition includes. Selihot is designed to accomplish. Non-Jews will also benefit from this book, especially its easy-to-read and highly informative 69-page “Introduction to Selihot” and detailed explanations of the 100 Selihot, often as long as half a page, by the Rabbi Jacob. J. Schacter, one of the leading Orthodox Jewish rabbis and scholars. Like Jewish readers, they will gain insight into Jewish thought and practice.

Meaning of Selihot

Selihot, also spelled in English as Selichot, is defined as indulgent, and by extension also gracious, merciful, lenient, forgiving, and indulgent. This happens 47 times in the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, which means to forgive, such as when Moses asked God to forgive the Israelites for making the golden calf, God replied, “I have forgiven (salachtis) as you requested” (Numbers 14:20). The term is not used anywhere in the Bible to suggest a penitential ceremony or hymn as used in Selihot ceremonies.

When did the Selihot recitations begin?

We have no evidence of the beginning of the practice of Selihot. Some scholars suggest it began to develop after the destruction of the first Jewish temple in 586 BCE, when the Jews felt God was punishing them for their wrongdoings and decided they needed to atone for their bad behavior. This idea is pure speculation.

Just as the New Year is considered a good time in many cultures to reflect on behavior and make resolutions to improve, Judaism does so today by engaging Jews in various practices that remind them to change and improve. ameliorate or overwrite the misdeeds of the past. These practices include transferring guilt to animals, going to water on Rosh Hashanah, giving charity, saying prayers, reciting confessions, etc. The Selihot service at the time of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and during these holidays and its recitations are among them. Different communities engage in it in different ways and at different times.

For example, there are different practices among Ashkenazim (Jews generally from European countries), Sephardim (Jews of Spanish descent mainly from Muslim lands), and Hasidim. This book follows the practice of the Lita community. Beginning on the first day of the Jewish month Elul, the month before Tishre when Rosh Hashanah takes place, many groups of Jews, but not all, blow the shofar (ram’s horn) every morning to awaken people to repentance and to improve. Sephardim and many Hasidim add a prayer The David Hashem Ori from the first day of Elul until the day after Sukkot, which has the same purpose. Ashkenazi Jews do not. From 2 Elul until the eve of Yom Kippur, Sephardim get up early and say Selihot. Ashkenazi Jews start reciting Selihot on the Saturday evening before Rosh Hashanah until the eve of Yom Kippur. If Rosh Hashanah occurs two days after Saturday, Selihot begins on a Saturday evening a week earlier. We don’t know why each group decided how to behave, but Rabbi Schacter offers several suggestions.

What does this book contain?

There is a wealth of material and information in the 1229 pages. Besides the introduction and many explanations and commentaries, there are the Selihot in Hebrew and modern English for seven days, the Gedaliah fast, which takes place the day after Rosh Hashanah, Selihot for the second day of repentance, as well as the third, fourth and fifth day, and Erev Yom Kippur. There is also the ceremony of annulment of vows, when a petitioner comes before three men, and all four say certain things. The book also contains a Hebrew and English index of the 100 Selihot, the biblical source of the quotes in the hymns is identified, and there is some biographical information about the authors of the various hymns.

What are Selihot?

Rabbi Schacter identifies, explains, and reveals the relevance today of many themes that appear and reappear in the Selihot. He does this with his ideas and more often by referring to the opinions of many ancient sages and writings from the Midrashim and the Talmuds.

One theme is the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy that God revealed to Moses in Exodus 34:4-5.

Another is the story in Genesis 22 called the Akeida, Binding and near-sacrifice of Isaac by his father, Abraham.

Also, Zekhut Avot and Berit Avot, the effect of the lives of ancient Jews on the Jews of today.

Likewise, Tzidduk Hadin, an examination of some past calamities that befell the Jews and how a human should understand disasters and God’s involvement in them.

Likewise the Confession, the account of the wrongs we have committed or could have committed.

There are also considerations of the bond between God and the Jewish people, the power of repentance, the desire to do God’s will, the handling of derision and persecution by non-Jews, the use intermediaries to God such as deceased angels and sages, our search for God, and more.

In short, Koren Press has given us a treasure trove of meaningful, thought-provoking information in Rabbi Schacter’s excellent informative book.

Rabbi Dr. Israel Drazin is a retired brigadier general in the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps and the author of more than 50 books.


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