What are Selichot?

What are selichot?

Selichot are special prayers that are recited in anticipation of the High Holidays.

These beautiful prayers composed by the greatest ancient and medieval poets introduce us to the themes of the upcoming High Holidays and intensify our avid anticipation of their arrival.

According to Sephardic custom, these special penitential prayers are recited every morning during the month of Elul.

In traditional Ashkenazic synagogues, and in some Conservative synagogues, the custom is to recite these prayers beginning on the Sunday before Rosh Hashanah, unless there will be fewer than four days between Sunday and the onset of the festival.

Since there should be a minimum of four days of Selichot, the recitation of Selichot begins on the Sunday of the previous week in years in which Rosh Hashanah begins on Monday or Tuesday.

A contemporary American custom is the midnight Selichot service held late Saturday night before the first Sunday when Selichot are to be recited. (For many congregations, this is the sole vestige of Selichot recitation.)

This late-night service highlights the beautiful liturgical pieces of the High Holidays and, for many, truly initiates the High Holiday season.

What do you recite on Selichot? Click here.

Adapted with permission from The Observant Life.


  • The Observant Life: The Wisdom of Conservative Judaism for Contemporary Jews distills a century of thoughtful inquiry into the most profound of all Jewish questions: how to suffuse life with timeless values, how to remain loyal to the covenant that binds the Jewish people and the God of Israel, and how to embrace the law while retaining an abiding sense of fidelity to one’s own moral path in life. Written in a multiplicity of voices inspired by a common vision, the authors of The Observant Life explain what it means in the ultimate sense to live a Jewish life, and to live it honestly, morally, and purposefully. The work is a comprehensive guide to life in the 21st Century. Chapters on Jewish rituals including prayer, holiday, life cycle events and Jewish ethics such as citizenship, slander, taxes, wills, the courts, the work place and so much more.

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