Jewish Holidays

Selichot Prayers: Preparing for Rosh Hashanah

As we are now in the Hebrew month of Elul, many Jews are spiritually preparing for the upcoming High Holidays. Today we’re exploring the Selichot prayers, centuries-old supplications and beautiful poetry that’s traditionally recited in the days before Rosh Hashanah.

The Selichot prayer process is quintessential as part of pre-Rosh Hashanah prep. While it looks different for Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities in some ways, the goal is the same. Read on to learn more about this ancient and deeply spiritual practice!

The month leading up to Rosh Hashanah, known as Elul, is a particular time of repentance, introspection, and preparation for what everyone hopes is a good year ahead. Go into any synagogue and the shofar is played at the end each morning which only happens during Elul, in order to wake up the soul in preparation for the auspicious time of the Days of Awe, the period from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur.

And another important part of the holiday prep during Elul is reciting Selichot prayers!


Understanding Selichot
Jewish men praying in a synagogue with tallit

Selichot, derived from the Hebrew word "slicha" meaning forgiveness, is a series of supplications and penitential prayers recited during the weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

This practice is deeply rooted in Jewish tradition - going back to at least the 6th century CE - and aims to inspire individuals to examine their lives, mend relationships, and realign themselves with their faith

The Selichot liturgy is rich and poetic, composed of heartfelt supplications and verses that express a sincere desire for forgiveness, considering what we’ve done wrong in the past year both individually and collectively. This liturgy reflects the central theme of returning to God and seeking mercy. Selichot often highlight the attributes of divine compassion, underscoring the belief that teshuvah (repentance) and forgiveness are attainable for those who approach God with contrition.

In many communities, a special Selichot book, known as "machzor selichot," is used during these services. This book contains the unique prayers and supplications specific to the Selichot period, guiding participants through a structured process of reflection and confession.

Sephardi and Ashkenazi Practices

Sephardi and Ashkenazi communities have their own distinct customs when it comes to Selichot. Sephardi Jews typically begin reciting Selichot on the second day of Elul, the month preceding Rosh Hashanah. Ashkenazi Jews, on the other hand, usually commence the Selichot prayers on the Saturday night before Rosh Hashanah, creating an atmosphere of anticipation leading into the High Holy Days.

Both Ashkenazim and Sephardim set the first iteration of Selichot at midnight, and while those are still offered later throughout the period, many communities will add them in before the Shacharit prayer service, in the mornings. While the Ashkenazi Selichot can change a lot from one day to the next, for Sephardim the text is more consistent. 

Purpose and Preparation

The overarching purpose of Selichot is to facilitate personal and communal repentance. As Jews reflect on their actions, they consider the areas of their lives that require improvement and seek to repair relationships that may have been strained. This process of introspection helps individuals align their actions with their values and spiritual goals ahead of the new year.

The time serves as a powerful precursor to the High Holy Days, offering a period of gradually intensifying spiritual urgency. By engaging in these prayers, individuals set a tone of humility and improvement, acknowledging their shortcomings and demonstrating a sincere commitment to lead a better life.

In this sense, Selichot not only function as a means of seeking forgiveness but also as a way to instigate the process of teshuvah that requires both those practical and emotional components. By reciting these with devotion and sincerity, individuals open their hearts to change and growth, preparing themselves to stand before God during the awe-inspiring days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.



As the Selichot season approaches, let us embrace this opportunity for self-reflection, forgiveness, and renewal. Through these prayers, may we find the strength to mend our ways, deepen our connection with our faith, and approach the Days of Awe with a renewed spirit of devotion.


Make sure you're ready for Rosh Hashanah services starting on Friday, September 15, 2023.

Plus, you can find all of your Rosh Hashanah gifts for family, friends, and hosts here!


Blog Topics

/judaica/jewish books/tefillah - jewish prayer books


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