Selichot or slichot (Hebrew: סליחות; singular סליחה, selichah) are Jewish penitential poems and prayers, especially those said in the period leading up to the High Holidays, and on Fast Days. The Thirteen Attributes of Mercy are a central theme throughout these prayers.
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 G-d 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.
The actual Selichot are a collage of Torah verses and poetically written Hebrew works in which we ask G‑d to forgive us on a personal and communal level. An oft-repeated phrase is the “13 Attributes of Mercy,” which G‑d revealed to Moses at Sinai as the key to forgiveness. This is the core of the entire service, and since it is considered a communal prayer, you may say this line only when praying with a congregation.
For most of Selichot, the leader chants the first and last line of each paragraph, allowing the congregation to read most of the paragraph to themselves.
Most Jewish communities continue reciting Selichot throughout the Ten Days of Repentance, the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
According to Chabad custom, however, Selichot are not said during these days, with the exception of the third of Tishrei, when Selichot are recited as part of the commemoration of the Fast of Gedaliah.
The fourth Chabad, Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch, once asked his illustrious father, the Tzemach Tzedek, why Chabad communities do not continue saying Selichot during the Ten Days of Repentance. “My son,” he responded, “now is no longer the time for words. Now we must translate words into deed . . .”