By; Joseph Mosseri
The month of Eloul is known as the month of Rahamim. This is the time that
is most opportune for requesting Bore Olam's mercy and kindness.
The custom of the Sepharadim is to rise at dawn each morning from the 2nd of
Eloul until Ereb Yom Kipour (except for Shabbat & Rosh Hashanah) to recite
Selihot. That is a total of 30 days of waking up in darkness for Selihot.
The earliest origin we know of for this custom goes back to the days of Rab
Ha-a-yeh Gaon and Rab Amram Gaon who refer to this custom of Selihot but only during Aseret Yeme Teshoubah, the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kipour. Our custom though goes way back in Spain, Rabbi Yisshaq ibn Giat (born circa 1020 Lucena died 1091 Cordova) who was a great Rishon mentions the custom in his day in Spain was to begin Selihot from Rosh Hodesh Eloul.
Rabbi David Aboudirham also refers to the custom beginning from Rosh Hodesh Eloul.
One of the reasons given as to why we begin from Rosh Hodesh Eloul is
because that is when Mosheh Rabenou went up the mountain to get the 2nd set
of Louhot (tablets) from God. On the 40th day which was Yom Kipour , God
told him SALAHTI KIDBAREKHA!
The custom among many but not all Sepharadim of Turkey and the Middle East
is to blow the Shofar during all the days of Selihot during the 5 times that the Yag Midot
(13 attributes of God) are proclaimed and during Qadish Titqabal.
The custom among the Spanish & Portuguese communities of London, Amsterdam,
New York, etc.. is only to blow 10 sounds from the Shofar at the end of the
Selihot during Aseret Yeme Teshoubah.
The Ashkenazim, even though they only begin Selihot the Saturday night prior
to Rosh Hashanah, they blow the Shofar each day beginning from Rosh Hodesh
Eloul, after Shahrit & Arbit.
Even though it would seem like most Jews blow the Shofar at some point
during these 40 days, the custom of Aleppo, Syria is not to blow at all!!
Does anyone know of other groups which do not sound the Shofar??????? And
The Spanish & Portuguese communities have an additional custom of reciting
an abridged version of Selihot during these days each night after Arbit.
According to the Qabalah (Zohar) it is very bad to say Selihot at night and
the Cabbalist Rabbi Mosheh Zakouto of Venice and Rabbi Haim Yosef David
Azoulai have shambled the minhag. Hakham Obadiah Yosef also followed their
position and reiterated their words that if you find yourself in such a
place you should not even answer Amen.
Rabbi Shem Tob Gaguine (a descendent of a long line of Cabbalists including
HaRaShaSh) defended them and their custom saying that everything they do is
as their fathers did when they left Spain & Portugal and they never were
influenced by the Zohar and it's teachings so why should the qabalah play a
This year Selihot begins Tuesday September 6, 2005.
In "the old countries" Selihot began anywhere between 2:00 and 3:30 A.M.
Here in Brooklyn, New York the earliest Selihot begins at about 4:30 A.M.,
approximately 1 1/2 hours before sunrise.
Even though it is not forbidden to say Selihot after Sunrise it has always
been the custom to say selihot during the dark pre sunrise hours. This is
based upon the pasouq in Eikhah 2:19 which says "Arise, cry out in the
night, as the watches of the night begin; pour out your heart like water in
the presence of the Lord"
As difficult as it sounds I honestly do not think it impractical to attend
pre-sunrise selihot. I think the timing is perfect. It is not Hassot or even
a couple of hours after. It is already immediately prior to daybreak. I
think it is a wonderful time to concentrate meditate and reflect. What an
excellent time to arise and pour out one's soul to God.
Yes, it demands a lot of diligence and effort to get up that early and some
may not be able to do it everyday but at least give it a chance. I don't
think it would have existed this long if it was so terrible.
There is a new practice here in NY that never existed in the "old country"
which is to have minyanim of Selihot after sunrise and begining even as late
as 8:30 A.M. This practice according to some has been around for close to 50
years with Rabbis in attendance.
I do not know who started that custom or exactly when but it's possible that
like other customs it developed because people weren't willing to get up so
early. Instead of seeing the custom completely disappear the Rabbis changed the time to fit their congregants schedules.
Others postulate that since people generally arise later than they used to
and they also go to bed much later, the time for selihot had to change to
suit the social setting of the day and place. It is also possible that they
are following the precedence as established in London by the Spanish &
Portuguese Congregation of having morning Selihot at 7:00 A.M. because there
the dawn hours are very foggy, damp & chilly and people didn't want to take
a chance and fall ill.
Personally I do not support the concept of post-sunrise Selihot. Those
people who are willing to get up at that hour to pray with a minyan should
forget about Selihot and instead pray from the very beginning in a slow
concentrated fashion, instead of their usual habit of not praying with a
minyan, or going to a later minyan, or showing up late to their regular
minyan, or praying in a rushed fashion. Each person should improve upon what
he is doing or still needs to do. None of us are perfect, myself included!
I realize many of my shortcomings and this yearly season helps me to reflect
and better myself, ben adam lamaqom and ben adam lahabero.
IMPORTANT REMINDERS FOR PRE SUNRISE & POST SUNRISE:Everybody who attends pre-sunrise selihot should make sure to sleep early at