Selichot (Hebrew: סליחות) are Jewish poems and prayers for forgiveness, said in the period leading up to the High Holidays and on Fast Days, like Yom Kippur.
Selichot are already mentioned in the Mishnah. The Mishnah describes public fast days and the order of prayer for such occasions as featuring a series of exhortations that end with the words “He will answer us,” recalling the times in Jewish history when G-d answered those who called upon Him.
The Selichot service emphasizes the recitation of “The Thirteen Attributes”. Over the centuries, special poems embellishing this passage were added to the Selichot. The exact poems to be recited may differ from place to place, but the basic elements of the service have remained the same throughout the Jewish world.
The tradition of reciting Selichot throughout the month of Elul may stem from the fact that it was customary to fast six days before Rosh Hashanah. Since the Selichot originated as prayers for fast days, it followed naturally that they would be recited at this time.
Originally, Selichot prayers were recited early in the morning, prior to dawn. There was a custom in Eastern Europe that the person in charge of prayers would make the rounds of the village, knocking three times on each door and saying, “Israel, holy people, awake, arouse yourselves and rise for the service of the Creator! It later became common practice to hold the first Selichot service at a time more convenient for the masses of people.
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