Different pizmonim melodies that can be applied to this piece according to Sassoon Manuscript 647 and Gabriel A Shrem: עת שערי רצון, לך אלי תשוקתי, ה' בוקר, אליכם קהל עדה, חביב אללה אליהו, כי אשמרה שבת, יאמר נא ישראל, שחר אבקשך, יום זה לישראל, אין כאלוהינו, מדבש ונופת צוף, אודך אודך, תען לשוני ותגיד, על חון על בת, ערבים שבת אחים, נשאם עד עולם, זלף כמטר זלף, אמרי פי והגיוני, במוצאי יום מנוחה, אות אלף מאלפת
The month of Elul 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 beginning of the month of
Elul until Ereb Yom Kipour (except for Rosh Hodesh, 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 (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 Elul.
Aboudirham also refers to the custom beginning from Rosh Hodesh Elul. One of the
reasons given as to why we begin from Rosh Hodesh Elul is because that is when
Moshe went up the mountain to get the second 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 Qaddish 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
The custom of the
Turkish community in Seattle, Washington, is to only blow 10 qolot during
Qaddish Titqabal and not to blow at all during the Yag Midot. Whereas the
Moroccans surely blow during the Yag Midot as well as Qaddish.
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 Elul, after Shaharit &
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.
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
Qabbalah (Zohar) it is very bad to say Selihot at night and the Qabbalist Rabbi
Moshe 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 Qabbalists including
HaRaShaSh) defended them and their custom saying that everything they do is as
their fathers did when they left Spain & Portugal and the Zohar never influenced
them and it's teachings so why should the qabalah play a role now.
In "the old
countries" Selihot began anywhere between 2:00 and 3:30 A.M. In Brooklyn, New
York the earliest Selihot begins at about 4:40A.M, approximately 1 & ½ to 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 Ekha
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."
There is a new
practice in New York that never existed in the "old country" which is to have
minyanim of Selihot after sunrise and beginning even as late as 8:30 A.M. This
practice according to some has been around for close to 50 years with Rabbis in
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.
FOR PRE SUNRISE & POST SUNRISE:
Everybody who attends
pre-sunrise selihot should make sure to sleep early at night. Those who work for
others are required to get a full night's sleep so they can be alert & give a
proper day's work for their wages as stated in Hoshen Mishpat. Those who are
sleepy during the day should not drive as the danger is well known & in such
cases we do not say one may rely on the missvah for protection. Additionally,
they should be cautioned not to wake their wives or children who are not
accustomed to rise so early, as it can interfere with their day and that may
cause some resentment towards those who are scrupulous with the performance of
missvot. We do not want to promote one misvah & create more serious
Those who do decide
to recite Selihot after sunrise must be very careful to change the words of the
Selihot so they will be in tune with the timing of the late recitation. Many
phrases discuss rising at night or in the dark or pre daybreak. How can one who
arises to say Selihot after sunrise say such things it makes him look, Heaven
forbid, as a liar. Rabbi David Sheloush in his introduction to
his commentary on Selihot says that the proper time for reciting Selihot is
after midnight as David HaMelekh said: Hassot Layla Aqoum Lehodot Lakh. He then
quotes verses from a bunch of Selihot that mention the later part of the night.
He also quotes Shoulhan Aroukh that customarily we arise at dawn to say Selihot
and that according to the Qabalah after midnight is 'Et Rahamim, a time of mercy
Whatever the case may
be for those who have decided to recite post sunrise selihot, everyone should
make the utmost effort and strive to wake up as early as possible to pour forth
our supplications and prayers before Bore 'Olam in preparation for Yamim Noraim.
To further prove this point I present the opinions of two great Sephardic
Hakhamim on the importance of rising early and reciting Selihot.
The following is from
page 92 in Mayim Hayim (Fez, 1933) by Rabbi Yosef Messas.
A question was asked
of him in 1928, this was his response.
What is the law for
someone who rises at dawn during the month of Elul, is it better to study
Gemara, Halakhot, Zohar, etc. or to recite Selihot and supplications?
Simply said that we
must follow the custom and recite Selihot. This custom is correct and extremely
old going back to the days of the Geonim. The month of Elul is especially
opportune for repentance and reciting Selihot slowly and with concentration can
only help to awaken the heart and soul to shed their misgivings and repent fully
as no learning can ever do. He continues and says that we have heard and seen
numerous cases of pious ones and men of stature that shed much tears during
Selihot and it helped them and those around them who witnessed and felt the
words and concepts of the Selihot cut through their iniquities. Therefore we
should all only say Selihot during this time, because there is nothing better
than the proper item at the proper time, (dekhol dabar be'ito mah tob)! He then
quotes the Hid"a (Rabbi Haim Yosef David Azoulai) who says that it is better
during these days to say Selihot and additional supplications than to study
Torah. It is of course better to go to the Synagogue to say Selihot with the
congregation but if one is unable to, it is still better to say Selihot
individually than to study Torah. Again the reason being that the words of the
Selihot can help a person distance himself from sins and transgressions better
than anything else. He continues to quote the Hid"a who says I have seen Rabbis
who always studied but during the month of Elul they put aside their learning
for a while in order to say Selihot. Rabbi Messas finishes off by quoting an old
manuscript from Spain in which is written "that our custom is to always study in
the Yeshibot, but during Elul we all put aside our studies in order to say
Selihot, because they help a person pour forth his true feelings before God,
expressing remorse over the sins of his youth and his unkind deeds, and such is
proper to do."
Hakham Obadiah Yosef
in Yehaveh Da'at, volume 3 page 132, deals with a similar situation.
The question is:
Yeshibah students who study Torah late into the night, and if they wake up so
early for Selihot, it will interfere with their day time studies. Must they
still get up so early to recite Selihot with the congregation?
His response is: That
these rabbinical students who study late into the night should make an effort to
say Selihot with a minyan after midnight. If they still have difficulty with
that they must make a major effort at the very least to say Selihot with the
congregation during the 10 days of repentance from Rosh Hashanah until Yom
Most importantly, let
us not forget the message of the Selihot: Repenting, asking forgiveness from God
and granting it to our fellow man, and improving ourselves as decent human
beings and as Torah observant Jews.
Selihot Practices of Mahzor Aram
By Alberto Attia
Our Sephardic custom of reciting Selihot commencing on
the day after Rosh Hodesh Elul is patterned against the precedent set by Moshe
Rabenu. It was on Rosh Hodesh Elul that he ascended Har Sinai for the third and
last time in order to obtain pardon on behalf of the Jewish nation for
transgressing with the Golden Calf. Finally, fourty days later on Yom Kippur,
the pardon was given when the Almighty responded with the famous words of
Salachti Kidvarecha and gave us a second set of tablets to reinstitute the
The period of Rosh Hodesh Elul until Yom Kippur is considered a
time of ET RASSON. Therefore, we recite our Selihot prayers every day of the
week, except Shabbat and Holidays, until Erev Yom Kippur.
We must ask the
question, however, was it always that way? Is the Nusach that we have a time
honored Nuscha, or were there always different practices and customs? Well my
friends, I must tell you that I took a look today at a copy of the Mahzor Aram
Soba printed in 1560 and was in for a surprise. Not only, did I not recognize
the Seder, but was thrown aback by the different customs, many of which are
contrary to our present normative practice.
My feeling was one of being
lost. Although, I would have loved to have been there, I certainly would have
been a fish out of water if present at the service. There was nothing that was
familiar to me except that ancient prayer of Rahamana in Aramaic and the
recitation of VaYa'avor at the end. Yes, there was only one Vaya'avor and it was
at the conclusion of the service.
Before me, was the remnant of a
glorious past of which I had no familiarity at all and unfortunately is now
The first thing I witnessed is the beauty of language. They don’t
refer to the liturgy as Selihot or Seder Selihot. Rather, it’s called Seder
The Mahzor began by stating the instructions of when
the community should gather to say selihot. "The community accustoms to
congregate at the rise of morning (Ashmoret HaBoker) From Rosh Hodesh Elul until
the Fast of Yom HaKippurim. It does so only on Mondays, Thursdays and all
intervening Shabbatot." Although we don’t recite Selihot neither on Shabbat nor
Rosh Hodesh, the original Mustarab custom was to do so, even when Rosh Hodesh
Elul fell on Shabbat.
It is fascinating to discover that they had
completely different compositions for each and every week as well. There was not
one week remotely similar to the other, and so… there was a particular order
for: (1) Shabbat Re’eh, (2) Shabbat Shofetim, (3) Ki Tesse …. until (5) Atem
The majority of these where composed by Aleppo Rabbis and
passed down from one generation to the other. For example, the opening piyut for
Shabbat Rosh Hodesh/Re’e was composed by Ribbi Abraham Tawil (picture above).
As you begin to examine the "Seder Shabbatot HaRa7amim", you will notice it’s
unique structure. The various Piyutim are separated in different sections by the
intercalation of different Pesukim selected from Tanakh. These pesukim vary
thematicaly depending on the particular section of the Seder and week.
Sometimes, we find four sections of Piyutim separated by three different
selections of Pesukim. At others we find five sections of Piyutim set off by
three intervening sections of Pesukim.
The seder of each day ends with
the closing stanza of Rahamana… "3ase Lema3anakh VeHoshi3enu", and is finalized
with the one and only VaYa3abor.
In regards to the displacement of the
local Musta'arab Minhag due to the overwhelming influence of the new Sepharadi
immigrants and their Minhagim. This seems to have occured slowly but steadily.
At first, they had separate services. However, the Musta'arab Minyan eventually
dwindled until there remained but a small minyan in Halab.
knowledge, this minyan was led by Shelomo Salem Zafrani until his departure to
the Eress Yisrael in the early 1930s. That was the end of the Musta'arab
tradition in Halab. In addition, there was no effort to reconstitute it in Eress
Yisrael. In Argentina as Daniel Kassar reports Salon Hejal Moshe did operate as
a Musta'arab Minyan during the early part of last century.
completing the selihot of the day, they would then proceed to the last section
of the Mahzor and continue with the last section that is reminiscent of the
Selihot that we recite today. As such, the service was much longer than the one
which we are accustomed to. In addition, it appears that they took their time to
entone each piyyut with it's proper melody & feeling, similar to what we do in
the Bakkashot. As such it is very likely that the entire service may have lasted
about 2.5 hours.
Remarkably, we also see that the piyyutim in Mahzor Aram
Soba resemble those of the Spanish school rather than the work of early Eretz
Yisrael payyetanim such as Eleazar Kalir. For example, these piyyutim are all
composed in a strict Arabic metre and make little use of Midrash. Also, they are
generally placed in a block at the beginning of the service, like today's
Baqashot, rather than expanding on and partially replacing core parts of the
Interestingly, in it's structure, this Mahzor appears to have a
closer resemblance to Nusach Catalunia (Spain) than to the Geonoic/Iraqui
tradition or that of Palestine/Eress Yisrael.
To see full Mahzor Aram Soba Selihot services, go to
page 199 of Mahzor Aram Soba 1560 section II (found in Library section).