Selected Halachos Related to Selichos and Erev Rosh Hashana
By Rabbi Doniel Neustadt
The following is a discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the week.
For final rulings, consult your Rav.
SELICHOS and EREV ROSH HASHANAH: COMMON QUESTIONS and ANSWERS
QUESTION: May the Selichos prayer be recited at night before going to sleep
or must it be recited only upon awakening in the morning?
ANSWER: Ideally, Selichos should be said at the end of the night, since that
is an eis ratzon, a "time of appeasement(1)." But it is permitted to recite
Selichos anytime from midnight on. Before midnight it is prohibited to
recite Selichos(2). Under extenuating circumstances - if one cannot recite
Selichos at any other time - Selichos may be recited once a third of the
night has passed(3). But this leniency should not be relied upon on a
QUESTION: Must Birchos ha-shachar be recited before Selichos?
ANSWER: Birchos ha-Torah should be recited before Selichos(4). The other
blessings need not be recited before Selichos, but may be recited then even
though it is before alos ha-shachar(5). [If Al netilas yadayim is recited
before Selichos - as recommended by some poskim(6) - one should be sure not
to repeat it after Selichos from force of habit.]
QUESTION: Are women obligated to recite Selichos?
ANSWER: Since the recitation of Selichos - even for men - is not an
obligation but an ancient custom which has been practiced for many
centuries, we are not obligated to do more than what custom dictates.
Customarily, women did not go to shul to recite Selichos. If they wish to do
so, however, women may go to shul to recite Selichos, or they may recite
Selichos at home. But the following rules apply when reciting Selichos
without a minyan [for both men and women]: 1) When reciting E-l melech, some
poskim hold that the words Zechor lanu ha-yom bris shelosh esrei are
omitted7. 2) The 13 midos are omitted(8). 3) Machei u'masei (recited towards
the end of the Selichos) and any other segment which is in Aramaic is
QUESTION: Must a person who fasted [half a day] on erev Rosh Hashanah in the
past, continue to do so every year(10)?
ANSWER: The Shulchan Aruch(11) writes that it has become customary(12) to
fast on erev Rosh Hashanah(13). Many people, especially during their younger
years, adopt this custom but find it difficult to maintain as they get
older. The process for giving up fasting on erev Rosh Hashanah depends on
how the custom was adopted originally. There are three possible cases:
If the custom was accepted initially as a lifelong commitment, one must
annul his vow.
If the custom was accepted initially on a year-by-year basis, no hataras
nedarim (annulment of vows) is required.
If the custom was accepted initially without specifying the length of the
commitment, then one follows the general principle that any proper custom
which was accepted without a b'li neder stipulation, automatically becomes a
neder and may not be dropped without hataras nedarim.
[Note that this halachic problem is not unique to the custom of fasting on
erev Rosh Hashanah. Any proper custom, once accepted and followed, may not
be dropped without undergoing hataras nedarim. People who adopt even
"simple" customs which they are not really obligated to practice, like
reciting Tehilim daily or studying the daf yomi(14), without making the b'li
neder stipulation, require hataras nedarim should they decide to discontinue
An exception to this rule is when one undertakes a practice which he thinks
is obligatory, but later finds out that it is not. In that case, he may drop
his practice without hataras nedarim(15). For instance, a person who ate
chalav Yisrael butter only because he thought it was absolutely required,
but later found out that this is not the case, may discontinue his practice
without being matir neder.]
A possible solution to the problem of discontinuing a custom may be found
in the concluding declaration that is recited after the hataras nedarim
ceremony that takes place every year on erev Rosh Hashanah. The declaration
states that "I cancel from this time onward all vows and oaths that I will
accept upon myself... and that all of them are totally null and void,
without effect and without validity." Harav S.Z. Auerbach rules that this
declaration can also cover any proper custom that was undertaken without a
QUESTION: Can anyone be a member of the court for the purpose of annulment
of vows (hataras nedarim)?
ANSWER: Any male adult(17) can be a member of the court, even if he is
related to the other members or to the petitioner(18).
Three judges suffice for hataras nedarim. Some poskim prefer ten judges(19)
and some insist on eleven(20), but it has become customary to have only
QUESTION: Must women officially annul their vows on erev Rosh Hashanah?
ANSWER: Hataras nedarim on erev Rosh Hashanah(21), even for men, is a
custom, not an obligation. It was never customary for women to annul their
vows on erev Rosh Hashanah, and there is no compelling reason to begin such
a custom now.
Many men are accustomed to include their wife's vows at the time that they
annul their own(22). L'chatchilah, a wife should appoint her husband to be
her emissary for annulling her vows. If, however, she forgot to do so, her
husband may annul her vows for her without being expressly appointed as her
emissary, as long as he is absolutely certain sure that she wants him to
annul her vows for her.
A woman who has a specific vow that she must annul should do so in front of
a court of three judges. Although her father and brother [or any other
relative] may be members of that court, her husband may not(23).
A daughter cannot appoint her father [or anyone else] to petition the court
on her behalf (24).
For the annulment to be valid, the petitioner and the members of the court
must understand exactly what is being said. A woman [or a man] who does not
understand the published Hebrew text, should annul her vows in English(25).
Minors, even a boy over the age of 12 and a girl over 11, need not perform
1. O.C. 581:1 and Mishnah Berurah.
2. Mishnah Berurah 565:12. One who finds himself in a shul where Selichos are
being recited before midnight should not recite the Thirteen Attributes
along with the congregation; Sha'arei Teshuvah 581:1 quoting Birkei Yosef.
3. Igros Moshe O.C. 2:105. See Yechaveh Da'as 1:46, who advises reciting
Selichos before Minchah as the better alternative.
4. Mishnah Berurah 46:27.
5. Rama O.C. 47:13. See Mishnah Berurah 31 who writes that asher nassan
la-sechvi binah should l'chatchilah not be recited before alos ha-shachar.
6. Sha'arei Teshuvah 6:5; Aruch ha-Shulchan 4:5; 6:10. Chayei Adam 7:6 and
Mishnah Berurah 4:4 and 6:9, however, recommend that it be recited right
before davening, after using the bathroom.
7. Be'er Heitev 565:6; Mateh Efrayim 581:21; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 128:9.
8. O.C. 565:5. It is permitted, however, to read them as if reading from the
Torah, with the proper cantillation marks. See also Igros Moshe Y.D. 3:21
who allows them to be chanted to any melody, as long as it is different from
the melody used in davening.
9. Based on O.C. 101:4, quoted by Mateh Efrayim 581:21. Even when reciting
Selichos with a minyan, the Aramaic segments should not be recited unless
there are ten men present in the shul and at least six of them reciting this
segment; Harav S. Y. Elyashiv (quoted in Nitei Gavriel, pg. 27).
10. If one is not feeling well, he is exempt from fasting on erev Rosh
Ha-shanah. It is proper to mention this problem to the members of the court
who are going to annul his vows on erev Rosh Hashanah after Shacharis.
11. O.C. 581:2.
12. Although Mishnah Berurah 16 writes that women also fast, this is not
13. In most communities the fast is only for half a day, or until after
14. See Teshuvos Ohr ha-Meir 75 (Harav M. Shapiro), who remains undecided as
to whether one may switch his study schedule from the study of daf yomi. See
also Yechaveh Da'as 6:52, who rules that one who switches from studying the
daf yomi to studying practical halachah does not need any hataras nedarim,
since he is raising his level of learning.
15. Y.D. 214:1. See Igros Moshe Y.D. 1:47.
16. Minchas Shelomo 91 based on Teshuvos Salmas Chayim 2:38. See also Yabia
Omer 2:30 and 4:11-9 who relies on this as well. [Although women do not
customarily petition for hataras nedarim on erev Rosh Hashanah, as discussed
later, it would be advisable for any woman to recite this declaration, even
to herself, thus preventing questionable situations in the future.]
17. An adult is defined as being over thirteen if he has visible beard
growth, and at least over eighteen if no beard growth is noticeable; see
Magen Avraham, Shulchan Aruch Harav and Pri Megadim 39:1, and Chayei Adam
14:1. See also Beiur Halachah 39:1, who is even more stringent. See also
Shevet ha-Levi 4:54-4.
18. Y.D. 228:3.
19. Since vows which were undertaken during a dream can be annulled only by
ten judges; see Mateh Efrayim and Elef ha-Magen 581:49.
20. Since a court should not be made up of an even number of judges; see
Mishnas Ya'avetz O.C. 53.
21. If not done on erev Rosh Hashanah, it may be done anytime during the
week, even at night (Y.D. 228:3), until Yom Kippur; see Mateh Efrayim
22. This is the custom in Israel and other places. Harav S. Wosner is quoted
(mi-Beis Levi, Tishrei, pg. 18) as dismissing this custom.
23. Y.D. 234:57.
24. Y.D. 228:16.
25. Chayei Adam 138:8; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 128:16.
26. She'arim Metzuyanim b'Halachah 128:24. See Shevet ha-Levi 5:129-3.
Weekly-Halacha, Copyright © 1999 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and
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Rabbi Neustadt is the principal of Yavne
Teachers' College in Cleveland, Ohio. He is also the Magid Shiur of a daily
Mishna Berurah class at Congregation Shomre Shabbos.
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