Selichos: Selected Halachos
Question: May the Selichos prayer be recited at night before going to sleep
or must it be recited only upon awakening in the morning?
Discussion: Ideally, Selichos should be said at the end of the night,
since that is an eis ratzon, a “time of appeasement.” But it is permitted to
recite Selichos anytime from midnight on. Before midnight it is
prohibited to recite Selichos. Under extenuating circumstances—if one
cannot recite Selichos at any other time—Selichos (without nefilas apayim
) may be recited once a third of the night has passed. But this leniency
should not be relied upon on a regular basis.
Question: Must Birchos ha-shachar be recited before Selichos ?
Discussion: Birchos ha-Torah should be recited before Selichos. The
other blessings need not be recited before Selichos, but may be recited then
even though it is before alos ha-shachar. [If Al netilas yadayim is
recited before Selichos—as recommended by some poskim—one should be sure
not to repeat it after Selichos from force of habit.]
Question: Are women obligated to recite Selichos?
Discussion: 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
omitted. 2) The 13 midos are omitted. 3) Machei u'masei (recited
towards the end of the Selichos) and any other segment which is in Aramaic
When reciting Selichos with a minyan, an individual who falls behind may
still recite the Aramaic segments until the final Kaddish after Selichos is
Erev Rosh Hashanah
Question: Is a person who was accustomed to fast on erev Rosh Hashanah
obligated to continue fasting year in year out even if he is no longer as
robust as he once was?
Discussion: The Shulchan Aruch writes that it has become customary to fast
(until chatzos ) on erev Rosh Hashanah. Many men, 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
- If the custom was accepted initially as a lifelong commitment, one
must annul his vow in front of beis din.
- 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 beli 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 without making the beli
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. 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.” Several poskim rule that this
declaration covers any proper custom that was undertaken without a beli
Question: Can anyone be a member of the court for the purpose of annulment
of vows (hataras nedarim)?
Discussion: Any adult male can be a member of the court, even if he is
related to the other members or to the petitioner.
Three judges suffice for hataras nedarim. Some poskim prefer ten or
eleven judges, but it has become customary to have only three.
Question: Must women officially annul their vows on erev Rosh Hashanah?
Discussion: Hataras nedarim on erev Rosh Hashanah, 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. 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 married woman who has a specific vow that she must annul (and does not
wish to appoint her husband as her emissary) 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.
A daughter cannot appoint her father [or anyone else] to petition the court
on her behalf.
For the annulment to be valid, the petitioner and the members of the court
must understand exactly what is being said. A person who does not understand
the published Hebrew text should annul his vows in his native language.
Minors, even a boy over the age of twelve and a girl over eleven, need not
perform hataras nedarim.
1. O.C. 581:1 and Mishnah Berurah.
2. It is also permitted to begin the Selichos before midnight as long as
the Thirteen Middos are said after midnight; Halichos Shelomo 2:1, Devar
3. Mishnah Berurah 565:12. One who finds himself in a shul where Selichos
are being recited before midnight should not recite the Thirteen Middos
along with the congregation; Sha’arei Teshuvah 581:1 quoting Birkei Yosef.
4. O.C. 131:3.
5. Igros Moshe, O.C. 2:105. See Yechaveh Da’as 1:46, who advises reciting
Selichos before Minchah as the better alternative.
6. Mishnah Berurah 46:27.
7. Rama, O.C. 47:13. Asher nassan la-sechvi binah should l'chatchilah not
be recited before alos ha-shachar; Mishnah Berurah 31
8. 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.
9. Be’er Heitev 565:6; Mateh Efrayim 581:21; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 128:9.
10. 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 to chant them to any melody, as long as it is different from
the melody used in davening.
11. Mateh Efrayim 581:21; Mishnah Berurah 581:4..
12. Halichos Shelomo 2:1-4.
13. 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.
14. Once chatzos arrives, there is no requirement to daven Minchah first;
Elef ha-Magen 581:73, quoting Shealas Ya’avetz 2:147.
15. O.C. 581:2.
16. And some women; see Mishnah Berurah 581:16.
17. See Teshuvos Ohr ha-Meir 75 (Rav 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.
18. Y.D. 214:1. See Igros Moshe, Y.D. 1:47.
19. Salmas Chayim 2:38; Minchas Shelomo 1:91-20; Yabia Omer 2:30, 4:11-9.
[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.]
20. See Rav Akiva Eiger and Pischei Teshuvah, Y.D. 228:3. [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 ha-Rav and Pri Megadim, O.C. 39:1, and Chayei Adam 14:1. See also
Beiur Halachah 39:1, who is even more stringent.]
21. Y.D. 228:3.
22. Since vows which were undertaken during a dream can be annulled only
by ten judges; see Mateh Efrayim and Elef ha-Magen 581:49.
23. Since a court should not be made up of an even number of judges; see
Mishnas Ya'avetz, O.C. 53.
24. 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 581:49.
25. Halichos Shelomo 2:1-10.
26. Although this is customary in many places, Rav S. Wosner is quoted
(mi-Beis Levi, Tishrei, pg. 18) as dismissing this custom.
27. Teshuvos v’Hanhagos 1:338; Yabia Omer 2:30.
28. Y.D. 234:57.
29. Y.D. 228:16.
30. Chayei Adam 138:8; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 128:16.
31. She'arim Metzuyanim b'Halachah 128:24. See Shevet ha-Levi 5:129-3.
Weekly-Halacha, Text Copyright © 2011 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and Torah.org.
Rabbi Neustadt is the Yoshev Rosh of the Vaad Harabbonim of Detroit and the Av Beis Din of the Beis Din Tzedek of Detroit. He could be reached at email@example.com