A set of penitential poems and prayers, Selihot is said in the lead-up to and through Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur; in Sephardi communities, this begins at the beginning of the month of Elul, while in Ashkenazi communities, the Saturday night prior to Rosh Hashana marks the beginning of this time. This service, taking place very late at night is often called Leil Selihot, or Selihot Night.
Literally translated as “forgiveness”, seliha goes hand in hand with teshuvah, often translated as repentance.
One of the core texts of this service is the Thirteen Attributes – verses from the book of Exodus that outline Divine attributes attributed to God. This passage is chanted three times in succession each time the text appears – creating a build of intensity.
In some communities, piyyutim (liturgical poems) are recited early in the morning each day for several weeks leading up to Rosh Hashana. By beginning our day with these penitentiary prayers, the intention is set for daily relational work of seeking forgiveness from one another.