SELIḤAH (plural, Seliḥot):

Originally for the Day of Atonement.

Penitential prayers; perhaps the oldest portion of the synagogal compositions known under the term of Piyyuṭim. The word "seliḥah" (from "salaḥ" = "he forgave") is particularly used in the Hagiographa as meaning "forgiveness"; in the Middle Ages it was employed to designate penitential prayers and invocations for God's clemency and forgiveness. Originally seliḥot were instituted for the Day of Atonement only, the main object of that day's service being to implore God's forgiveness for man's sins; the service itself was called "Seder Seliḥah" (Eliyahu Zuṭa, ch. xxiii.). In the course of time New-Year's Day (Rosh ha-Shanah), being considered as the day of judgment ("yom ha-din"), came to be regarded as the precursor of the Day of Atonement; consequently penitence and supplication for God's mercy were felt to be necessary on that day also. The days intervening between New-Year and the Day of Atonement are therefore known as "penitential days," and together with the two holy days just mentioned are generally called "the ten days of repentance," also "days of awe " ("yamim nora'im"; comp. Ephraim b. Jacob's seliḥah "Ani 'Abdeka"); for these days also penitential prayers were arranged. The recitation of such prayers was then extended to several days before New-Year—on which days even fasting was instituted ("Mordekai," Yoma, No. 723; Aaron of Lunel, "Orḥot Ḥayyim," p. 100d)—and sometimes to the whole month of Elul.

Besides the above-mentioned fast-days several others were instituted (see Fasting and Fast-Days), as the Tenth of Ṭebet, the Thirteenth of Adar (Fast of Esther), the Seventeenth of Tammuz, the Ninth of Ab, and various occasional fast-days in commemoration of epidemics or other calamities (comp. Purims, Special). On these days, according to the Mishnah (Ta'an. ii. 1), the service was opened with an exhortation to repentance, and was consequently suitable for the introduction of penitential prayers or seliḥot.

Originally the synagogal service consisted mainly of Biblical passages selected for the occasion and grouped together (comp. Yer. Ber. v. 1; Soḥah 39b; Massek. Soferim xiv. 8). The term "seliḥot" was applied to such verses for the Day of Atonement by Amram Gaon in his "Siddur" and later by Abudarham (Abudarham, p. 91a). Afterward, when the verses were accompanied by piyyuṭim of a penitential character, the whole was termed "seliḥot," the Biblical verses being termed "pesuḳe riẓẓui seliḥah" (= "verses invoking God's willingness to forgive"; Amram Gaon, "Siddur"), or, by the Karaites, "pesuḳe teshubah" (= "verses of penitence").

"Supplication" Rather than "Forgiveness."

As God is generally styled "Lord of forgiveness and mercies" ("Ba'al ha-seliḥot weha-raḥamim"; comp. Dan. ix. 9), the penitential prayers are called also "raḥamim" or "raḥamaniyyot" (Amram and Saadia in their "Siddurim"; Hai Gaon, Responsa). These terms are applied particularly to the supplications ("baḳḳashot") which depict the sufferings of Israel and to the shorter invocations of God's mercy; and the Biblical verses in these seliḥot are called "pesuḳe de-raḥame" (Tos. to Ber. 5a, Meg. 32a, and 'Ab. Zarah 8a). It may be said, however, that with only one exception (in the seliḥah, beginning "Aromimeka Shem") the authors of penitential piyyuṭim do not refer to their compositions as seliḥot. Forgiveness, which is the real meaning of "seliḥah," comes only from God, while the composition itself is in reality a supplication for forgiveness. It is therefore variously referred to by the authors of seliḥot as "baḳḳashah," "'atirah," "teḥinnah," "taḥanun," and other terms, all meaning "supplication."

With the gradual extension in the course of time of the synagogal service for the Day of Atonement a distribution of the seliḥot became necessary. Those connected with the Ḳerobot were spread over the five services of the Day of Atonement, each of which was now called "ma'amad," a term frequently met with in synagogal poetry, particularly in that of Isaac ibn Ghayyat. The earliest seliḥot, after the Biblical verses were accompanied by penitential compositions, were very simple. One of them, beginning "Mi she-'anah," is mentioned in Ta'an. ii. 2-4 as having been recited in the service of the fast-days, and as having been interpolated in the six benedictions added to the daily eighteen (see Shemoneh 'Esreh). Of the other better-known early seliḥot may be mentioned "El melek yosheb" and "El erek appayim," both being introductions to the thirteen attributes of God (see Middot, Shelosh-'Esreh), and "Shomer Yisrael," which has been incorporated in the daily morning prayer. The fast-days offering an opportunity for the composition of seliḥot in which the people might tell of their misery, confess their sins, and implore God's mercy and love, a poetic seliḥah literature began to develop in the Middle Ages, similar to the Psalm literature of more ancient times. Both the seliḥot and the Psalms treat of exile, oppression, and martyrdom; both contain the people's confession of their sins and repentance; both represent the vanity of life; and both are the creation of several centuries. There is, however, this difference between them: the seliḥot were composed in the metrical style of the surrounding nations—the Syrians, Byzantines, and Arabs—which is entirely lacking in the Psalms.

Earliest Poetic Seliḥot.

The first piyyuṭim, including the poetic seliḥot, were composed probably in the course of the seventh century. The oldest poetic seliḥot are in the form of litanies, consisting of short sentences, sometimes arranged in alphabetical order, and sometimes having terminations evidencing an aṭtempt to rime. From such litanies originated the rimeless seliḥah, composed after the model of the alphabetical Psalms, in sentences of equal length. Sometimes, also, the sentences are subdivided; so that a kind of rhythm prevails throughout the seliḥah. In the course of time the construction of the seliḥot became still more elaborate, as is seen in the one beginning "Attah mebin sarappe leb," in which each division consists of three sections of two sentences each. All the sections of a division begin with the same letter; and the concluding word of one section is the commencing word of the next. A transition to rimed seliḥot now ensuedwhich consisted mostly of three-lined strophes, the third line being generally a Biblical passage. The four-lined strophe of the "ḳerobah" also was adapted to the seliḥah; and many seliḥot of this kind were written as early as the ninth, perhaps even in the eighth, century. The alphabetical seliḥot are composed either in or in order; and here again the concluding word of one strophe is employed to begin the next. In the four-lined strophes, likewise, the fourth is often a Biblical passage; sometimes all the lines of a strophe begin with the same word. Certain seliḥot have no divisions, being simply arranged in alphabetical order; and, like the Arabic "ḳaṣidah," they have one and the same rime throughout the whole composition. This arrangement is met with even in the old penitential prayers, but is most prevalent in the opening seliḥah ("petiḥh"), in the teḥinnah, and in the metrical baḳḳashah. Thus, it may be seen that all the more elaborate characteristics of the piyyuṭim in general, such as division into strophes, connecting words, middle rimes, and variation of Biblical passages, are met with even in the older seliḥot.

Like the other piyyuṭtim, the seliṭot are, according to their poetic arrangenment, called "sheniyyah" (= "of two-lined strophes"), "shelishiyyah" (= "of three-lined strophes"), and "shalmonit" (= "entire"; i.e., of four-lined strophes; Dukes and Zunz, however, explain "shalmonit" as indicating that the composition was written by Solomon b. Judah ha-Babli. This is scarcely probable, as several shalmoniyyot were by other authors; see "Ha-Maggid," ix., No. 36).

The Various Forms.

When, in early times, the term "seliṭot" was applied to the whole body of penitential compositions, including the collection of Biblical verses and prayers written in prose, any poetic penitential composition divided into strophes was called a Pizmon. But in the course of time the appellation "seliṭah" became restricted to poetic penitential compositions, and the term "pizmon" was then applied only to hymns provided with refrains. In the artistic development of the seliṭah the strophes acquired a certain rhythm. Thus in the sheniyyah the lines are seen to be composed either throughout of five words each or of a varying number ranging from three to seven. The sheniyyah is sometimes provided, too, with a middle rime, either only in the first line, as in the seliṭah "Torah ha-ḳedoshah," or in both lines, as in Eleazar of Worms' well-known seliḥah "Maknise raḥamim." Special mention should be made of Isaac b. Yaḳar's sheniyyah "Arid be-siḥi," in which the middle rime occurring in both lines is the same as the final rime. Moreover, the second hemistich begins with the final word of the first. In the shelishiyyah the lines generally consist of three or four words each. But the greatest number of the older seliḥot consist of shalmoniyyot or four-lined strophes, most of which have no final Biblical verse. In the last-mentioned class the number of words is very rarely fixed, generally varying from three to seven. There are, however, some in which the lines consist throughout of three words each, as in Solomon b. Judah's "Omerah la-El," or of four words, as in Judah Leonte b. Moses' "Laḥash ẓaḳun haḳsheb." Generally the four lines of each strophe have the same rime, but sometimes, particularly in the Spanish and Italian seliḥot, they have an alternate and also a middle rime. Certain four-lined pizmonim, such as Samuel ha-Kohen's "Mal'ake raḥamim," have also a common rime for the concluding lines of the strophes. Seliḥot of more than four lines are found only in pizmonim and taḥanunim belonging to the period beginning with Ibn Gabirol. The strophes in such seliḥot have from five to twelve lines each; and in the former case the fifth line of the first strophe, riming with the preceding four lines, becomes the refrain of the whole hymn. It may be added that besides the two alphabetical arrangements mentioned above, other alphabetical combinations, called Gemaṭria (comp. Yer. Ta'an. iii. 10; Pesiḳ. R. 43; Rashi on Isa. vii. 6 and on Pes. 5a), are met with, namely, , and . The word with which the seliḥah begins shows that its selection is due to a certain influence. Thus, owing to the common practise of arranging verses in alphabetical order the seliḥot most frequently begin either with "alef" or with "taw," even when the composition is not arranged alphabetically. Very often also they begin with the same letter as the author's name; many others begin with a Biblical passage; others, again, with one of the names of God. Some of the older seliḥot begin with the concluding word of the preceding one, as if to indicate a continuation.

The Different Classes.

The seliḥot for holy days are historical and haggadic in character, and resemble therefore the ḳerobot and dirges ("ḳinot"). But those composed for the Ten Days of Repentance present a greater variety of material, and are divided into the following categories: exhortations ("tokaḥot"); those dealing with the sacrifice of Isaac ("'aḳedah"); those describing persecutions ("gezerot"); those commemorating the execution of the ten martyrs; and supplications ("teḥinnot"). The tokaḥah originated in the hortatory addresses delivered on the fast-days, warning the people against sin, and consist mainly either of sheniyyot or of shelishiyyot. Many of the latter belong to ancient unknown authors; others, to Solomon b. Judah, Gershom b. Judah Me'or ha-Golah, Simeon b. Isaac, etc. For the sacrifice of Isaac see 'Aḳedah. The gezerot depict in particular those voluntary sacrifices made for the sake of the Jewish religion, and therefore come in close connection with the 'Aḳedah in the service for the Day of Atonement. Such seliḥot originate almost exclusively in France and Germany; and among their authors are found Ephraim b. Jacob of Bonn, David b. Samuel ha-Levi, David b. Meshullam, and Joel ha-Levi; there are also some anonymous seliḥot of this category. The Midrash Eleh Ezkerah, narrating how ten prominent Talmudists suffered martyrdom by order of a Roman emperor, is the basis of seliḥot recited on the Ten Days of Repentance and also on the Ninth of Ab (see Martyrs, the Ten). These compositions are called "Seliḥot 'Asarah Haruge Malkut," their authors including Saadia Gaon (the earliest), Eliezer b. Nathan, and Ephraim b. Jacob of Bonn. Of this class there arealso three anonymous seliḥot, in which there is a disagreement both with regard to the names of the ten martyrs and the cause of their martyrdom.

Authors of Seliḥot.

Of the seliḥah-composers that lived before Hai Gaon, only three are known: Jose b. Jose (end of 6th cent.), supposed to be the author of the seliḥah "Omnam ashamenu," recited in the evening service for the Day of Atonement; Saadia Gaon, who in his "Siddur" added his own compositions to the seliḥot of earlier payyeṭanim; and Meborak b. Nathan (a contemporary of Saadia), among whose seliḥot is one beginning "Maddua' narim rosh," recited also in the evening service for the Day of Atonement. About the beginning of the eleventh century seliḥot of all kinds and in increasing numbers were composed in Greece, Italy, France (including Provence), and Spain, and about half a century later, Germany. The earliest composer of that period was Solomon b. Judah ha-Babli, of whose seliḥot almost all are of four-lined strophes or shalmoniyyot. A junior contemporary of Solomon was Shephatiah b. Amittai, author of the well-known pizmon "Yisrael nosha`"; and a generation later flourished Gershom b. Judah Me'or ha-Golah, author of seliḥot of different forms, and his countryman Simeon b. Isaac b. Abun, among whose numerous piyyuṭim are twenty-four seliḥot. But the most prolific seliḥah-composer of the eleventh century was Benjamin b. Zerah, author of forty seliḥot found in the Maḥzor of the German rite. Toward the end of the eleventh century seliḥot were composed by the following: Rashi, some with Biblical and some with haggadic phrases; Meïr b. Samuel, Rashi's son-in-law; Meïr b. Isaac of Orleans; Amittai b. Shephatiah; and Zebadiah.

The earliest of the German seliḥah-composers of that epoch was Meïr b. Isaac b. Samuel of Worms (c. 1060), an eminent Talmudist, who presented Biblical subjects in the Talmudic style. His contemporary Isaac b. Moses ha-Makiri was the author of two seliḥot, in one of which, like Benjamin b. Zerah, he artistically interwove the Twenty-two Lettered Name. In the eleventh century Rome, too, produced skilful seliḥah-composers, among the earliest of whom were Shabbethai b. Moses (c. 1050); his son Kalonymus, who soon after 1070 was called to Worms; and Jehiel b. Abraham, probably the father of Nathan b. Jehiel, author of the "'Aruk." Seliḥah-composers of the first half of the twelfth century whose native country can not be ascertained are: Elijah b. Shemaiah; several authors named Moses; Samuel b. Judah; Samuel b. Isaac; Isaac ha-Kohen he-Ḥaber, author of the rimeless seliḥah beginning "Adon be-foḳdeka"; Benjamin b. , author of two seliḥot; and a certain Joseph, author of three. Of the most prominent German seliḥah-writers of the twelfth century may be mentioned the following: Eliezer b. Nathan, who described the horrors of the Crusades in 1096 and 1146; Moses b. Samuel; Joel b. Isaac ha-Levi; Abraham b. Samuel of Speyer; Ephraim b. Isaac of Regensburg; and Ephraim b. Jacob of Bonn. Indeed, the twelfth century was particularly favorable for seliḥah-composition owing to the cruelties of the Crusades. One of the most prolific German seliḥah-composers of the end of the twelfth century and the beginning of the thirteenth was Eleazar b. Judah of Worms, who lost his family in one of the Crusades (1193 or 1196 or 1214), and who composed no less than thirty-five seliḥot, some of which are alphabetically arranged, and all of which begin with "alef." Moreover, a great many of the anonymous seliḥot belong to this century, which is therefore considered the golden epoch of the piyyuṭ in general and of the seliḥah in particular.

More elaborate are the penitential prayers of the Spanish liturgists from the beginning of the eleventh century. These writers, occupying themselves with Hebrew grammar and following the Arabic poets, adopted instead of the piyyuṭic the poetic style proper. They introduced meter into the seliḥah; and Solomon ibn Gabirol's pizmon "She'eh ne'esar," recited on the Seventeenth of Tammuz, is a real poem. Scarcely less poetic are the seliḥot of Ibn Gabirol's junior contemporary Isaac ibn Ghayyat. In the twelfth century the most prolific Spanish composers of poetic seliḥot were Moses ibn Ezra (the "Sallaḥ," or composer of seliḥot), and Judah ha-Levi; and these were followed as models by later payyeṭanim in Italy and in Provence and the rest of France.

During the period extending from 1240 to 1350 the poetic spirit declined even in Spain, owing to the study of the speculative sciences which absorbed the Jewish mind. Still there was at that time a considerable number of payyeṭanim; and in Germany they were almost exclusively seliḥah-composers. The most active centers of seliḥah-composition at that time were Rome and Greece; and many Karaites were among those who wrote seliḥot in those countries. The most noteworthy composers of the period in question were Meïr of Rothenburg; Benjamin b. Abraham Anaw, in Rome, who skilfully imitated the Spanish pizmon and "mustajab"; Isaac b. Meshullam; Immanuel b. Solomon of Rome; and Judah b. Shemariah.

Seliḥah Poets, 1350-1540.

In the two centuries between 1350 and 1540 the composition of synagogal poetry was confined almost exclusively to southern countries. The seliḥot of that period were not always called forth by certain events or by the poetic impulse of their authors. Certain composers wrote seliḥot in which they gave expression to their personal sufferings, adapting their utterances to the theological teachings of the time, that is to say, either of the Zohar or of the "Moreh." About 1400 many penitential hymns were composed as the result of rivalry between pairs of liturgists who, choosing the same Biblical subject, employed different Biblical words for the termination of the seliḥahstrophes. Among such competitors may be mentioned Nissim and Abraham ha-Levi in Provence, Elkanah b. Shemariah and Samuel b. Shabbethai, as well as Caleb and Moses Ḥazzan in Greece. Throughout this period many sanguinary persecutions occurred; and especially cruel were those of the fourteenth century. Abigdor Ḳara, in a seliḥah beginning "El neḳamot," describes the massacres of Prague in 1389.

Page from a Manuscript Seliḥah of the Fifteenth Century.(From the Sulzberger collection in the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, New York.)

From what has been said it will be seen that during these four centuries there is a difference in the seliḥot of the payyeṭanim of Spain and those composed in other countries. The motive that prompted seliḥah-composition was everywhere the same, namely, persecution; but in Spain in the eleventh and twelfth centuries besides this motive there was a poetic impulse as well. The difference, too, is seen in the number as well as in the character of the seliḥot; for, while 1,200 of them were composed in France, Italy, Greece, and Germany, by about 250 authors, no less than 1,000 piyyuṭim, among which were many seliḥot, were composed by the five Spanish poets Solomon ibn Gabirol, Isaac ibn Ghayyat, Moses ibn Ezra, Judah ha-Levi, and Abraham ibn Ezra. It may be added that only some of these composers are known also as teachers, rabbinical authors, or cantors, while in the case of most of them the names are known only through their compositions.

Seliḥah-Authors, 1540-1750.

In the middle of the sixteenth century the standard rituals of both the Ashkenazim and the Sephardim were fixed. Thus, although the following two centuries (1540-1750), owing to their many persecutions and massacres, produced a considerable number of composers of seliḥot, these compositions were either not adopted at all for the synagogal service or were adopted only in their respective countries and only for special days. Of the Italian, German, and Polish composers of the first of these two centuries may be mentioned the following: Samuel Archevolti in Padua; Eliezer b. Elijah (d. 1586), who removed from Egypt to Bohemia and thence to Poland; Akiba b. Jacob (d. 1597) in Frankfort-on-the-Main; Moses Mordecai Margolioth (d. 1616) in Cracow; and Samuel Edels (Ma-HaRSHA) in Posen, the last two being composers of seliḥot commemorating the martyrs of 1596. In the period between 1640 and 1750 the Thirty Years' war and the massacres of the Jews under Chmielnicki led to the composition of the earliest seliḥot; the sufferings caused by the Thirty Years' war being described in seliḥot by Samson Bacharach of Prague and by an unnamed payyeṭan in Kremsier, while the horrors committed by the Cossacks in Nemirov, the Ukraine, and Poland are commemorated by Yom-Ṭob Lipmann Heller, Shabbethai ha-Kohen (SHaK), Moses Cohen, Scheftel Horwitz, Joseph of Gnesen, and Gabriel b. Heschel. The seliḥot of Shabbethai ha-Kohen have been adopted by the Polish communities, which recite them on the Twentieth of Siwan. Later sufferings in Poland are commemorated in seliḥot by Wolf b. Löb and Joseph b. Uri, both of whom flourished at the end of the seventeenth century. Of other seliḥah-composers may be mentioned: Abraham Auerbach in Cösfeld (1674), Aaron b. Eliezer, Naphtali ha-Kohen (d. 1717), Samuel b. Moses of Lithuania, and Jacob b. Isaac of Posen. Among the Italian seliḥah-writers were: Joseph Ravenna, Moses Zacuto, Solomon Nizza (1700), and Isaac Pacifico (d. 1746); and among the best-known German seliḥah-composers were: Samuel Schotten, David Oppenheimer, Jacob London (1730), and Lemel Levi, who, at the siege of Glogau (1741), composed a baḳḳashah in four-versed strophes. At that time there was in Amsterdam Abraham Hezekiah Bashan, who composed a rimed teḥinnah for the Ten Days of Repentance. The latest seliḥah-composer seems to have been a certain Moses who, driven from Russia about this time, settled in the Crimea.

The composition of many of the later seliḥot was due to causes other than persecutions. Thus, when societies for early devotion ("shomerim la-boḳer") were formed, the necessity for special prayers was felt; and seliḥot were composed for such occasions. Moreover, epidemic diseases, drought, fires, and wars gave rise to seliḥot supplicating God's mercy and the intervention of angels.

Among Sephardim and Ashkenazim.

The main divisions of the seliḥot are two, Sephardic and Ashkenazic, each of which presents various local differences. These two divisions differ from each other with regard to (1) the number of the seliḥah days (the Sephardim having the larger), (2) the nature of the seliḥot, and (3) their arrangement. The Sephardic collection is the older. In the time of Amram Gaon, as appears from his "Siddur," seliḥot were composed for all the fast-days, including the Ninth of Ab, on which day the Ashkenazim recite only ḳinot (see Ḳinah). But even in Amram's time the practise differed in certain communities with regard to the introductory seliḥah, which in some places was "Lo be-ḥesed we-lo be-ma'asim banu le-faneka," in others "Atanu 'al shimka" or "Abinu malkenu abinu attah." Each of these introductory seliḥot was common to all the fast-days, and after it special seliḥot appropriate to the occasion were recited. In Amram's time the seliḥot were recited in the middle of the sixth prayer of the "Shemoneh 'Esreh"; later they were transferred to its end. Except at Ferrara, this is now the custom observed by both the Sephardim and the Ashkenazim (Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 566, 4).

The Sephardic collection contains seliḥot (1) for the Ten Days of Repentance, which, like the Ashkenazic seliḥot for those days, are generally printed separately; (2) for New-Year and the Day of Atonement, which are incorporated in the Sephardic Maḥzor; and (3) for public fast-days, which are published in the ritual. The recital of seliḥot for the penitential days begins, according to Hai Gaon, on the first day of Elul, as is the custom in Yemen and Venice. In certain places, however, they are first recited on the fifteenth of the same month, while in others again they are recited only on the days between New-Year and the Day of Atonement. Unlike the seliḥot for the public fast-days, these are recited before dawn, that is to say, in the last nightwatch; they are therefore called "Seder ashmoret ha-boḳer."

Besides the penitential prayers which are common to all days on which seliḥot are recited, such as the introductory seliḥot and the thirteen attributes of God, with their two introductions, there are two or more special seliḥot for each week-day as well as for each of the days between New-Year and the Day of Atonement. On New-Year the Sephardim recite only a few seliḥot, namely, one beginning "Elohai al tedineni," before Nishmat, a pizmon after the "Shaḥarit" prayer—that for the first day beginning "Le-ma'anka Elohai" and composed by David ibn Paḳuda, and that for the second day beginning"Ya'aneh be-bor abot"—and a long pizmon beginning "'Et sha'are raẓon le-hippateaḥ," before the blowing of the shofar. On the Day of Atonement seliḥot consisting of confessions ("widduyim") and pizmonim are recited in all the five services.

The seliḥot for public fast-days consist of those arranged for the five universal fast-days, namely, the Third of Tishri (Fast of Gedaliah), the Tenth of Ṭebet, the Thirteenth of Adar (Fast of Esther), the Seventeenth of Tammuz, and the Ninth of Ab, and those compiled for the Minḥah service of these five days and for that of the eve of New Moon. At the morning service of each of the five fast-days there are recited, besides the ordinary seliḥot, two or three special ones and a pizmon. The Minḥah service has one compilation for all the five days and another for the twelve eves of New Moon. Both compilations begin with the seliḥah "Shema' ḳoli," which opens the Minḥah service, except on the eve of New-Year, when the service is opened with the seliḥah beginning "Elohai al tedineni." The morning service of the Ninth of Ab has comparatively few seliḥot, their place being occupied by ḳinot. It may be said that in Saadia's "Siddur" all the piyyuṭim recited on the Ninth of Ab are termed seliḥot, though in reality many of them are dirges. Some seliḥot are recited by the Sephardim on the seventh day of the Feast of Tabernacles (Hosha'na Rabbah) also, this day being considered one of the penitential days.

Development of Seliḥot.

As stated above, the Sephardic seliḥot differ according to the localities in which they are employed; consequently seliḥah collections based on the customs of the Sephardic communities of Yemen, Tripoli, Venice, and other places are met with. As already mentioned, Amram's "Siddur" indicates differences of practise concerning the introductory seliḥah. Later on, with the development of the seliḥot literature, these local differences became still more marked, each community choosing certain seliḥot and deciding the method of arrangement. The differences extend also to the grouping of the Biblical verses to which the poetic seliḥot are attached. Some examples may be given here. The Tripolitan collection has for every seliḥah morning eleven seliḥot, different for each day, and beginning with a "petiḥah" and terminating with a "ḥaṭanu." On the days which precede New-Year special closing seliḥot, mostly by Isaac ibn Ghayyat, are recited. There are also seliḥot for the Sabbath service of the Ten Days of Repentance. The seliḥah collection of Oran and Tlemçen has six seliḥot for each of the twenty-five seliḥah nights, the services for which are always opened and in most cases closed by Isaac ibn Ghayyat's compositions. A manuscript collection of African seliḥot (Neubauer, "Cat. Bodl. Hebr. MSS." No. 1162) contains 391 for twenty-six seliḥah nights preceding and six nights following New-Year, the numbers for each night varying from nine to nineteen. The Tripolitan seliḥah collection consists chiefly of Isaac ibn Ghayyat's compositions, the remainder being by Solomon ibn Gabirol, Judah ha-Levi, Moses Ḳimḥi, and David ibn Paḳuda.

For Yom Kippur ḳaṭon.

The Ashkenazic seliḥah division comprises: seliḥot for the penitential days, generally published separately under the title "Seder Seliḥot" or simply "Seliḥot"; those for the services of the Day of Atonement, generally incorporated in the Maḥzor; and those for the public fast-days together with the occasional seliḥot, all incorporated in the prayer-books. The recitation of the main Ashkenazic seliḥot for the penitential days begins on the Sunday before New-Year, or, if the first day of the latter falls on Monday or Tuesday, on the Sunday of the preceding week. Thus the number of the seliḥah days before New-Year varies from four to eight; each of these days has special seliḥot assigned to it, as has also, in all cases, the eve of New-Year. The number of seliḥot for the New-Year Day is considerably larger than that for the other penitential days. Then follow the seliḥot for the six days (excepting Sabbath) between New-Year and the Day of Atonement, beginning with the Fast of Gedaliah and terminating with the eve of the Day of Atonement. All the seliḥot of the penitential days, including those of the Fast of Gedaliah, are recited by the Ashkenazim before dawn. The seliḥot compiled for the public fast-days include those arranged for Monday, Thursday, and Monday following the feasts of Passover and Tabernacles, and those arranged for the three obligatory fast-days, the Tenth of Ṭebet, the Thirteenth of Adar (Fast of Esther), and the Seventeenth of Tammuz. It should be stated that the seliḥot of Monday, Thursday, and Monday are recited only if there are ten men of the congregation fasting. Like the Sephardic Minḥah seliḥot for every eve of New Moon, some Ashkenazic siddurim include a compilation of seliḥot entitled "Yom Kippur Ḳaṭon." These are taken from other seliḥah collections and used to be recited each month in the Minḥah service of the eve of New Moon, if the quorum of fasters was present. This custom, however, has become almost obsolete, the seliḥot being recited only on the eve of the New Moon of Elul. It has been remarked above that the seliḥot for the Ninth of Ab were later superseded in the Ashkenazic rite by ḳinot. In Germany, Poland, and Italy this change was made as early as the thirteenth century; but in the siddurim of Provence and Avignon some traces of seliḥot for that fast-day still remain. Like the Sephardic seliḥot, those of the Ashkenazic rite differ in various countries with regard to selection, number, and arrangement. Thus, while in Germany, Lithuania, and Poland the number recited on the eve of New-Year is considerably greater than that on the eve of the Day of Atonement, the contrary is the case at Avignon and Carpentras. Again, a difference between the two latter communities exists with regard to the selection and number of the seliḥot. Moreover, special seliḥot are recited on special days in various places in commemoration of certain mournful local events. The best known of the local seliḥah days are: Nisan 1, at Erfurt; Nisan 23, at Cologne and some other places, in commemoration of the massacres of 1147; Iyyar 23, at Worms; Siwan 20, in France, England, and the Rhine provinces, in commemoration of the martyrs of Blois in 1171; the same date, in Poland since the Chmielnicki massacres (1649); Ṭebet 29, atWorms; Adar 2, at Prague, in commemoration of the troubles of 1611; and Adar 29, at Nuremberg and Fürth. A seliḥah composed by Shabbethai Sofer in 1630, to be recited by the community of Przemysl on the eve of the New Moon of Nisan, has recently been discovered and has been published in "Ha-Shaḥar" (ii. 157). It consists of four-lined strophes and is arranged alphabetically; it relates a sanguinary event which befell the community of Przemysl, and describes the martyrdom of some Jewish families.

For Special Occasions.

There are special seliḥot for the members of the Ḥebra Ḳaddisha, the established day for the recital of which is generally the fifteenth of Kislew, although different communities have different arrangements. For example, the seliḥot for the ḥebra ḳaddisha of Halberstadt differ from those for the Frankfort-on-the-Main society; the Lemberg ḥebra recites its special seliḥot on the Thursday of Shemot, while that of Cracow recites its own seliḥot on the Monday of the same week. In certain places seliḥot are recited on Mondays and Thursdays of Shemot, Wa'era, Bo, Beshallaḥ, Yitro, Mishpaṭim, Terumah, and Teẓawweh (), in a leap-year. These seliḥot were first recited in Austria, Moravia, and Bohemia; and since 1639 they have been used in Lublin also. In the Nuremberg seliḥah collection also there are seliḥot for ; they are recited on Thursdays only. The Italian communities recite seliḥot, composed by Moses Zacuto, in the Minḥah services of the first six weekly lessons () only. The Nuremberg collection contains, besides, special seliḥot for recitation on the eves of the New Moons of Nisan and Ab, respectively; others for circumcision when this ceremony falls on a seliḥah day; and still others, composed by Simeon b. Zalman Fischhoff of Vienna, for recitation when the smallpox is raging.

The earliest seliḥah edition is that according to the Roman ritual (Soncino, 1487), the next oldest being that of the community of Prague (Prague, 1529). Then follows the seliḥah edition of the German order, edited by Meïr Katzenellenbogen of Padua (Heddernheim, 1546). Two years later there appeared at Venice the same seliḥah collection, with a commentary on the difficult words. The collection of the Polish rite, with a full commentary by Mordecai Mardus, was published at Cracow in 1584, and in 1597 that of the German rite, with a commentary by the same author, appeared in Prague. A German translation of the Polish seliḥot, made by Jacob b. Elijah ha-Levi, was published at Frankfort-on-the-Oder, 1602. In 1671 there were published in the same place the seliḥot of both the German and Polish rites, with a German translation. At Amsterdam in 1688 Eliakim b. Jacob published a Judæo-German translation of the Ashkenazic seliḥot for the whole year, that is to say, of those that are printed in the "Siddur." Thirty years later those for the penitential days, with a Judæo-German translation by Eliakim, appeared in the same city.

  • Dukes, Zur Kenntniss der Neuhebräischen Religiösen Poesie, pp. 32 et seq.;
  • Steinschneider, Jewish Literature, pp. 158, 340 et seq.;
  • Zunz, S. P. pp. 59-363;
  • idem, Ritus, passim;
  • idem, Literaturgesch, passim.
  • For editions and translations see Benjacob, Oẓar ha-Sefarim, pp. 420 et seq.;
  • Steinschneider, Cat. Bodl. cols. 430 et seq.
W. B. M. Sel.—Music:

The more antique the traditional melody, the more ancient, as a general rule, the section of the liturgy in connection with which it has been handed down. Thus the reading of the Scriptures, the earliest devotional exercise of the Synagogue, is in all the various groups of rituals (see Liturgy) framed on the musical theory of the first few centuries of the common era, and presents the form of Cantillation, founded on an elementary notation by neumes or accents, in which the music of antiquity was cast. The free improvisation, again, on a fixed traditional model, to which the next oldest section of the devotions, the "'Amidah" and the blessings centering around the "Shema'," is intoned, is cast in scales (comp. Jew. Encyc. ix. 122, s.v. Music, Synagogal) nearer to those employed in the plain-song of the Catholic Church and the Perso-Arab melody, and developed in the period from the seventh to the eleventh century; while it exhibits a form of song equally late (comp. Gevaert, "Origines du Chant Liturgique de l'Eglise Latine," p. 30, Ghent, 1890), and still flourishing in Mediterranean regions and in India (comp. Day, "The Music of Southern India," s.v. "Raga," London, 1894; Gevaert, "Histoire et Théorie de la Musique de l'Antiquité," ii. 316). But when, later on, the ancient propitiatory prayer for the fast-days (Ta'an. 16b) developed into the seliḥah (see above) and the liturgy of penance took its shape as a complete service (comp. Zunz, "Ritus," pp. 120 et seq.), the ḥazzan's intonation of that service, termed collectively "seliḥot," exhibited still later musical elements, being based on scales more closely agreeing with those of post-medieval Western melody and shaped on its more rhythmic and mensural forms.

Later Origins.

While, too, agreement between the various northern or southern rituals is complete in the method and style, as in the matter, of the cantillation, and is approximated in the recitation, as in the diction, of the older benedictions and prayers, a wide divergence is at once observable in the melody as in the text of the penitential rituals containing the seliḥot, the main point of contact being the imitation of such non-Jewish airs as possess a strain of melancholy (comp. Menahem de Lonzano, "Shte Yadot," p. 65b). The first presentation in the synagogue of the liturgical melodies of the fast-days, therefore, may be assigned to between the tenth and the fifteenth century; and their prevailing wail of grief, even more noticeable than the note of contrition, voices the melancholy experiences of Jewry during that period. Their especial transmission by the line of the so-called Polish precentors has led some to enlarge on their resemblance, in this expression of sadness, to the airs redolent of gloom and despair favored by the peasantry of Slavonic and other east-European regions. The melancholy and grief, however, are but natural expressions of penance; and the minor mode is as noticeable in the German or in the Spanish tradition.

Divergence in Rituals.

The central feature of the seliḥot is the proclamation of the thirteen attributes of mercy (Ex. xxxiv.6-7; see Middot, Shelosh-'Esreh) with the prayer introducing them. This is normally recited after each seliḥah-hymn, and so in the Spanish rite is uttered as many as twenty-six times in the Atonement services. Reform congregations usually now limit its utterance to once in each service. With the Sephardim, also, it is followed by a flourish on the Shofar during the week-days from the 3d to the 9th of Tishri (i.e., the "ten days of penitence"), recalling the similar practise of the Talmudical period (Ta'an. ii. 1). Other features common to all the rituals are the extensive quotation of selected texts, the prayer of contrition and the short confession Ashamnu, and the ancient concluding summaries, as that in alphabetical acrostic, with the form "Answer us, A, B, C, etc., answer us," or the Aramaic prayer reproducing that outlined in the Talmud (ib.) in Hebrew. Otherwise the rituals differ extensively, more particularly in the selection and even in the ranking of the medieval hymns of penitence. These poems, indeed, constitute the difference within the wider uses, as between the Bohemian (and Polish and English) and the German (and Dutch) orders. In these two orders the seliḥot are recited during the week preceding the New-Year and between it and the Day of Atonement. In the Sephardic ritual they are read on forty days, from the 2d of Elul to the Day of Atonement (in allusion to Deut. ix. 18).

In the Ashkenazic use the seliḥot service is of two types: (1) A longer order, recited at early morning on the days mentioned, before and after the New-Year, as well as in the "Kol Nidre" service on the evening of Atonement, forms a quasi-independent service by itself. (2) An abbreviated order, in the morning, additional, and afternoon services of Atonement, and in the morning service of the fasts of Monday, Thursday, and Monday after Passover and Tabernacles (see Fasting), the Tenth of Ṭebet, the Thirteenth of Adar, and the Seventeenth of Tammuz, is inserted in the repetition of the "'Amidah." The longer order itself commences with an antiphonal series of Scriptural texts, strung together in compliance with R. Simlai's dictum that praise should precede prayer, and associated in the Talmud with the passage Ex. xxxii., read on fast-days (Ber. 23a). These versicles are intoned to a melodious and interesting chant (A in the music herewith), a slight variation of which (B) forms the beautiful melody which closes the intonation.


The thirteen attributes are customarily proclaimed without definite melody by the assembly. But the versicles (modified from Ps. lxxxvi. 6, v. 3, ciii. 13, xx. 10, etc.) which follow them lead on in the Polish ritual, after the introduction, to the prayer of Moses (Num. xiv. 19-20) and its response, from which the seliḥot derive their title; and this is usually chanted to a florid melody of the fifteenth or sixteenth century, founded on the general intonation of the penitential evening service, and quoted from its most important position as ushering in the Day of Atonement after the proclamation of Kol Nidre.


In modern days the tradition has been received of reading each seliḥah in an undertone, the conclusion being marked by the ḥazzan's singing of the last stanza to the general penitential melody. The sole exceptions to this custom, which otherwise covers every metrical and subject form of seliḥah, are the Pizmon or chief and last hymn in each service, and some few hymns in the Atonement services (see Ne'ilah; Omnam Ken). Of the pizmon hymns, a number possess characteristic melodies of their own, as, for example, Adonai, Adonai; Bemoẓa'E Menuḥah; Ne'ilah; She'eh Ne'esar; Shofeṭ Kol ha-Areẓ; Yisrael Nosha'; Zekor Berit. But where no such musical tradition prevails, the pizmon is chanted at length to the melody of the concluding verse of ordinary seliḥlot, which also ushers in the abbreviated order and leads up to the congregational proclamation of the "Middot" as well. It may be considered the general seliḥah-chant, and seems to date in its present form from the fifteenth century. But its final phrase, which serves as a congregational response on the Day of Atonement, appears to be much more ancient. It is precisely the intonation and mediation of the second tone ("alter tristibus aptus") of the Gregorian psalmody, with this "mediation" treated as an "ending" in the sixth tone ("sextus lachrymatur et plorat"). The initial portion of the chant also exhibits the tonality ofthis second tone (from the fourth below to the fifth above D, reciting on F), and points to an earlier medieval imitation of the Church plain-song in some Rhenish synagogue (comp. Kol nidre).

A prayer commencing "Zekor" (Remember) follows the last seliḥah, based on the consolatory promises of Scripture and quoting the text in each case. It is recited by the ḥazzan in a sad chant of ever-increasing intensity, which rises to a climax when the concluding prayer (v. 21) of Lamentations is recited to the affecting melody here quoted, and leads into the confession of faith, Ashamnu.


The Sephardic ritual is not characterized by such a regular change of hymns as are the seliḥot of the Ashkenazim; and the melodies, likewise, are more constant and invariable after the opening hymn (Anna Beḳorenu; Adonai Beḳol Shofar; Yah Shema'). But they are characteristic, and, like so very many other airs of the Sephardic tradition, give evidence of their Peninsular origin. In some of the phrases sung, as in the "Shema'Yisrael," etc., which is repeated in the Atonement seliḥot, there is an essential resemblance to ancient musical sentences of the Ashkenazic tradition (comp. Ne'ilah), whose general seliḥah chant is also reproduced to some extent. Compare the Amsterdam tradition (E) in the preceding antiphony with C in the transcription of the seliḥah chant, and the Leghorn tradition (F) with D there shown.

The Sephardic recitation of Scriptural verses is calmer and more chant-like than the Ashkenazic, if only because so much more falls to the congregants, as compared with the precentor, in the former tradition. The more emphatic of these texts are, however, chanted first by the ḥazzan and antiphonally repeated by the congregation, and the concluding verse from Lamentations likewise, in the southern use, closes as climax the central section of the seliḥot.

Repeatedly employed, as the general chant is in the Ashkenazic use, and similarly utilized, is a more formal melody, in which the first strain is repeated as often as the length of the hymn or prayer necessitates, and the second strain ends, with a longdrawn wail.

  • A. Baer, Ba'al Tefillah, Nos. 1307-1361, 1411-1426, 1451-1453, 1462-1465, Göteborg, 1877, and Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1883;
  • Cohen and Davis, The Voice of Prayer and Praise, Nos. 243-256, 265, 273-274, 276-277, London, 1899;
  • Jessurun, Book of Prayer of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews, vol. iii., Appendix, London, 1904.