Selected Halachos relating to Parshas Nitzavim-Vayelech: Selichos-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.
I"You are standing today, all of you..." (29:9)
SELICHOS AND EREV ROSH HASHANA:
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
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 any time from midnight
on. Before midnight it is prohibited to recite selichos(2).
Under extenuating circumstances - if one can not 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 regular basis.
QUESTION: MUST BIRCHOS HASHACHAR 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 hashachar(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, the words
Zechor lanu hayom bris shlosh esrei are omitted(7). 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 [a half day] ON EREV ROSH
HASHANA IN THE PAST, CONTINUE TO DO SO EVERY YEAR(10)?
Answer: 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 be matir neder (annul his vow).
If the custom was accepted initially on a year by year basis, no
hatoras nedorim 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 bli neder
stipulation, automatically becomes a neder and may not be
dropped without hatoras nedorim.
[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 hatoras
nedorim. People who adopt even "simple" customs in which they
are otherwise not obligated, like reciting Tehilim daily or
studying the daf yomi, without making the bli neder stipulation,
require hatoras nedorim should they decide to discontinue their
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 hatoras
nedorim(14). For instance, a person who ate cholov yisroel
butter only because he though 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 hatoras nedorim 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 beli neder(15).
QUESTION: CAN ANYONE BE A MEMBER OF THE COURT FOR THE PURPOSE OF
ANNULMENT OF VOWS (hatoras nedorim)?
Answer: Any male adult(16) can be a member of the court, even if
he is related to the other members or to the petitioner(17).
Three judges suffice for hatoras nedorim. Some poskim prefer
ten judges(18) and some insist on eleven(19), but it has become
customary to have only three.
QUESTION: MUST WOMEN PARTICIPATE IN THE PROCESS OF HATORAS
Answer: Hatoras nedorim on Erev Rosh Hashanah(20), 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 people are accustomed to petition the court to annul their
wife's vows at the time that they annul their own(21). The wife
need not expressly appoint her husband to annul her vows(22).
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).
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 Yechave 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 that asher nossan
lasechvi binah should l'chatchilah not be recited before alos
6. Sha'arei Teshuvah 6:5; Aruch ha-Shulchan 4:5; 6:10. Chayei
Adam 7:6 and Mishnah Berurah 4:4; 6:9, however, recommend that
it be recited right before davening, after using the bathroom.
7. Mateh Efrayim 581:21.
8. O.C. 565:5. It is permitted, however, to read them as if
reading from the Torah, with the proper cantillation marks.
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. When not feeling well, one is exempted from this fast. It is
proper to mention this fact 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 the custom in many places today.
13. In most communities the fast is only a half day, or until
after Minchah Gedolah.
14. Y.D. 214:1. See Igros Moshe Y.D. 1:47.
15. Minchas Shlomo 91 based on Teshuvos Salmas Chayim 2:38.
[Although women do not customarily petition for hatoras nedorim
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.]
16. 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 Avrohom, Shulchan Aruch Harav and Pri
Megadim 39:1, and Chayei Adam 14:1. See also Beiur Halachah 39:1
who is even more stringent.
17. Y.D. 228:3.
18. Since vows which were undertaken during a dream can only be
annulled by ten judges - see Mateh Efrayim and Elef ha-Magen
19. Since no court may be made up of an even number of judges -
see Mishnas Ya'avetz O.C. 53.
20. 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.
21. This is the custom in Israel and other places.
22. Since a husband and a wife are considered as one concerning
this halachah. Obviously, if the wife objects to her husband
annuling her vows for her, he may not do so.
23. Y.D. 234:57.
24 Y.D. 228:16.
25. Chayei Adam 138:8; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 128:16.