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Shaarei Orah’s Pre-Mincha Selichot

Upon the advice of a leading epidemiologist, Shaarei Orah’s minyanim remain outside. With Rosh Chodesh Elul rapidly approaching, our kehillah is faced with a decision regarding Selichot.

In a typical year, we recite Selichot at 5:20 a.m. each morning, beginning the second day of Elul. However, this year, reciting Selichot at 5:20 a.m. outdoors is not a viable option. Is there an alternative for Sephardic Jews?

Rav Ovadia Yosef vs. Rav Moshe Feinstein

Hacham Ovadia Yosef addresses the issue in Teshuvot Yehave Da’at 1:46. In this teshuva, Rav Ovadia does something rare. He outright disagrees with Rav Moshe Feinstein. When Rav Ovadia’s daughter Rabbanit Adina Bar-Shalom visited Shaarei Orah about 10 years ago, she confirmed what I had been thinking for many years. Rav Ovadia saw Rav Moshe as not just a great posek, but as a primary guiding light.

However, in regards to Rav Moshe permitting Selichot to be recited at 10 p.m. in case of extraordinary need, Rav Ovadia strongly disagrees. I recall the circumstances in which people felt it unsafe to attend synagogue in New York City in the 1970s, under which Rav Moshe ruled that if there is no alternative, they may recite Selichot at 10 p.m. Rav Moshe felt that the objection to reciting Selichot before chatzot (Halachic midnight)is a matter of Kabbalistic concern. Although the Selichot may not be as effective at 10 p.m. as they are after chatzot, they may be recited at 10 p.m. if there is no viable alternative.

Rav Ovadia, though, vehemently disagrees. Rav Ovadia presents Kabbalists, who, in the strongest of terms, protest the recital of Selichot between tzeit hakochavim (nightfall) and chatzot. He cites the Zohar, Ari z”l, and Hida all teaching that the time between tzeit and chatzot is a time when “middat din” (Hashem’s aspect of strict justice) reigns supreme. How inappropriate is it to be beseeching for rachamim in Selichot at a time of din! Thus, Hacham Ovadia entirely rejects the notion that one may, in extenuating circumstances, recite Selichot between tzeit and chatzot.

Rav Ovadia, though, does offer the option of reciting Selichot before Mincha. Sephardic and chasidic Jews customarily recite the 13 Middot of Rachamim at Mincha on most days. This practice demonstrates that Mincha time remains one of rachamim and is therefore appropriate for the recital of Selichot, in a pinch. He even notes that he has witnessed God-fearing Jews who respect the word of Hashem to recite Selichot before Mincha.

The Tadir Principle

One hurdle must be overcome, though. One might ask that according to the famous rule of tadir u’she’eno tadir, tadir kodem (the mitzvah performed more often is to be done first), we should first pray Mincha and only then recite Selichot. Rav Ovadia answers that the “tadir principle” applies only to two activities formally defined as mitzvot. However, since Selichot are a minhag (as is clear from the Rambam, Hilchot Teshuva 3:4) and Mincha is a rabbinic obligation, the rule of Tadir does not apply, and Selichot may be recited before Mincha. We should caution, though, against diminishing Selichot’s importance. While they might be a minhag and have a lesser status than a formal rabbinic obligation, they are a very ancient and venerable tradition dating at least to the Geonic era.

Conclusion

Yalkut Yosef (Orah Haim 581:4) permits reciting Selichot before Mincha in case of need. Maximizing the safety of our congregants most certainly qualifies as a vital need. However, Hacham Yitzhak notes that if Selichot are recited during the day, the Shaliach Tzibbur for Selichot should wrap himself in a tallit, as HaKadosh Baruch Hu is described (Rosh Hashanah 17b) as a shaliach tzibbur wrapped in a tallit reciting the 13 Middot of Rachamim. This Gemara is the core basis for our recital of Selichot.


Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.

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