By Rabbi Moishe Dovid Lebovits: We all are familiar with the custom of reciting Selichos from before Rosh Hashanah until Erev Yom Kippur (and some communities even from Rosh Chodesh Elul). The question arises each year when the Selichos period is upon us as to when Selichos should be recited. At this time, we try to fit the Selichos into our busy schedules.
Many places have a practice to say Selichos at 10:00 p.m., some at 1:00 a.m., and others before Shacharis in the morning. When is the opportune time to recite Selichos? Why do the Ashkenazim start after chatzos on Motza’ei Shabbos?
The Best Time
The Rambam says that during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah we get up “at night” and say words of tachanunim. The Shulchan Aruch mentions as well that we awake in “ashmores haboker” to say Selichos, which is understood to mean night. Many authorities quote this and rule that one should say Selichos at night before alos hashachar.
The reason for saying it at night is because that time is a time of ratzon.
There are those who have the custom to recite Selichos at chatzos, since that is also a time of ratzon.
There are those who have a minyan for Selichos and Yud-Gimmel Middos before chatzos; however, this practice is frowned upon by the poskim. In fact, Harav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l mentions that he is not sure what the heter is for it.
Although we do recite Selichos on Yom Kippur night before chatzos, this should not serve as any proof that doing so is permitted, since Yom Kippur is a day of mercy.
Some people might be tempted to daven at the 10:00 p.m. minyan in order to get up to go to work in the morning without waking up earlier to say Selichos. In addition, some may be scared to go out early in the morning and would rather do it at night. Furthermore, people are tired from working all day, and do not want to sacrifice their sleep.
Harav Moshe Feinstein zt”l dealt with this question in Igros Moshe. He maintains that since the Gemara never actually forbids saying Selichos before chatzos, we cannot prohibit this practice. If the option is to recite Selichos before chatzos or not to recite them at all in the morning, one should recite them at night with the early minyan. However, he adds that this should not be done on a regular basis, and cannot be done year after year. Some suggest that the source for saying Selichos before chatzos, usually about 10:00 p.m., is because in Eretz Yisrael it is after chatzos. Therefore, it is permitted even though it is before chatzos in other parts of the world.
One who wishes may recite Selichos at Minchah (although this practice is not common), since we recite vidui (nusach Sephard) during Minchah.
Those who say Selichos before chatzos do not recite the Yud-Gimmel Middos, Ashrei, Kaddish after Ashrei, and the Lecha Hashem…
Ashkenazim begin reciting Selichos on Motza’ei Shabbos after chatzos. On this day, they are particular to recite Selichos at night, since we say in the portion of the Selichos, “B’motza’ei yom menuchah,” which is referring to Shabbos. Therefore, it cannot be said on Sunday.
Some hold that one should change to weekday clothing before reciting Selichos on Motza’ei Shabbos.
We all need as much mercy as possible during these days, and we should make sure to recite Selichos in the most opportune time frame, and try not to rely on leniencies.
Selichos at Night or Early Morning
Whether one is saying Selichos at night or early in the morning, he may say it loud even if he may be a nuisance to some neighbors. However, one should still try to ensure that the windows are closed to avoid disturbing the neighbors.
Sunrise and Selichos
We have mentioned above that the opportune time for Selichos is at alos hashachar. Even after sunrise, which is the opportune time for Shacharis, one should still recite Selichos first. This is true despite the concept that whatever is more common comes first. It is possible that since reciting Selichos is a custom, it takes precedence over davening.
Why Selichos before Davening
On fast days, we say Selichos during davening. Why do we say them before davening during Elul?
It is possible that we need the extra merits, so we say Selichos earlier to add to our merits. On fast days, the Selichos are added as an extra aspect to tefillah, so we say them after Shemoneh Esrei. In addition, Selichos before davening can help us prepare ourselves to daven with more concentration, and be a merit for us during the days of Elul.
If one comes to shul and they have already started davening, he can daven with them and then say Selichos later at another minyan.
Divrei Torah 1:70
Tiferes Tzvi 3, page 187
She’arim Metzuyanim 128:5
Chesed Yehoshua 3:12, Greenwald
 Mishnah Berurah 581:5; Aruch Hashulchan 2.
 Ibid.; Yechaveh Da’as 3:44.
 Hilchos Teshuvah 3:4.
 O.C. 581:1.
 For a detailed discussion on this see Yisrael V’hazmanim 1:50, pages 597-598.
 Darchei Moshe 581; Levush 1; Matei Ephraim 581:11. See Darchei Chaim V’shalom 696, pages 251-252; Yechaveh Da’as 1:46; Ashrei Ha’ish, O.C. 3, page 78, 6; Mekadesh Yisrael, Yamim Nora’im 19, 23; Da’as Noteh, Krias Shema 10; Chashukei Chemed, Maseches Yoma 22a.
 Magen Avraham 581:1.
 Refer to Yechavah Da’as 1:46. This is normally around 1:00 a.m. (Mekadesh Yisrael, Yamim Nora’im 23).
 Yisrael V’hazmanim 1:50, pages 598-600. In regard to those who say tikun chatzos and saying it during the time one says Selichos, see Vayitzvar Yosef 2:51.
 Magen Avraham 565:5; Birchei Yosef 581:2; Kesher Gadol 19:11; Kaf Hachaim Palagi 16:13; Matei Ephraim 581:20; Mishnah Berurah 565:12.
 Emes L’Yaakov 565, footnote 531.
 Yechaveh Da’as 1:46.
 Refer to Mishmeres Shalom 41:4.
 In regard to those who learn all day and reciting Selichos would infringe on this, see Yechaveh Da’as 3:44; Vayitzvar Yosef 2:52. Refer to Matei Ephraim 581:11; Elef Hamagen 581:24.
 Beis Avi 5:52.
 O.C. 2:105.
 Machshavos B’eitzah (parperes l’chachmah) pages 153-156 in great depth; Yisrael V’hazmanim 1:50, page 601; Mekadesh Yisrael, Yamim Nora’im 25; Vayitzvar Yosef 2:53; Yalkut Yosef, Moadim pages 38-39, footnote 4; Kovetz Beis Aharon V’Yisrael 60, page 76. Refer to Yechaveh Da’as 1:46 which brings the opinions on this.
 Yechaveh Da’as 1:46.
 Refer to Shulchan Aruch 131:3; Levush 3. See Mekadesh Yisrael, Yamim Nora’im 26.
 Hilchos Chag B’chag, Yamim Nora’im page 13; Ashrei Ha’ish, O.C. 3, page 78, 7. See Halichos Shlomo, Moadim 17:1, footnote 2.
 Refer to Siach Tefillah pages 559-560 on why some recite Selichos even the first night on Sunday morning.
 Refer to Mekadesh Yisrael, Yamim Nora’im 24; Yisrael V’hazmanim 1:50, page 599; Kovetz Beis Aharon V’Yisrael 61, page 132.
 Beis Avi 5:52; Yisrael V’hazmanim 1:50, page 599; Mekadesh Yisrael, Yamim Nora’im 23; Chashukei Chemed, Maseches Yoma 22a. For a detailed discussion on this see Ha’elulim Kodesh L’shem pages 141-143. See Matei Ephraim 581:11. Refer to Siach Tefillah page 559, 11 which is not convinced this is the reason.
 Opinion of Harav Chaim Kanievsky shlit”a, quoted in Ha’elulim Kodesh L’shem page 140, footnote 359.
 V’ein Lamo Michshol 4, pages 52-53.
 Mekadesh Yisrael, Yamim Nora’im 29. See Gam Ani Odeicha 3:129.
 Siach Tefillah page 557, 7.
 Teshuvos HaGrach 232; Chashukei Chemed, Maseches Yoma 22a.