Title: The Koren Selihot Minhag Lita
The Reid Family Edition
Translation by Sara Daniel
Introduction and commentary by Rabbi Dr. J.J. Schacter
Koren’s latest prayer book publication adds to its growing bookshelf of siddurim, machzorim, and more, one that is beginning to rival Artscroll’s collection. This volume includes a translation by Sara Daniel, an extensive introduction (70 pages) and commentary by Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter, and a helpful index of the hundred total Selichos at the end. While it only includes the Elul-Tishrei Selichos and not those for fast days, this is excusable in light of the volume’s length over (1300 pages, including front matter). As noted in the title, it follows Minhag Lita, rather than Polin (Koren has Minhag Polin only in Hebrew).
Rabbi Schacter, University Professor of Jewish History and Jewish Thought at Y.U. and a prominent rabbi and scholar in the Orthodox community, authored the introduction and commentary. His many years publicly teaching the Tisha Ba’av kinnos are renowned, as is his volume editing and organizing Rabbi Soloveitchik’s teachings on the kinnos. The move to work on Selichos, which occupies a structurally similar (although thematically distinct) place within Jewish liturgy makes good sense, and it bears fruit in this volume.
Building on a variety of Rishonim and Acharonim, Rabbi Schacter’s opening essay suggests that Selichos should be seen as more than a mere recitation but as a heartfelt prayer, as not just “strict objective discipline” but as “exalted subjective romance.” Rabbi Schacter then goes a step further and points to the strong tradition that more important than reciting them is embodying them, living out the values and attributes of mercy that define Hashem, in an action of imitatio dei.
The introduction also offers engaged analyses of other important themes that arise in Selichos – that of Akedah, or self-sacrifice; zechus Avos (merit of the forefathers); justifying G-d’s justice; vidduy (confession); yearning for G-d, and more. A several page long mini-essay (lxviii-lxxvi) surveys the history of views on whether it is appropriate or inappropriate to pray to angels (or other non-divine entities). Rather than take a stand, Rabbi Schacter emphasizes that however one prays “we recognize the sovereignty of G-d,” and the text includes the classical text without modification.
The commentary on the specific Selichos and refrains is “thematic, not literary,” with the goal to assist the reader in focusing on the larger ideas as they read. Rabbi Schacter identifies the authors of the piyyutim and offers historical information where relevant. Particularly helpful is the reference system used to connect shared themes between different Selichos, as many insights are relevant to more than one particular Selicha.
This edition unfortunately does not engage fully with the many and rich intertextual references throughout the many Selichot. I opened at random to page 441, the Selicha starting adon, moed ketikach…. The entire page references only three biblical verses, the most obvious citations on the page. However, a quick read makes it clear that many more allusions are intended. A few examples of citations that were left out on that page: (1) heyot leratzon imrei fi is obviously a reference to Tehillim 19:15: yihyu leratzon imrei fi…. (2) shema kol tachanunai elecha beshav’i, cites Tehillim 28:2, transposing the last two words. (3) The phrase zachalti va’ira mechavos de’i, is a word-for-word citation from Iyov 32:6. (4) The line bemoaning the fact that “gone are the faithful,” including godrei gader veomedei baperetz, cites Yechezkel 22:30, which similarly seeks someone standing in the breach. This process could be repeated a hundred times over for each of the Selichos in the volume. Even if the commentary is not literary, the citations of references on the margins don’t take up space and they allow the reader further resources to understand the text.
The volume embraces an ease of use, with the main refrain of Selichos repeated in its proper place rather than referring readers to the proper page. This adds a level of convenience for the user, although it also contributes to the bulkiness of the volume. Those who prefer to hold their siddurim with one hand will have trouble with this volume. Despite that, this Selichos volume is designed for liturgical and not only research use: it will not only enrich people’s preparatory learning home, but can and will be used in reciting Selichos themselves and making that tefillah experience more meaningful.