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The Proper Procedure for Reciting Selihot Without a Minyan

If a person recites Selihot privately, or if fewer than ten men came for Selihot and those who are in attendance must pray Selihot without a Minyan, what is the proper procedure to follow?

As discussed in a previous edition of Daily Halacha, the section of the "Yag Midot" (the thirteen divine attributes of mercy) may not recited as prayer without a Minyan, because it has the status of "Dabar She’bikdusha" ("matter of holiness"), which requires a Minyan. One may, however, recite the "Yag Midot" privately if he reads it with the "Te’amim" (cantillation notes), such that he reads it like he reads any other section of Tanach. One who recites Selihot without a Minyan may recite the paragraph of "Kel Melech," which introduces the "Yag Midot." However, if it is expected that a Minyan will soon arrive, then the people present should preferably skip "Kel Melech" and the "Yag Midot" and recite them once there is a Minyan.

Sections of the prayer that are recited in Aramaic should not be recited without the presence of a Minyan. The Gemara in Masechet Shabbat teaches that God’s ministering angels do not understand Aramaic. Thus, when a person prays without a Minyan, he requires the assistance of angels who bring his prayers before God. One therefore should not recite Aramaic prayers in private, since the angels are unable to understand his prayer and thus the prayer has no means by which to come before God. When one prays with a Minyan, however, the prayer ascends directly to the Heavenly Throne without the assistance of the angels, and thus Aramaic prayers may be recited in the presence of a Minyan.

Hence, when praying Selihot without a Minyan, one must omit the Aramaic sections, such as Rahamana, Maheh U’maseh, De’aneh La’aniya and Marana Di’bishmaya.

If a person or group of people prays without a Minyan, he (or they) may recite the other sections of Selihot, such as Shebet Yehuda, Ribono Shel Olam, Lema’ancha, L’Hashem Ha’rahamim Ve’he’selihot, Hashem Melech, and all the Viduyim (confessionals). If a Minyan arrives afterward, the Hazan should recite the half-Kaddish normally recited before Selihot, and the congregation should then recite all the sections that had been omitted, including the "Yag Midot."

Summary: If one prays Selihot without a Minyan, he must omit all Aramaic sections of the Selihot service, and may recite the section of the "Yag Midot" only if he reads those verses with the "Te’amim." He may recite all other sections of the Selihot. If a group recited these parts of the Selihot and then a Minyan arrived, they recite half-Kaddish followed by all the sections of the Selihot that had been omitted, including the "Yag Midot."


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