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Tallit and Tefillin During Selichot


Rabbi Daniel Mann

Question: I say selichot before my normal Shacharit minyan. Should I put on my tallit and tefillin before Selichot?

Answer: Classically, people did not wear tallit and tefillin during Selichot – for a simple reason. The times for Selichot are after midnight or very early in the morning (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 581:1), both times when one cannot put on tefillin. (We have written in the past about when it is preferred and permitted to recite Selichot.) Therefore, wearing tallit and tefillin could not be part and parcel of the halachot of Selichot, even when done after it is light in the morning. It is not proper, then, to miss some of the Selichot while putting them on first.
However, it is a good question whether it is a positive thing to try to have tallit and tefillin on for Selichot when possible. Selichot are a certain type of set of tefillot (see Rosh Hashana 17b), which overlap (especially for those who say Yud Gimmel Middot daily) with elements of our daily tefilla. Is there a connection between tefilla and tallit and tefillin? Let us take one at a time.
Married men wear a tallit at Shacharit. We have discussed in the past (it will soon be published in Living the Halachic Process vol. III, F-7) the reasons to wear a tallit at Shacharit considering that we already are wearing tzitzit and why these reasons are not important enough to have single men do so. One approach is that it is good to make sure we are wearing valid tzitzit (our "tzitzit" garment might be too small), which has special significance at Shacharit when we recite the Torah section on tzitzit (see Darchei Moshe 8:3). According to this, Selichot, in which we do not mention tzitzit, is not a time when a tallit is needed. Another possibility is that it is a good thing to cover one’s head with the tallit. According to this, perhaps there is a preference to have a tallit to cover one’s head during Selichot. On the other hand, why should this be more called for at Selichot than at Mincha, where we do not wear a tallit, unless we argue that since one is going to have it on for Shacharit, he might as well put it on prior to Selichot.
The Taz (OC 581:2) discusses the minhag for the chazan for Selichot to wear a tallit and the way to do it without needing a beracha, which one is not allowed to make at night. Since we recite the Yud Gimmel Middot, there is cause for the chazan to be properly cloaked, especially in light of the gemara (ibid.) that Moshe saw Hashem wrap Himself like a chazan when he taught Moshe how to do the Yud Gimmel Middot. Others discuss whether this is worthwhile, considering kabbalistic reasons not to put on tzitzit at night (see Beit David (Solonica) OC 9). All seem to assume that people other than the chazan do not wear a tallit. One could, on the other hand, argue that it is because of the problems of a tallit at night.
Shacharit is the chosen time for tefilin both because we need to wear them during the day in a state of cleanliness and pure thought and because they are mentioned in Kri’at Shema (see Berachot 14b). There is a connection, but a weak one, to tefilla (see Shulchan Aruch, OC 37:2). While one could say that the connection should apply to Selichot, we again note that it would not appear to be more important than at Mincha (there is an opinion that it is good to don tefillin at Mincha as well – see Be’ur Halacha 37:2, but that is clearly not common practice). Again, it is possible to argue that if we are putting tefillin on soon anyway, we might as well put them on for Selichot (as opposed to making one bring his tefillin with him for Mincha and put them on specially).
In summary, we have seen that it is not important to have tallit and tefillin on during Selichot. However, we raised the possibility, without succeeding to confirm or contradict, that there is some value in putting them on before Selichot. Therefore, whatever works practically for a person (including time and concentration considerations) is fine.
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