Question: We customarily recite Selichot before Shacharit prayers. Must we recite the blessings of the Torah before Selichot?
Answer: “Blessings of the Torah” refers to the last three blessings of the morning blessings, namely “Al Divrei Torah,” “Ve’Ha’arev Na,” and “Asher Bachar Banu” as is printed in all Siddurim.
Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch (Chapter 46, Section 9) rules: “One should not read verses before having recited the blessings of the Torah, even when this is being done in a manner of supplication. However, others say that one need not be concerned since the verses are being recited in a manner of supplication. It is nevertheless correct to act in accordance with the former opinion.” This means that clearly, one may not study Torah before having recited the blessings of the Torah. The question is whether or not reciting verses in a manner of supplication constitutes Torah study. Thus, according to the first opinion, one should first recite the blessings of the Torah and only then begin to pray. On the other hand, the second opinion quoted in Shulchan Aruch maintains that reciting verses in a manner of supplication is not tantamount to Torah study and one need not recite the blessings of the Torah before saying such verses.
Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch writes that it is appropriate to follow the first opinion, i.e. to recite the blessings of the Torah and only after to recite additional verses. Nevertheless, the Rama, whose rulings are followed by Ashkenazi Jewry, writes: “However, the custom in Germany follows the latter opinion, for during the days of Selichot, the custom is to recite Selichot first and only later recite the blessings of the Torah.”
Nonetheless, the prevalent Sephardic custom follows Maran Ha’Bet Yosef who quotes the Orchot Chaim who writes that it is customary to recite the blessings of the Torah first even during the days when Selichot is recited. However, regarding Ashkenazi Jews, Maharshal writes that in Germany the custom was to rely on the opinion of Maharil who ruled that one need not recite the blessings of the Torah before reciting verses from the Torah in a manner of prayer and supplication.
Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l writes (in his Chazon Ovadia- Yamim Nora’im, page 5 and Yabia Omer Volume 9, Chapter 108) that although it seems Maran’s ruling in Shulchan Aruch to recite the blessings of the Torah before reciting verses is merely a “correct” thing to do but according to the letter of the law, Maran did not rule explicitly that one must recite the blessings of the Torah first, nevertheless, since a responsa of the Rambam (Pe’er Ha’Dor, Chapter 104) where he writes that the blessings of the Torah must be recited first was discovered after the passing of Maran, the blessings of the Torah should certainly be recited before Selichot, especially when reciting “Ashrei” at the beginning of the Selichot.
Summary: One should recite the blessings of the Torah before reciting Selichot. There is no distinction between men and women regarding this law.