Halacha Date: 3 Elul 5778 August 14 2018
Question: If one is unable to recite Selichot with a Minyan (quorum of at least ten Jewish men) for whatever reason or if a woman wishes to recite Selichot and she cannot do so with a Minyan, may one recite the Selichot texts alone or should one abstain from doing so?
Answer: If one wishes to recite Selichot alone and not in the presence of a Minyan (obviously at the proper time for Selichot to be recited, either after halachic midnight or after halachic midday, as we have discussed in the previous Halacha), this is certainly acceptable, for Hashem hears even prayers uttered when one is alone. The Selichot are prayers and supplications that Hashem allow us to repent fully, forgive us for our sins, and grant us good new year. Nevertheless, there are certain portions of the Selichot that one should not recite when reciting Selichot alone.
Regarding the recitation of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy (“Hashem, Hashem El Rachum Ve’Chanun” etc.) when one is alone and not along with a Minyan of ten men, the Siddur of Rav Amram Gaon (the earliest known Siddur) quotes Rav Natan Gaon who says that one may only recite the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy along with the congregation. The reason for this is because Hashem entered a covenant with Moshe Rabbeinu and our ancestors that the Thirteen Attributes will never return empty-handed and when a congregation gathers and pleads for mercy, focuses their hearts on their Father in Heaven, fasts, and engages in charity, Hashem has mercy upon them and does not turn away their prayer. Thus, when one is alone and not in the presence of ten Jewish men, one should not recite these Thirteen Attributes, for the covenant which Hashem entered with the Jewish nation is not applicable here. Many other Poskim, among them Maran Ha’Bet Yosef, write that the prevalent custom is to follow the ruling of Rav Natan Gaon that the Thirteen Attributes are not recited without a Minyan.
Nevertheless, Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch writes that even when one is alone, one may indeed recite the Thirteen Attributes with their cantillation notes (tune used when reading from the Torah) as though one were reading from the Torah, for it is only forbidden for one to recite the Thirteen Attributes alone when one is reciting them as a prayer and supplication since one cannot make words of Torah into a prayer; however, if one reads them with their cantillation notes as though he were reading from the Torah, there is nothing wrong with doing so. Maran rules in accordance with the words of a response of the Rashba who writes that one praying alone should not recite the Thirteen Attributes as a prayer and request for mercy, for the Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 17b) states that Hashem wrapped Himself in a Tallit “like an emissary of a congregation (Chazzan)” before Moshe and He told him, ‘Whenever the Jewish nation performs this order before me, I shall forgive them.’ However, if one praying alone wishes to read them merely as though he were reading from the Torah, this is permissible. Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l rules likewise, halachically speaking.
Based on this we have learned that one praying alone should not recite the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy mentioned in the Selichot (or in the daily Tachanun prayer or during the Yom Kippur prayers). If one wishes to recite them, one may do so while chanting them with their cantillation notes as though one were reading from the Torah and in this way there is no prohibition to do so as Maran Ha’Chida writes in his Birkei Yosef.
Regarding the segment of Selichot which were established to be recited in the Aramaic language, such as the “Rahamana,” “De’Aneh La’Aniyeh Anenan,” and “Mache U’Masseh” paragraphs, the Poskim write that one reciting Selichot alone should completely omit these paragraphs. Maran zt”l rules likewise in his Chazon Ovadia-Yamim Nora’im (page 11). The reason for this is because when members of the Jewish nation gather together as a congregation, the holy presence of Hashem rests upon them and they do not require the assistance of the Heavenly angels for their prayers to be accepted. However, when one prays alone, the presence of Hashem is not upon him and he does indeed require the assistance of the Heavenly angels in order for his prayers to be accepted (see Shabbat 12b). Since the Heavenly angels do not understand the Aramaic language, one praying alone should not request his needs in this language; rather, one should only ask for his needs in the Holy Tongue (which is what the Hebrew language is based on). Thus, one reciting Selichot alone should not recite those sections which are written in Aramaic. Only when Selichot are being recited in the presence of a Minyan of ten Jewish men should these portions be read, for Hashem’s presence is with them and their prayer shall surely be heard.
Summary: One may recite Selichot alone, even without the presence of a congregation. However, one reciting the Selichot alone should omit the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy (“Hashem, Hashem El Rachum Ve’Chanun”) and the Aramaic segments of the Selichot (“De’Aneh La’Aniyeh” and the like).
May Hashem hear and accept all of our prayers and may He fulfill of our wishes so that we may continue to serve Him faithfully.