Opinion: Live Music At Selichos l Baruch Rivlin

The beginning of selichos is the beginning of a new chapter of the year for me. Although I try getting better starting Rosh Chodesh Elul, that first thunderous Ashrei at the start of selichos sends chills up and down my spine. It’s a wakeup call – a jarring alarm bell telling me that I need to shape up, now.

There was one year when selichos began when I was far from home and attending a minyan I was unfamiliar with. In this out-of-town shul, it was apparently their minhag to have a guitar, a piano, and a flute providing musical accompaniment to  the selichos services. I’m not going to lie – it completely ruined the selichos for me. What is normally an uplifting experience for me instead became one that seemed like it turned off my neshama completely. It just felt so odd to have instruments playing along with the chazzan. It kind of felt like I was partaking in a service from some religion other than Judaism. I was very disappointed with what happened and, at first, was upset about it.

When I related this experience over to people back home, several people concurred with me, saying how musical instruments have no place in a shul. And for a while I held this view and felt pretty strongly about it. But that changed last year.

Over the summer last year, I came to know a baal teshuva and as we became closer he told me about his experience in life and how he found his way back to religious life. This is a man who went through true hardships, pain and struggles I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, and it drove him from the path. I can’t judge him, and nor can anyone who wasn’t in his shoes. But what struck me was what he said brought him back: a selichos in which there was live music.

It turns out that he was in Israel, not to grow spiritually, but to hang out and burn time with friends who were “like him”. An uncle of his who lived in Jerusalem he was close with coaxed him into attending selichos before Rosh Hashana. After putting up resistance, he finally caved to the pressure, and agreed to attend. His uncle drove him out to an area outside of Jerusalem where a minyan for selichos was being held. And that was where everything changed.

He told me of the music that went along with the davening, how it complemented the chazzan’s soaring voice. The singing, the dancing, the camaraderie he witnessed gave him shivers and chills he had never felt before. But soon those chills turned into tears, and the tears into sobs. And as the tears rolled down his face, he had an epiphany: no matter what he had gone through, he could still come back. There was still room for him in the Jewish community. Then and there he began his transition back to Yiddishkeit.

I still don’t like live music at selichos. It just doesn’t feel right to me. But I sure don’t judge anyone who does like it. The fact is that it gives many a feeling that nothing else can, a feeling that will help them connect to Hashem and get closer to Him. Striving to attain closeness with Hashem is all that matters, and someone having a different way of getting there is none of my business.

I think this is something that everyone should take to heart. It’s not just about music by selichos. It’s about the things we do every day. Some people need things that are different that the usual to feel close to their Creator. Let them be.

Who are we to judge? We already have a Judge, and we’ll be seeing Him next week. Let’s focus on our own faults.


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There are 13 Comments to "Opinion: Live Music At Selichos l Baruch Rivlin"

  • Rd says:

    Yes. As with everything, everyone should do what works for them within the parameters of Halacha.

  • Loveformusic says:

    Didn’t they have music in the bais hamikdash?

  • oy vey! says:

    If, as you say, the music will inspire the person to such emotion, tears and Teshuva then one can definitely see the advantage of a musical selichos. However, the concerts and musical selichos these days seem to be far from that for most of all who attend.

    In my machzor it states in unesaneh tokef the words chil ureadah. I am not sure if chil ureadah is a concert with music and dancing. I might be wrong though.

    • Schmerel says:

      And in my Shelicos it says “P’ney El H’T’tloas V’al L’Chatoas”

      If we asking that of Hashem we should certainly do the same. Particularly when there is no actual aveiro involved.

      I once heard from Rav Shlomo Freifeld that he was by the Satmar Rebbe (Rav Yoel) on Hoshana Rabbah.The Rebbe was speaking very derhoiben and crying to the Chasidim there. Then an unlearned
      person with a difficult life walked in. The Rebbe quietly leaned over to him and started telling him jokes and laughing with him. When that person left it was right back to speaking derhoiben and crying.

      I would never go to Shelicos and would vehemently oppose it if they wanted to bring them to my shul.

      But for those who they are good for I support it 100% and think it is wonderful.

  • Yoil says:

    @oy vey. Yea. You might be wrong !

    • oy vey! says:

      Thank you. Perhaps a bit of an explanation will help me. In your opinion, what does chil ureadha then mean? How should I understand it when saying unesaneh tokef? Also, once we are at it, I probably also then don’t fully understand what aymah veyerah means. When we say the haggaddah on pesach night we are supposed to say it beayma uveyirah. Please enlighten me and explain these two concepts. It would be greatly appreciated.

  • me says:

    This might be true that it works for some people and they should take guidance from their rabanim. and we should let them be.
    Definitely for most people it is against their mesorah, and many feel it is a bizayon to davening , to the nature of selichos, and to the shul to have a chazzon playing guitar , a band, microphone dancing… etc.
    Additionally im sure some of these places do cross the line and it turns into a regular concert and becomes inappropiate “holilus”
    For most of us selichos is about crying out to hashem for forgiveness, and beseeching his rachmanus. It is a holy time that needs to come with a certain aura. The mesorah includes the heilige yomim noraim negin for kaddish and a special selichos negin.
    The problem is that every news site and all over social media, there are videos of all these “different” selichos. This glorifies this these types of performances and the more one sees them he could begin to think its the norm. This is a big danger ! So although for those who need this avoda, let them do as they feel, please dont blast it all over the place and ruin the image of selichos for the rest of us.

  • Lkwder says:

    I dont understand the author of this. This has been going on for years. Those that are into go and those that aren’t dont. Why should anyone ever care if someone does it different then your preference, if your not forced to join?

  • me,myself&i says:

    Maybe this is a type of teshuvah for us also. Maybe those of us who looked down upon many new an different ways of serving Hashem, need to do teshuvah and realize that what works for us does not work for others and vice versa.

  • Spot On !! says:

    Sorry – the long, drawn out selichos do nothing for me. I find myself just yawning and completely uninspired. I went 2 times to Yehuda Green, the singing nusach got me to much higher level than the other nusach. So, to each his own.
    Although, I will add, for me the singing did it, IMHO, you really don’t need the instruments, which the Holy Chasam Sofer was very against during davening.
    Shana Tovah !!

  • Feivel says:

    There is nothing worse than Atzvus. The musical selichos May or may not be proper, but it is 100% better than being sad, depressed etc.

  • Feivel says:

    There is nothing worse than Atzvus. The musical selichos may not be proper but it is 100% better than being sad, depressed etc.

  • Alteh Bucher says:

    Yes to each his own, and if one finds inspiration through music and dancing at Slichos then let them be.

    But when you have hundreds of people dancing at slichos like its Simchas Torah and it is being broadcasted out to the whole world, why isn’t it fair game to wonder what precisely does this have to do with Slichos?

    Its not about judging well meaning people as much as its about questioning a concept.


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