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Elul Observances in a Nutshell

Elul Observances in a Nutshell

Sounding the shofar in the synagogue during the month of Elul—a painting by chassidic artist Zalman Kleinman
Sounding the shofar in the synagogue during the month of Elul—a painting by chassidic artist Zalman Kleinman

As the last month of the Jewish year, Elul is traditionally a time of introspection and stocktaking—a time to review one’s deeds and spiritual progress over the past year, and prepare for the upcoming “Days of Awe” of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

As the month of divine mercy and forgiveness, Elul is a most opportune time for teshuvah (“return” to G‑d), prayer, charity, and increased ahavat Yisrael (love for a fellow Jew), in the quest for self-improvement and coming closer to G‑d. Chassidic master Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi likens the month of Elul to a time when “the king is in the field” and, in contrast to when he is in the royal palace, “everyone who so desires is permitted to meet him, and he receives them all with a cheerful countenance, showing a smiling face to them all.”

The following are some of the basic customs and practices for the month of Elul:

  • Each day of the month of Elul (except for Shabbat and the last day of Elul), we sound the shofar (ram’s horn) as a call to repentance.

  • When writing a letter or meeting one another, we bless one another by including the greeting Ketivah vachatimah tovah—which roughly translates as “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”

  • Chapter 27 of the Book of Psalms is added to the daily prayers, in the morning and afternoon.

  • The Baal Shem Tov instituted the custom of reciting three additional chapters of Psalms each day, from the first of Elul until Yom Kippur. (On Yom Kippur the remaining 36 chapters are recited, thereby completing the entire book of Psalms.)

  • Elul is a good time to have one’s tefillin and mezuzot checked by an accredited scribe, to ensure that they are in good condition and fit for use.

  • During the last week of Elul, in the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah, the Selichot prayers are recited. On the first night they are recited at midnight; on the following days, in the early morning.

Painting by Chassidic artist Zalman Kleinman.
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Discussion (19)
September 16, 2014
And what do we do if we're unable to hear the shofar? What then?
Sam Leon
August 31, 2014
Thank you very much my upbringing was not chassidic and for many years I failed to practice Judaism ,your site has changed me (much for the better) .I am forever grateful for this site as it has reminded me of my early years learning the Torah .
Mark J Duke
Edmonton Alberta Canada
August 26, 2014
I am cramming to learn so much about this stuff, later in life.
I came from a completely unobservant family and got motivated to discover my own religion and ever since , the interactions with a observant orthodox community I've had in the past and learning from this site have been extremely helpful.
Joyce Oxfeld
December 7, 2012
no subject
do you have any letters for kids
Buffalo Grove, Illinois
September 9, 2006
Thankful for help understanding Leviticus
In Oklahoma City, OK, I have had no contact with Jewish people. I want to understand the high holy days and to keep the sabbaths. It is difficult when I have no childhood teaching or upbringing. I am seeking G~d, I will find him as promised in my Bible. Thank you for your site that is helping me to learn what G~d is willing for me to do and learn what are the High Holy Days. I turned 40 this year and have experienced the refreshing desire to obey.
Nancy Cordell
Oklahoma City, OK
June 22, 2006
flower shop
looking for information and found it at this great site.
Guayaquil, GUA
August 20, 2007
RE: Thankfull for help understanding leviticus.
One of the greatest Sages in Jewish history, Rabbi Akiva began his Spiritual Journey as an ignorant Sheperd at age 40 and stll (with much effort) managed to become the greatest torah teacher of his day. so good luck with your trip you have recently begun and remember, if you come accross another jew in OK. teach them what you know. and show them where to go.
good luck
S. Monica, CA
August 19, 2009
e-mail signatures.
I have the hebrew characters for B'H set up to go automatically on top of every e-mail I send out. This article reminded me of the importance of signing each e-mail with Ketivah vachatimah tovah during this important time of year. I added that to my signature at the bottom before I had finished reading so I would not forget,. Even when writing e-mail, it is nice to remember all those we speak to are important to G-d.

Thank you so much!
Leeba Kinseth
August 16, 2007
Reconnection with my Jewish Heritage
Chabad has been very instrumental in helpiing me reconnect with my Jewish heritage. Everything I have read on the website has helped to reinstall the beauty and joy of being Jewish within me.
Lesley Levy Hubbard
Laurel, Maryland, USA
October 1, 2006
Your website
I am really not not a practicing Jew. I'm one of those who always keeps Yom Kippur, however. I don't know if I'm breaking a rule being on this website tonight or not. I think this is such a wonderful site. I've learned so much it's unbelieveable and I've used your cards for all my family and friends. Thank you for the knowledge you give and the way you explain it in terms that I'm able to understand. The entire site moves me, teaches me, and makes me feel much more a part of Judaism.
Santa Barbara, CA
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