Tens of thousands visit Western Wall for final ‘selichot’ services before Yom Kippur

Chief rabbis, Jerusalem mayor preside over late-night prayers ahead of Day of Atonement, which begins Tuesday night; site sees more than 1 million visits over past six weeks

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Tens of thousands gather at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City for final 'selichot' services before Yom Kippur, on October 3, 2022. (Western Wall Heritage Foundation)
Tens of thousands gather at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City for final 'selichot' services before Yom Kippur, on October 3, 2022. (Western Wall Heritage Foundation)

Tens of thousands of people visited Jerusalem’s Western Wall overnight on Monday for the final penitential “selichot” prayer services ahead of the Yom Kippur holiday, which begins Tuesday evening.

The “selichot” service, a litany of penitential and supplicant prayers, is held nightly in the period before the Day of Atonement. Sephardi Jews recite it beginning a month before Rosh Hashanah, while Ashkenazi Jews start the Saturday night before Rosh Hashanah.

According to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which administers the holy site, pilgrims have paid more than 1 million visits to the Western Wall during this six-week period.

Monday night’s service, which was held at the main plaza of the Western Wall, was led by a professional cantor. Israel’s two chief rabbis — the Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau and Sephardi Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef — presided over the service, along with Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion and Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch.

“In this unifying moment, let us pray for peace between one another. Let us pray that we always succeed in seeing the good of our comrades and not what they lack, let us pray that we be connected to one another and joined to one another in unity, fraternity and love,” Rabinovitch said in an opening sermon.

Yom Kippur, which most traditional and religious Jews mark with fasting and prayer, is set to begin at 5:41 p.m. in Jerusalem, 6:02 p.m. in Tel Aviv, 5:51 p.m. in Haifa, and 6:02 p.m. in Beersheba. It will end on Wednesday at 6:57 p.m., 6:59 p.m., 6:58 p.m. and 6:59 p.m., respectively.

Israel’s leading Orthodox rabbi oversee final ‘selichot’ services before Yom Kippur at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, on October 3, 2022. (Western Wall Heritage Foundation)

Beginning Tuesday afternoon, all flights in and out of Ben Gurion Airport will be halted and Israel’s air space will close to flights passing through as Jewish Israelis mark Yom Kippur. Flights will resume Wednesday evening. Border crossings will also be shut and will reopen late Wednesday.

As sundown approaches Tuesday, all local radio and television broadcasts will gradually fall silent.

Public transportation will come to a standstill, with buses and trains stopping their routes until after the fast day ends Wednesday evening.

Roads will largely clear of cars by early Tuesday evening as is the national tradition — to be replaced with multitudes of people on bicycles and other non-motorized vehicles. Though not technically illegal, driving during the Jewish Day of Atonement is considered strictly taboo, and many secular Israelis have turned the day into a biking holiday, taking advantage of the car-free roads.

Security and rescue services will remain on high alert throughout the day in light of a noted rise in attacks on Israeli civilians and security forces in recent months.

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