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Is it a halacha to recite selichos before rosh hashana or is it only a minhag? And who wrote the selichos?

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    What is the difference between halacha and minhag, the way you’re using these terms?
    – Joel K
    Commented Aug 31, 2021 at 18:07
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    A minhag is just the custom of where you're community came from, a halacha is not a custom is a obligation
    – user27154
    Commented Aug 31, 2021 at 18:10
  • The different selichos were written by many different people. Did you have a particular selichah in mind? Commented Aug 31, 2021 at 18:10
  • The malachei rachamim meshorsei elyon one
    – user27154
    Commented Aug 31, 2021 at 18:11
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    It also says מנהג ישראל תורה היא so it is very strict but there's is a difference
    – user27154
    Commented Aug 31, 2021 at 18:17

2 Answers 2

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As mentioned in the comments, it is definitely complicated to define the exact difference between minhag and halachah. Nevertheless, the language used by various authorities, including the Shulchan Aruch and Rema (Orach Chaim 581:1) is language of "minhag". This status of minhag is why there are so many conflicting customs about selichot, including which selichot are said and when selichot are said (see Rema there, among others).

The various selichot used by different communities were composed at different times. As per the OP's comment specifically asking about the Pizmon "Malachei Rachamim", that selichah was composed by Rabbi Shmuel ben Rabbi Yehudah of Mainz (source), who lived just under 1000 years ago.

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You can usually distinguish a minhag from halakha when the minhag varies drastically from community to community. Selichot definitely fall under the category of minhag, and there are very different minhagim between the different communities.

In general the texts of the selichot are different between communities. Sephardic selichot are different than Ashkenazi selichot which are different from Yemenite selichot. So asking who wrote "the selichot" is really too broad of a question, maybe you could ask who wrote the Iraqi selichot, or who wrote the German Ashkenazi Selichot.

Even when to say selichot differents wildly between communities. Sepharadim who generally fall under the umbrella of Edot HaMizrah typically recite Selichot for the entire month of elul either after midnight or early in the morning and carry through until the end of Yom Kippur. They do this for Kabbalistic reasons.

Sepharadim from the West typically recite selichot right after 'arbit (ma'ariv), some do it for elul, some do it only between rosh hashannah and yom kippur. Their selichot are also shorter than other Sepharadim.

I believe Ashkenazim only start reciting selichot the Sabbath before Rosh HaShannah (Festival of Trumpets/Shofarot) and according to Wikipedia there are 13 variants of the texts of selichot.

As far as I'm aware, the Rambam didn't codify saying of selichot as halakha, but mentioned the custom of selichot as being only during the 10 days of repentance between Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur. His words can be found in Mishneh Torah, Sefer Madda, Teshuvah 3:4

"וְנָהֲגוּ כֻּלָּם לָקוּם בַּלַּיְלָה בַּעֲשָׂרָה יָמִים אֵלּוּ וּלְהִתְפַּלֵּל בְּבָתֵּי כְּנֵסִיּוֹת בְּדִבְרֵי תַּחֲנוּנִים וּבְכִבּוּשִׁין עַד שֶׁיֵּאוֹר הַיּוֹם:

During these ten days, the custom is for everyone to rise [while it is still] night and pray in the synagogues with heart-rending words of supplication until daybreak."

Source: https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/911896/jewish/Teshuvah-Chapter-Three.htm

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