Elul, the sixth month in the religious calendar and the twelfth and last in the civil year, has twenty-nine days. The zodiac sign of the month of Elul is Virgo. The name Elul is Babylonian in origin and first occurs in the book of Nehemiah.[1]

During Temple times, messengers would travel from Jerusalem to the Diaspora to announce the date of the new moon of Elul so that the following new moon, that of Tishrei (the month during which Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, falls) could be accurately determined.

As Elul is the month preceding Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it is a month of repentance and spiritual preparation. A verse in the Song of Songs, and inscribed on many decorative wedding bands, reads Ani l'dodi v'dodi li, meaning "I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine." The rabbis interpret the love expressed in Song of Songs as the subliminal and mutual love between God and the people of Israel. The first letters in the Hebrew phrase form the acronym Elul, the month before us; the verse is thus associated with the spiritual dimension of the month, with its emphasis on repentance and renewal of one's love for and closeness to God.

In the Ashkenazi tradition, the shofar is sounded after the morning (Shaharit) prayers, every day except on Shabbat and the eve of Rosh Hashanah) to inspire a mood of introspection. Sephardi Jews, who refer to Elul as the month of mercy, recite penitential prayers (Selihot) nightly throughout the month. Ashkenazi Jews, on the other hand, begin to recite Selihot on the Saturday evening preceding the New Year.[2]

During the month of Elul, many observant Jews have their (tefillin) (phylacteries) and mezuzot (parchment scrolls on their doorposts) examined to make sure they meet the requirements of Jewish law. It is also customary to visit the gravesides of loved ones during this month. It is also customary to send New Year's cards to one another in the weeks preceding Rosh Hashanah, wishing one another a year of good health and blessing.

footnotes [1] "The wall was finished on the twenty-fifth of Elul, after fifty-two days" (Nehemiah 6:15). [Back]
[2] Ashkenazi Jews are of the Franco-German and E. European tradition, while Sephardi Jews are descended from Jews who lived in the Iberian peninsula (and later N. Africa and Italy) under Muslim rule. [Back]

ELUL Table of Contents



Subscribe to the JHOM mailing list for updates.

Contact us

Tell a friend