Resonating repentance: selichot and the performance of Mizrahi identity in the Israeli public sphere

Abigail Wood, Naomi Cohn Zentner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The present article explores the revitalization of the Sephardi selichot (penitential prayers) custom in recent decades in Israel. From melodies that formed part of an early morning synagogue service described in the 1970s as declining in popularity, by the 2020s, Sephardi selichot have established a highly audible place in Jewish-Israeli culture, via large-scale concerts, media broadcasts and popular recordings that define the public Israeli soundscape during the month of Elul and the “days of penitence” between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. These new renditions of selichot have made significant inroads into Israeli public culture, in part through their ability to align the musical-emotional desires of the audience with the artistic and cultural agendas of audiences, musicians, culture brokers and local politicians. The cultural ecology sustaining this transformation embodies deep-rooted processes of change in Israeli society, including the increasing visibility and perceived coolness of Mizrahi culture, and the increasing prominence, since the 1990s, of elements of religious Judaism in Israeli public culture. In this article, we examine how the transformation of the selichot into mainstream auditory culture is articulated through the interweaving of conservative and innovative elements, anchoring a musical-religious repertory in public spaces that resonate both national and religious meaning.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Modern Jewish Studies
StateAccepted/In press - 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Israeli culture
  • Israeli music
  • Jewish music
  • Mizrahi Jews
  • Selichot

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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