What is the proper time to recite the Selichot?

It is customary among Sefaradim to recite Selichot each morning during the month of Elul, ideally around the time of dawn. One should recite the morning berachot prior to reciting Selichot; in particular, one must ensure to wash his hands with the berachah of “Al netilat yadayim,” and recite Birkot Ha’Torah, before Selichot.

Although according to some authorities the time for the morning hand washing begins only at dawn, we do not follow this opinion. We allow a person to wash his hands with the berachah as soon as he wakes up with the intent of remaining awake for the day, even if this occurs in the middle of the night. However, in deference to the view that the time for washing begins only after dawn, one who washed his hands before dawn should preferably wash his hands again – without a berachah – after dawn. During the period of Selichot, one should arise early, wash his hands with a berachah, recite the other morning berachot and then recite Selichot. Following Selichot, he should preferably wash his hands again without a berachah.

The preferred time for reciting Selichot is the time of dawn, as this is the time when Hashem is especially receptive to prayers. Nevertheless, it is permissible to recite Selichot earlier, anytime after chatzot laylah (midnight as defined by halachah), or later in the day. Therefore, many communities hold Selichot services late on Motzei Shabat after chatzot, since many people are up late on Motzei Shabat and it would be difficult for them to wake up at dawn for Selichot. If for whatever reason one cannot recite Selichot early in the morning, he may arrange a minyan for Selichot at any point throughout the day.