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What is Yahrtzeit?

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Yahrtzeit is a Yiddish word that means “anniversary,” and is used specifically to refer to the day on which a person passed away. On the day of the yahrtzeit, there are various customs one can do to honor the memory of the departed. As with kaddish and yizkor, the observance of the yahrtzeit, particularly for parents, has the ability to bring great benefit and merit to the soul of the departed.

Yartzeit: Just the Basics


  1. Yahrtzeit is a time for reflection and introspection. It is customary to think about the best values that your relative exemplified in his or her life, to consider the meaningful and enduring ways in which he or she shaped your life, and to commit to making a renewed effort to live a more spiritual, moral, and more giving life. If you have been considering adding a little more Judaism to your life, yahrtzeit is an appropriate time to make such a commitment. Any element of personal growth that one undertakes in connection to the passing of a parent or other relative, makes an eternal difference for that relative's soul.

  2. On the day of the yahrtzeit, one should light a twenty-four hour candle at home. Special twenty-four hour yahrtzeit candles can be purchased at Jewish bookstores and often in grocery stores with a kosher food section. In lieu of a yahrtzeit candle, any twenty-four hour candle will do. The Jewish day begins at night, so the candle should be lit at the onset of the evening. Even if the candle burns for longer than twenty-four hours, it should not be extinguished. If the yahrtzeit falls on a Saturday, the candle must be lit on Friday afternoon before sunset.

    Yahrtzeit is a time for reflection and introspection. It is customary to think about the best values that your relative exemplified in his or her life...
  3. In the book of Proverbs, King Solomon wrote that “G-d’s candle is the soul of man.” Like the silent flame of a candle, a person’s soul is always reaching upwards, longing to go higher and higher. If you have lost a parent or other loved one, and if in their memory you strive to take your soul and your life to a higher plane of living, then the departed soul is elevated as well.

  4. There is an ancient custom to light a candle in synagogue on the yahrzeit. Today, it is quite common for people to purchase a memorial plaque with their parents name on it in synagogue. These plaques come with small lights that are lit each year on the yahrtzeit.

  5. If you forgot to light a yahrtzeit candle at home, you should donate at least a few dollars to charity in memory of the person.

  6. Some people fast on the yahrtzeit of a parent.

  7. In some synagogues, it is customary to attend morning services on the yahrtzeit even if one does not regularly attend synagogue. Following the service, one sponsors a small snack with drinks for the congregants and people wish one another L’chayim—“to life.” This practice is known as a tikkun, a “spiritual rectification,” and benefits the soul of the departed.

  8. If possible, one should attend all synagogue services on the yahrtzeit and recite the kaddish. To find a local synagogue or to learn how to say kaddish, click here.

  9. If possible, one should visit a parent's grave on the yahrtzeit.

  10. It is customary to study portions of the Torah, specifically brief passages from the Talmud, in memory of the departed soul. Before beginning your study you should say: Merciful G-d, may the Judaism that I am about to study serve as a merit and a blessing for my (relationship) whose name is ____ __ (son/daugter) of (fathers name). May his/her soul be bound in the bond of eternal life and may his/her resting place be one of peace.



Even if many years have passed since the death of a parent without marking the yahrzeit in any way, it is never too late to begin.Click here to have a yahrtzeit reminder e-mailed to you yearly before the yahrtzeit.

 

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