Yahrzeit: Memorial Anniversary
Yahrzeit, a Yiddish word meaning the anniversary of death, became formalized in the fifteenth century, although the concept goes back to the Talmud. Yahrzeit may be observed for parents, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters or spouse.
Ideally, the observance of Yahrzeit takes place in three locations: the home, the synagogue and the cemetery.
Home Yahrzeit Observances
Fasting. It is customary for mourners to fast on the yahrzeit of parents. The fast begins at dawn and ends with nightfall. If you do not fast, you should at least try to avoid eating meat and wine and participating in festivities. If yahrzeit occurs on Shabbat or a Jewish holiday you should not fast, as it conflicts with the joyous spirit of the day.
Yahrzeit Candles. The kindling of a Yahrzeit candle takes place at sunset on the evening before the anniversary, and on Sabbaths and holy days before the regular candle lighting. This practice is linked with the thought expressed in Proverbs 20:27, “The spirit of a person is the lamp of the Lord.” It is customary to allow the candle to burn for 24 hours and to allow it to extinguish itself.
Yahrzeit candles are available through the Synagogue and at local Kroger supermarkets. If you forget to light candles and yahrzeit had passed, it would be advisable to make a contribution to charity or to the Synagogue. If you are commemorating the yahrzeit of several people at once, there should be a candle for each deceased.
There is no traditional blessing associated with lighting the Yahrzeit candle. However you may recite Psalm 23, or another prayer of your own choosing or composition. Or you may light the candle in silence.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures;
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul;
He guideth me in straight paths for His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
For thou art with me;
Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies,
Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Torah Study and Charity. You should make donations to worthy institutions, including the Synagogue, or to the poor, on behalf of the deceased. It is also traditional to make every effort to study some aspect of religious life on this day. It may be mishnah, which is the traditional yahrzeit study, or if one is not able to do so, a chapter of the Bible, in English or Hebrew.
Synagogue Yahrzeit Observances
On the Sabbath prior to yahrzeit, you should make an effort to lead part of the service at the Synagogue. If you are not comfortable doing this, please join us at services. In all cases, those observing yahrzeit should receive an aliyah, (Torah honor). We can assist you in both English and Hebrew. Please let the Rabbi or Ritual Chairperson know that you are observing yahrzeit. You will also have an opportunity to say the Mourner’s Kaddish.
On the Sunday, Monday or Thursday prior to the yahrzeit, please consider joining us at morning services. You will receive an aliyah and also be able to say the Mourner’s Kaddish. While Beth Israel Synagogue only has weekday services (a minyan) on Sunday, Monday and Thursday, we are happy to arrange a minyan on any day for the purpose of observing a yahrzeit. Please give us at least a week’s notice.
We recognize that we do not all share the same level of understanding of Hebrew or prayer. At Beth Israel, you will find our desire to be supportive of each other more important than anything else.
Cemetery Yahrzeit Observances
The annual visit to the grave at yahrzeit is a traditional custom. It should take place the day of the yarhzeit, not on Shabbat or Jewish holiday. At graveside you may recite Psalm 23, and if you have a minyian the El Malei Rachamim prayer, in Hebrew or English. “El Malei Rachamim” means G-d, full of compassion, and asks G-d to grant eternal rest in the Garden of Eden for the person being remembered. Personal prayers or thoughts are also fine. The Hebrew or English text may be used.
El Malei Rachamim
God full of mercy who dwells on high
Grant perfect rest on the wings of Your Divine Presence
In the lofty heights of the holy and pure
who shine as the brightness of the heavens
to the soul of __________
who has gone to his/her eternal rest
as all his/her family and friends
pray for the elevation of his/her soul.
May his/her resting place be in the Garden of Eden.
Therefore, the Master of mercy will care for him/her
under the protection of His wings for all time
And bind his/her soul in the bond of everlasting life.
God is his inheritance and he/her will rest in peace
and let us say Amen.