jewish Funeral Guide

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Memorial Prayer Purpose & Variations

The benefit of memorial prayers. Unlike Kaddish / קדיש, the traditional memorial prayer, described in the next sections, is a prayer on behalf of the deceased. In Kel Maleh Rachamim / קל מלה רחמים and Yizkor / יזכור prayers, the family members of the deceased usually pledge to give Tzedakah / צדקה — charity, in order to add merit to the departed soul, so that it would be granted a place in paradise. The primary benefit for the soul of the deceased is not the memorial prayer per se, but the commitment to fulfill the charity pledges made in this prayer. The rabbis derive this from the verse in the Book of Deuteronomy 21:8“Atone for Your people Israel that you have redeemed / כפר לעמך ישראל אשר פּדית”. The beginning of the verse refers to the living, while the end refers to the dead. From this verse the rabbis learned that the dead need atonement and that the charity given in their memory helps to spiritually elevate their souls.

Without making a vow. When pledging to give charity in Kel Maleh Rachamim / קל מלה רחמים and Yizkor / יזכור prayers, many have a custom to add the phrase “without making a vow / בלי נדר”. The reason for this is that a person who does not follow through with his vow commits an extremely serious sin of transgressing a negative scriptural commandment of “he shall not desecrate his word / לא יחל דברו” (Numbers 30:3). Therefore, it is better to make commitments without taking a vow, as it is written in the Book of Ecclesiastes 5:3-4: “When you make a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for He has no liking for fools - what you vow, pay. It is better not to vow at all, than to vow, and not pay / כאשר תדר נדר לאלהים אל תאחר לשלמו כי אין חפץ בכסילים - את אשר תדר שלם. טוב אשר לא תדר משּתדור ולא תשלם”.

Variations of memorial prayer. The following sections contain the text of the traditional memorial prayer:

Memorial Prayer (Ashkenazim)
Short Memorial Prayer (Sephardim)
Memorial Prayer for a Man (Sephardim)
Memorial Prayer for a Woman (Sephardim)

Please note that there are variations in the wording of the traditional memorial prayer both among Ashkenazim and Sephardim. Some of these variations will be indicated in the following sections by using square brackets.