jewish Funeral Guide


Yahrzeit Customs

Giving charity in memory of the deceased: As was already explained, the primary benefit for the soul of the deceased is not the Yahrzeit / יארצייט memorial service per se, but the commitment to fulfill the charity pledges made in the memorial prayer. It is, therefore, very important to give Tzedakah / צדקה — charity, without delay on the day of the Yahrzeit. It is also customary for extra Torah learning to be done on this day in the name of the deceased to increase his or her merit. One can also donate money to promote Torah studies on behalf of the deceased.

Many, especially among Chassidim, serve liquor and cake to the congregants of their synagogue on the day of the Yahrzeit. It is called Tikkun / תיקון — rectification. The custom is to say before drinking and eating

לעילוי נשמת

For the elevation of the soul of  

(Jewish name of the deceased)

‏ ספרדים מוסיפים׃
רוּחַ יְיָ תְּנִיחֶנּוּ / תְּנִיחֶנָּה
בְגַן עֵדֶן׃

some Sephardim add:
May the spirit of the Lord give him/her rest
in paradise.

In the past, this was clearly a form of charity, since many were very poor and simply hungry. Nowadays, it is certainly very nice that after the prayer services people can eat, and drink, and bless the soul of the deceased, but one should be very careful not to turn this into a lavish party.

Visiting the grave: It is customary to visit the grave on the day of the Yahrzeit, especially when it is for a parent. One, who lives far from the place where the deceased is buried, may visit other Jewish cemeteries on that day. For additional details and customs please consult the Grave Visitation section.

Studying Mishnah for the elevation of the soul: There is a custom to learn Mishnah / משנה on the day of the Yahrzeit in memory of the deceased. For additional details of what is customarily learnt please consult the Study in the House of Mourning section.

It is interesting that the custom is to study Mishnah / משנה — the Oral Law, as recorded by Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi, and not Gemara / גמרא — part of the Talmud, which is based upon and includes Mishnah / משנה. One of the reasons is that the word “Mishnah / משנה” and the word “Neshamah / נשמה” contain the same letters, just in a different order.

There is another, possibly deeper reason for this custom. The Mishnah / משנה is written in present tense, as in “VeChachamim Omrim / וחכמים אומרים  — and the sages say”, while the Gemara / גמרא is written in past tense, as in “Amar Mar / אמר מר — The master said”. Therefore learning Mishnah / משנה emphasizes the connection of the past generations to our present day life, as it is said in the Talmud, Tractate Berachot 18a: “The righteous that are called alive even after their death / צדיקים שבמיתתן נקראו חיים”.