jewish Funeral Guide


Yizkor Customs

One must rise for Yizkor / יזכור. Technically, Yizkor may be recited by an individual even without a Minyan / מניין — a quorum of at least ten Jewish men over the age of thirteen required for public prayer, although this is uncommon. Yizkor is recited by both men and women. An orphaned child should recite it too, if he or she understands its purpose. Yizkor may be recited for a departed wife or husband even after remarriage, because it is recited quietly and the new spouse will not be offended. Those who are still blessed with living parents usually step out of the synagogue during this prayer. However, one stays for the Yizkor even if only one of his or her parents passed away; the living parent has no right to object to this.

Yizkor history. It seems that, originally, Yizkor memorial prayers were recited only on Yom Kippur / יום כפור, which is commonly referred to as Yom HaKippurim / יום הכפורים — literally the Day of Atonements. Why in the plural? — Because it brings atonement for both the living and the dead. Later Yizkor was introduced also into the prayer services of each of the three Jewish Festivals, because they too are associated with giving Tzedakah / צדקה — charity as it is written about the festivals, “Each man shall give according to his ability / איש כמתנת ידו” (Deuteronomy 16:16-17). In view of that, the memorial prayers include a pledge to give charity. This pledge should not be taken lightly. As was explained earlier, the primary benefit for the soul of the deceased is not the memorial prayer per se, but the commitment to fulfill the charity pledge made in this prayer.

Lighting memorial candle. On the day before the holiday prior to sunset, it is customary to light a Ner Neshamah / נר נשמה — memorial candle that will burn for 24 hours in memory of the departed either in the house or in the synagogue. It is preferable to light with olive oil, although wax and paraffin candles may be used as well. Some have a custom to do it only for Yom Kippur. Many synagogues have memorial plaques inscribed with the names of the deceased and on the day of Yizkor an electric bulb is lit next to each name. At home, however, one should light with a real candle.