Yizkor /יזכור — literally “May He remember” is the name of the memorial service conducted in the Ashkenazic and lately even some Sephardic synagogues four times a year after the Torah reading on Yom Kippur / יום כפור, Shemini Atzeret / שמיני עצרת, the last day of Passover / פסח and Shavuot / שבועות. It is named so because each person recites several similarly worded prayers for each of his departed loved ones and each individual prayer starts with the word “Yizkor / יזכור — May He remember”.
The benefit of Yizkor /יזכור memorial prayer. Yizkor / יזכור is a prayer on behalf of the deceased. In Yizkor / יזכור prayers, the family members of the deceased 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”.
The following section contains the text of the Yizkor / יזכור prayers:
Please note that there are variations in the wording of the Yizkor prayers. Some of these variations will be indicated in the following sections by using square brackets.