“What is the Yizkor Service?”
Yizkor, which translates to “remembrance” is a special Jewish memorial service and prayer to honor the deceased. It is most commonly said for a parent, child, sibling or spouse, but can also be recited for any relative or close friend.
With the belief that the soul is eternal, participating in a Yizkor service ensures that loved ones who have died can gain merit from the good deeds performed by their living relatives. It also serves as a time of reflection for those participating in the service. Yizkor is recited on the first holiday after a loved one passes and during four holidays throughout the year. These holiday services include:
- Yom Kippur
- 8th day of Passover
- 8th day of Sukkot
- 2nd day of Shavuot
Originally, Yizkor was only recited on Yom Kippur. However, since the Torah reading that is done on the last day of the pilgrimage festivals – Passover, Sukkot, and Shavuot – focuses on the importance of charitable donations, which is integral to this memorial service, Yizkor has since been added to these three holiday services. While Yizkor is typically said at a synagogue during the four different services mentioned above, it can be said privately within a home or sanctuary as well.
The Lighting of the Candle
A memorial candle should be lit the night before Yizkor, typically at sundown. It will burn through the entire service (as long as 26 hours) to show the time of mourning. Once the candle burns out, the deceased has been sufficiently mourned until the next of the four holidays.
Within the Jewish religion, it is believed that those who are deceased can benefit from what is being done by the living. As such, the deceased can gain merit from their living loved ones’ mitzvot, meaning “commandments”, which are essentially the actions or good deeds one should perform in general to meet their religious duty. This is one of the reasons why a Yizkor service is commonly associated with charitable contributions. The tzedakah, or charitable contribution, given in memory of a loved one relies on the belief that survivors’ good deeds help to elevate the souls of the departed.
A Yizkor prayer will vary to ensure the correct one is being said. It starts off with “May G-d remember” and then adjusts based on the relationship of the loved one. There are specific prayers for a mother, father, female relative, and male relative. The idea of the prayer is to ask G-d to reward the soul of the departed and bond them together with the souls of Isaac, Abraham, Jacob, and others who are righteous. It is not necessary for everyone to remain in the sanctuary during Yizkor. Commonly, only those reciting the prayers will remain. Those mourning the passing of a loved one during the first year will not remain in the sanctuary for Yizkor. It is customary to recite Yizkor after a twelve-month period. Everyone can light the 24 hour Yizkor candle the night before the holiday. In addition to reciting the prayer for parents, Yizkor can be recited for anyone of Jewish faith who has died, which includes friends and relatives. If the Yizkor prayer is recited for multiple people, the first paragraph will be repeated while substituting “Imi Morosi” (my mother) or “Abor Mori” (my father) with other titles in Hebrew, which may include prayers for a daughter, son, uncle, sister, aunt, friend, etc. An example of the prayer can be found here