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What are the customs followed on a Yahrtzeit?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

Library » Life Cycle » Death » Yahrtzeit | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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  1. On the Shabbat before the yahrtzeit  (or if the Yahrtzeit is on Shabbat, then on the very day of the Yahrtzeit), it is customary to receive an Aliyah to the Torah, and if possible, to read the Haftorah. It is also traditional to sponsor a Kiddush on this Shabbat in memory of the deceased.
  2. A 24 hour candle is kindled before sunset on the eve of the Yahrtzeit. If available, a beeswax candle should be used. [The Hebrew letters of the word beeswax, form an acronym of the verse “and those who repose in dust will awaken and rejoice.”]
  3. On the day of the Yahrtzeit the sons of the deceased recite the Kaddish at all three of the daily prayers.1 If possible, the sons should also lead the prayer services. Five candles should be burning throughout the prayers, corresponding to the five elements of the soul: Nefesh (Vitality), Ruach (Spirit), Neshamah (Soul), Chayah (Life), and Yechidah (Essence).
  4. If the Yahrtzeit falls on a day when the Torah is read (Monday, Thursday, Rosh Chodesh, etc.) it is proper to receive an aliyah on that day. After the conclusion of the Torah reading, the son of the deceased recites the kaddish.
  5. Although all Torah which is studied in honor of the departed is beneficial for the soul, this is especially true with the study of Mishnah. In fact, the word “Mishnah” indicates this idea, since the Hebrew word for Mishnah contains the same letters as the word "Neshamah" – soul. Therefore it is customary to study Mishnah on a Yahrtzeit. If at all possible, it is recommended to study a chapter of Mishnah for every Hebrew letter of the deceased’s name. Each chapter of Mishnah should begin with another Hebrew letter from the deceased’s name.
  6. One should give additional charity on this day in honor of the departed soul. If the Yahrtzeit is on Shabbat, the charity should be given on Friday.
  7. It is proper to pay a visit to the gravesite of the deceased on the Yahrtzeit.
  8. While at the burial place, it is customary to recite the following Psalms: 33, 16, 17, 72, 91, 104, and 130. Afterwards, the verses of Psalm 119 which start with the Hebrew letters of the deceased’s name are recited.

Footnotes

  • 1. If the deceased has no sons, or if due to any reason they cannot recite the kaddish, then another relative (or in the absence of a relative, any Jewish male) is asked to recite the kaddish in memory of the deceased.

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Shabbat
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Kiddush
Prayer recited at the beginning of the Sabbath or Holiday meal--both the evening and afternoon meals. This prayer, acknowledging the sanctity of the day, is recited over a cup of wine or grape juice.
Aliyah
Literally means to rise up. Has two popular meanings: 1. Being called up to the Torah scroll and recite the blessings when the Torah is being read. 2. To emigrate to the Holy Land.
Rosh Chodesh
The "Head of the Month," Rosh Chodesh is observed the first day of every Jewish month. If the previous month had 30 days, then the last day of the previous month is also observed; hence a two-day Rosh Chodesh. Rosh Chodesh is a semi-holiday, marked by Torah-reading and special prayers.
Haftorah
Section from the prophetic writings that is read at the conclusion of the Torah reading on the Sabbath, Jewish holidays and fast days. The Haftorah contains a message similar to the weekly reading, or speaks of the current holiday.
Psalms
The Book of Psalms. One of the 24 books of the Bible. Compiled by King David; mostly comprised of poetic praise for G-d. A large part of our prayers are culled from this book.
Mishnah
First written rendition of the Oral Law which G-d spoke to Moses. Rabbi Judah the Prince compiled the Mishna in the 2nd century lest the Oral law be forgotten due to the hardships of the Jewish exiles.
Kaddish
A prayer sanctifying G-d's name which is sprinkled throughout the daily prayers and is recited by the leader of the services. This prayer is also recited by mourners during the first year of mourning, and on the anniversary of the death.
Neshamah
The soul of a Jew. This soul belongs to anyone who was born to a Jewish mother or converted according to the dictates of Jewish Law. The soul is a spark of G-d Himself.
yahrtzeit
The (Jewish calendar) anniversary of a person's death.