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The Yahrzeit

What is a Yahrzeit?

Yahrzeit is a Yiddish word that means anniversary (yahr-“year”; zeit-“time”), particularly the anniversary of a person’s death. In Hebrew, it is called Yom Hazikaron.

When is the Yahrzeit?

The Yahrzeit is observed on the anniversary of the Hebrew date of death, and thus differs yearly from the English calendar date. It is important to have a “Yahrzeit Calendar” which identifies the date of observance for the years to come. If you need one, contact Sinai Chapels to request a free calendar. There are certain dates that cause confusion: dates in the Hebrew month of Adar, or the 29th and 30th days of certain Hebrew months. Contact a Rabbi for guidance.

What if the exact day of death is uncertain?

When the exact day of death is uncertain, one may choose a day close to what the day seems to be, and observe that day as the Yahrzeit from then on.

What rituals are observed on the Yahrzeit?

The anniversary of the death is traditionally remembered by:

  • The lighting of the memorial candle -- symbolic of the soul of the deceased.
  • The memorial candle should be lit on the eve of the Yahrzeit day, and can be lit by any member of the family. No blessing is recited.
  • A visit to the grave.
  • Having an Aliyah and the recitation of Kaddish in the synagogue.
  • Giving of charity in the memory of the deceased.

Because of the solemnity of the day, most people avoid any festivity or participation in any joyous activity.

What if I “miss” the Yahrzeit?

The “oversight” may be “remedied” by setting aside another day for the observance, for that year only, lighting the memorial candle, and observing the Yahrzeit rituals on that day.