Yartziet Customs


Yartziet Customs


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Yartziet Observances on the Day of Death

By Nachum Mohl

A yartziet is a compound Yiddish word meaning yohr, year and ziet, time. It refers to the observances which surround the anniversary of the day of death of a loved one. When the deceased is a parent or other close relative or friend, we want them to be remembered in heaven for good. Each year on their yartziet they are ‘reviewed” in heaven. If because of them, we increase our observance of mitzvoth, it is possible for them to be re-judged favorably in heaven. Therefore on the date of the death of a close relative we try to do various things to add to the merit of the departed. A yartziet is always observed on the Hebrew date of death, not on the secular date.

There are several customs which revolve around food. One custom is to fast; today it is not much in vogue. Instead, the other custom, which originated with the Chasidim, and has become very popular in all groups, is to bring food to the synagogue to be eaten after the services. The reason behind this is that in the olden days, food was scarce and many poor people would congregate in and around the synagogues. To give food to the poor has always been considered a meritorious act and when it is done because of the departed, it adds merit to their name. This custom has continued until today and in many synagogues sweet rolls and drinks are brought into the synagogue and although poor people do not necessary congregate there, the worshippers participate in eating a cookie and drinking a le’chaim for the merit of the departed.

Giving charity is also a very common and important custom that has continued to this day. For a relative’s yartziet many people write checks to Jewish institutions that provide help for others, such as schools, vocational institutions, charity organizations, and other miscellaneous groups that help out less fortunate Jews.

A twenty-four hour candle is lit. It is to remain lit from sunset to sunset. If it goes out, it is re-lit. No prayer is said upon lighting this candle.

Another important custom is to lead the prayer services in the synagogues. Today, not everyone is capable of leading the service, but at least they can say kaddish for the departed. The recitation of kaddish is also considered a merit for the departed. During the day of the yartziet, which starts at night, kaddish is recited at the evening prayer, then at the morning prayers and concluding with the afternoon prayer.

Studying Torah to increase the merit of the deceased is also common. Many people study the mishna, teaching from the oral tradition, choosing the various chapters that correspond with the letters of the deceased’s name. The reason being that the word mishna has the same Hebrew letters as the word neshama, soul. Others say chapters from the psalms in the merit of the deceased.

Visiting the grave is also a common practice on the yartziet. Although there are some who bring flowers to the grave, many have the practice of placing several small stones on the gravestone. Prayers are offered to G-d that he should grant greater merit unto the deceased.

We try to avoid strife and transgressions on this day, lest the merit be changed to a disadvantage. The manner in which we live our life is considered a direct reflection on the parent. If we continue to improve, both in the relationships between man and man and in the relationship between man and G-d, then this shows that our parents have merit. Conversely, if a child chooses a path which distant from mitzvoth, brings no honor from his fellow man, then it is a bad reflection on the parents.


from the August 2007 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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