Yahrzeit Practices

Following the first year of mourning the passing of a loved one, there is an annual remembrance known as “yahrzeit.” Yahrzeit is a Yiddish word that means “year-time” and recognizes that occasionally re-visiting one’s loss is not a morbid return to grief, but rather a natural part of the rhythm of life.

The yahrzeit takes place on the anniversary of the death of the loved one according to the Hebrew calendar. Many of the rituals involved in observing yahrzeit are outlined below.

There is a widespread custom of lighting a candle of remembrance that will burn for the entire day. Many people also give tzedakah (charity), study Mishnah or recite psalms in loving memory of the deceased. It is also common to visit the grave of the deceased at which individuals might study Mishnah, say psalms and recite the Eil Maleh Rachamim prayer.

On the day of the yahrzeit itself, the mourner recites the Kaddish at the prescribed times for mourners Kaddish throughout the day’s regular prayers. It is also customary for the mourner to lead communal prayers throughout the day.

Additionally, there is a tradition of fasting during the day of the yahrzeit from mincha onwards the previous day. Even if one does not fast, it is customary to abstain from eating meat and drinking wine, which are signs of joy and indulgence.

Remembering loved ones is a bitter-sweet experience. Although we can be tumbled back into the moments of anguish and loss, we can also reconnect with the depth of our inheritance from those who are no longer with us. On the yahrzeit, we rededicate ourselves to leading lives that honor their memory.