The ritual of lighting candles is very much a part of many Jewish customs and traditions. Read on to learn more about the traditions of lighting candles for the Jewish customs of Yahrzeit and Yizkor.
The ritual of lighting candles is part of many Jewish customs and traditions. We welcome Shabbat on Friday evenings at sundown by lighting two candles. We conclude Shabbat by lighting the multiple-wick Havdalah candle. During many Jewish holidays we light candles to mark the transition to a sacred time. However for Chanukah, we light our menorah candles each night to commemorate that the oil expected to last for only one day, incredibly lasted eight days.
When we are in mourning and during other pivotal times of the year we light memorial candles. And the glow from the light of those candles and their purpose is what we are focusing on at this time.
When to Light a Yahrzeit Candle
In Judaism, there is an emphasis on keeping the memory of those who came before us alive…from generation to generation. It’s a long-standing Jewish custom and a mitzvah to light a Yahrzeit candle that burns for a full twenty-four hours starting at sundown on the anniversary of the death of a loved one to remember a life. Once lit this candle should be left to extinguish on its own. If candles are unavailable, or for safety reasons, an electric memorial light may be used.
As the light of the candle burns, family and friends can use this time to share anecdotes and reflect upon the person who has passed and the impact of the legacy he or she has left behind.
Additionally, this tradition is observed on four annual Jewish holidays (Yom Kippur, Shemini Atzeret, Passover and Shavuot). The Yahrzeit candle is reminiscent of the fragility of life and that the memory of the lost loved one still lives on and burns bright. The Yiddish word “Yahrzeit” means anniversary (or time of year) and originates from the German words Jahr, year, and Zeit, time.
“The soul of man is the candle of God. A candle is often believed to be a symbol of the soul. This is one of the core reasons that candles are such an integral part of the Jewish religion.”
– Chapter 20, Verse 27 of the Book of Proverbs
According to Shiva.com, “In Chapter 20, Verse 27 of the Book of Proverbs, it provides: The soul of man is the candle of God. A candle is often believed to be a symbol of the soul. This is one of the core reasons that candles are such an integral part of the Jewish religion.” Additionally, the origin of the Mourner’s Kaddish is discussed, “Developed in the Middle Ages, Kaddish is a prayer whose recitation, over time, became the obligation of mourners.” This recitation is neither a biblical nor a rabbinic mitzvah. Rather, it is a strongly held custom.” ReformJudaism.org also agrees that “Kaddish originated as an Ashkenazic observance in the Middle Ages; although similar customs are observed by Sephardic Jews, some of whom refer to the anniversary of a death as nachalah (comfort.)”
Yahrzeit Candles for Yizkor and Kaddish
Yizkor, which means “remember,” is the memorial service that is recited during those four holidays. Traditionally, a yahrzeit candle is lit prior to the fast beginning on Yom Kippur and before sunset of the other holidays.
Yahrzeit candles are often packaged inside glass jars, and are readily available for purchase at Judaica stores, many supermarkets and online. We also offer them, free of charge, here at the Beth El Mausoleum.
The Yahrzeit candle is different from the Shiva candle that the funeral home usually gives to mourners following a loss. The Shiva candle is lit immediately following the passing of a loved one and burns for seven days. Both of these candle-lighting rituals promote reflection and denote remembrance as they shed their light in our homes.
At Shabbat Services in synagogues worldwide, just as here in Boca Raton at Temple Beth El, the names of loved ones are recited in their memory prior to the reading of the Kaddish prayer. Whether or not you are a member of the synagogue, you may call the clergy office to request the name of your loved one to be read at the Shabbat service closest to their annual Yahrzeit date.
A permanent means of remembering a loved one or dear friend is to dedicate a Yahrzeit Plaque at a synagogue. The Beth El Mausoleum in Boca Raton, FL is the only mausoleum in the United States built on the sacred grounds of a synagogue.
When dedicating a Yahrzeit Plaque on the beautiful memorial wall located inside the Rabbi Merle E. Singer Sanctuary at Temple Beth El of Boca Raton, it will ensure that the yahrzeit will be observed in perpetuity.
Depending upon whether you wish to observe the Yahrzeit according to the Hebrew date of death or the English (secular) date of death, there are many free online date calculators making it easy to determine the next Yahrzeit date of your loved one. Jewish funeral homes often provide an annual calendar to the mourners following the service, along with the seven-day Shiva candle.
For information on honoring a loved one on Temple Beth El of Boca Raton’sYahrzeit wall contact the Temple Beth El Clergy office at 561-391-8900. Our Beth El Mausoleum director,Mike Sirowitz is always available to assist with any needs you may have for both pre-need and at-need arrangements, so that you may keep the light burning in memory of those you love the most.