What Is the Purpose of Yizkor?


In a world full of digital connections and the rapid pace of modern life, it’s easy to lose touch with our roots. It’s even much easier to lose touch with the valuable memories we’ve had with those that came before us. Well, fear not, for Yizkor allows us to reconnect and revisit cherished memories from the past with those we love that aren’t here today.

As a key fits perfectly in the lock, Yizkor opens the gateway to our individual stories, inside jokes, and cherished moments spent with those who built the foundation of our lives. This timeless ritual takes us on a heartfelt journey, allowing us to cherish the past while embracing the present.

Before we delve into Yizkor’s purpose, why not sign up on Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah to learn Yizkor recital? Now, let’s embark on an enchanting journey to unearth its significance.

Understanding the Meaning of Yizkor

To truly know Yizkor’s purpose, you must first understand its meaning. Yizkor means “May God Remember.” It is a mourning service that is recited by people who lost a close relative or a parent through death. This mourning service is founded on the belief in the immortality of our souls, as per the Jewish faith.

Although a deceased person’s soul can’t do any good deeds or charity, it is believed that they can still achieve favor through the good deeds, prayers and charity of those alive. The Yizkor roots can be traced back to the Midrash Tanchuma, which references Deuteronomy 21:8. The first part of this verse refers to the living, while the second part refers to the deceased.

The Midrash also continues to state that the practice of Yizkor is to help us remember the deceased on Yom Kippur by pledging our charity and good deeds on their behalf. It tells us not to think that good deeds and charity can no longer help the departed. But instead, when you pledge charity on behalf of a deceased, they will quickly ascend as an arrow shot from a bow.

The Purpose of Yizkor

As mentioned earlier, Yizkor is a memorial service recited for deceased relatives and parents all through the year. Not only do people reciting the prayer find it to be an emotional and moving experience, but it also has the power to spiritually elevate departed souls.

This service consists of four parts, namely:

Part One: The first part of this memorial service consists of several prayers and readings that are recited and chanted to set the mood for the service.

Part two: Paragraphs that are read silently to recall the deceased. There are paragraphs for a mother, father, wife, husband, daughter, son, other relatives, friends, and Jewish martyrs. During the Yizkor service, each person has to read the appropriate paragraph. The paragraphs follow a similar pattern. The primary goal of these paragraphs is to ask God to remember the souls of those who have died because the individual reciting it vows to give good deeds and charity on behalf of the deceased.

As a reward for charity, the individual reciting the paragraph asks that the soul of the deceased be bound in the “Bond of Life” with the souls of other righteous people, mothers, and forefathers in the Garden of Eden.

Part three: The memorial prayer for the deceased is chanted. This prayer is essentially the same as the one said at Jewish funerals.

Part four: The congregation recites a special prayer to memorialize all the Jewish Martyrs. During this special prayer, Psalm 23 may be added.

Aside from the purpose of Yizkor, other common questions that arise from this memorial service include:

Can You Say Yizkor Privately?

Yes. Since the Kaddish isn’t recited as part of Yizkor, there isn’t a technical requirement for the 10 Jew Quorum necessary for communal prayers. This means you can say the memorial paragraphs privately if you can’t get to the synagogue.

How Do You Get Names Listed in the Yizkor Book?

Most congregations often request their members list the names of those to be remembered as part of their yearly membership survey. However, this is usually done for the coming year. So if someone dies during the year, you may have to check with the synagogue office. This helps you spare yourself the unease of having a name missing when you expected it to be on the list.

Are Memorial Candles Light When Reciting Yizkor?

Yes, memorial candles are lit during Yizkor. Though no blessing accompanies the lighting, it provides a moment to reflect upon your loved one’s memory.

Now that you understand Yizkor’s purpose, let this service serve as a reminder to cherish every moment with your loved ones. Remember, life is a precious gift that should be celebrated and embraced with open arms. Even as we remember our past memories, don’t forget to live in the present.