Yizkor Intro – Who? What? Where? When?

What is Yizkor:

Yizkor is an ancient custom whereby we recall the souls of the departed and we vow to give charity in their merit. Yizkor literally means “he should remember.†The Yizkor prayer consists of a prayer for our relative and then the “malei rachamim†prayer which we will discuss later below.

The source for Yizkor is in parsha Devarim. The verse says “Kofer la’amcha Yisrael†this refers to the living then the verse says “Asher padisa†these are the dead. This comes to teach us that the dead require redemption by means of the living.[1] In Yizkor, the living remember the dead and vow to give tzedakah in their merit thus redeeming their loved ones. The giving of tzedakah is one of the main sources of merit for the deceased.

Yizkor is a testament to our most basic beliefs in Judaism, that when a person dies they move from this world to the next world. In the next world they will be judged and reach a level that is commensurate with the way they lived in this world through their acts of kindness, learning Torah, and their mitzvas.

When a person dies, they can no longer bring merit to themselves because one can only earn merit in this world through observing the mitvas and learning Torah. However, a person’s effect lives on even after a person dies. That is why a relative or friend of the deceased can bring merit to their loved one because it is the legacy of our loved one that affected the relative or friend to do mitzvas in the first place.

On Yizkor, we beseech G-d not to forget our loved ones. That we will do acts of kindness such as the mitzvah of tzedakah in the merit of our loved ones, since they can no longer perform mitzvas. Our prayers and our action of giving tzedakah is a tremendous merit for our loved ones.

Yizkor is only the declaration of giving tzedakah. You must be very scrupulous after the holiday to remember to actually give the tzedakah to a worthy Jewish cause.

Who recites Yizkor: Yizkor may be recited for any Jewish person who has passed away: parent, grandparent, spouse, children, family, and friends. It may even be recited if the person committed suicide.

If one has remarried, it may hurt the remarried spouse if their spouse recites yizkor. Yet, since yizkor is recited very quietly and can be recited for such a broad range of people, in general, this should not prevent someone who has remarried from reciting yizkor.[2]

When is Yizkor recited:

1. Yizkor is said from the 1st year after death onwards, although many Rabbis hold that Yizkor is not recited on the first holiday after the death of your loved one.[3] Please check with your local orthodox Rabbi to see when you should first start saying yizkor. Yizkor should be recited beginning with the first holiday after the death of your loved one.

2. Yizkor is recited after the morning Torah reading on:

a. Yom Kippur

b. On the last day of Passover and Shavuot, and for those praying outside of Israel, on the 8th day of Passover and then 2nd day of Shavuot.

c. On the 8th day of Sukkot, called Shemini Atzeret.

3. It is recited even if the holiday falls on Shabbat, in which most memorials are usually inappropriate.

4. It usually follows the Rabbi’s Dvar Torah/Sermon.

5. It should be recited at synogogue with a minyan. If one cannot make it to synogogue because of illness, it may be recited at home privately without a minyan.[4] In this way, yizkor is different than Kaddish because Kaddish can only be said with a minyan.

[1] Pnei Baruch 38, footnote 1

[2] Pnei Baruch 38:10

[3] Pnei Baruch 38:15; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 133:21

[4] Pnei Baruch 38:16


The articles are not meant to be halachic rulings, so please contact a posek regarding your situation. Our website is intended to be a helpful guide, but for everything contained in the articles, or to the extent that we inadvertantly made a mistake on one of the articles, please contact your local Orthodox Rabbi regarding it.