There is a widespread misconception that one who has not visited a parent’s grave in over seven years may not visit ever again.1 While this concept is mentioned in several sources,2 the halacha is not in accordance with this view. In fact, most halachic authorities reject the idea completely and assert that it is essentially a fabrication with no authentic source.3 Indeed, the Zohar records an incident where a son visited his father’s grave after an absence of twelve years, and we are told that the father’s soul received great pleasure and appreciated the visit.4
It is taught that the soul of one departed descends to its burial place on the day of the yahrzeit. However, a soul that perceives that no one has come to visit its grave in quite some time will cease to descend. Nevertheless, as long as the grave is at least occasionally visited by someone, the soul will continue to descend every year on the yahrzeit.5 One should recite “kel maleh rachamim” when visiting a grave, especially when visiting on the yahrzeit.6 The three days before and after a yahrzeit are considered to be closely connected to the yahrzeit as well. As such, one who is unable to visit a grave on the actual yahrzeit should at least endeavor to do so during these days.7
One observing yahrzeit for a father takes precedence over one observing yahrzeit for a mother with regard to priority for aliyot and leading services.8 One who has remarried should not observe the yahrzeit of the first spouse – at least not publicly – lest it arouse jealousy and strife.9 On the other hand, there are those who suggest that a second husband should actually observe the yahrzeit customs on behalf of his wife’s first husband.10 Alternatively, one can hire someone to recite Kaddish and lead services on the yahrzeit of one’s first spouse.11
It is a virtually12 universal practice to light a 24-hour memorial candle on the evening before the yahrzeit so that it burns throughout the yahrzeit.13 It is said that the soul derives pleasure when candles are lit in its honor.14 Lighting a candle also recalls the teaching that, “the candle of Hashem is the soul of man.”15 One who has yahrzeit on Shabbat and forgets to light a yahrzeit candle before Shabbat begins is permitted to ask a non-Jew to do so as long as it is still before dark.16 One who forgets to light the yahrzeit candle before Yom Tov may light it on Yom Tov itself from a pre-existing flame,17 though some authorities disagree.18 Lighting a yahrzeit candle in memory of one’s parents before the start of Yom Kippur is said to bring them atonement.19 It is also customary to light a yahrzeit candle before the start of any holiday on which Yizkor is recited.20 One may light a single candle in memory of several different individuals.21
It is an ancient custom to fast on the day of a yahrzeit.22 Among the reasons for this is that the day one experiences the death of a close relative is considered to be a day of bad mazal – personal ill-fortune.23 A yahrzeit is also a day for reflection and teshuva, and fasting has always been the traditional channel for doing so. Fasting on the yahrzeit is also said to attain forgiveness and atonement for the deceased.24 So too, fasting on a yahrzeit ensures that one recalls the deceased repeatedly throughout the day.25 When fasting on a yahrzeit, one recites “aneinu” in the silent Shemoneh Esrei at Mincha.26
Nevertheless, as fasting is difficult for most people, it has become customary to replace the yahrzeit fast with a “tikkun,” an informal reception that is held in the synagogue in memory of the person whose yahrzeit is being observed.27 Light snacks and drinks are served to fellow congregants following the morning services. These refreshments are referred to as a “tikkun,” meaning “to correct” or “to perfect.” This alludes to the belief that serving a tikkun in the synagogue on the day of a yahrzeit is beneficial for the soul of the deceased and adds to its merits. This is because the blessings that are recited over the refreshments and the “amens” that are said in reply serve as a merit for the deceased. Also, organizing an informal gathering where one offers guests food and drink is considered a fulfillment of the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim, which serves as yet another merit for the deceased.28
It is customary to study Mishna on a yahrzeit. This is because the letters of the word “Mishna” are the same as those of “neshama” – soul. We are taught that one who has “damaged” his soul can repair it through the study of Mishna.29 The study of Mishna is also said to be a segula for saving the soul from possible reincarnation.30 The effects of Torah study in memory of the deceased is said to be “seven times” greater than reciting Kaddish and leading the services alone. Indeed, sages throughout the generations have been known to beg their children and students to study Torah, especially Mishna, on their behalf after their passing.
Although some do not recite Tachanun on a yahrzeit31, there is little basis for this practice and it should be recited as normal.32 The yahrzeit should always be observed on the day of death regardless of when the burial took place.33 One who is unsure when someone has died should observe the yahrzeit on the day that the death was discovered.34 If even this cannot be determined, then one may choose any day of the year to be observed as yahrzeit.35 One who is unsure whether a death took place before sunset or after nightfall should observe both days as yahrzeit.36
- Divrei Shaul, YD 355.
- Ta’amei Haminhagim, cited in Tirosh V’yitzhar 146:2.
- Divrei Shaul, YD 355; Hitorerut Teshuva, YD 187; She’arim Metzuyanim B’halacha 128 note 22.
- Cited in Shem M’shimon, OC 4.
- Afarkasta D’anya 1:188.
- YD 344:20, Be’er Hagola.
- Chemdat Shaul 47; Ta’amei Haminhagim page 268 note 43, Nitei Gavriel, Minhagei Lag Ba’omer.
- Rambam, Pirush Hamishnayot, Horayot 3:47; Birkei Yosef, OC 284:1.
- Kol Bo 2:4:34; Chatam Sofer, YD 2:355; Shem Aryeh, OC 14; Hillel Omer 243; Be’er Moshe 4:104; Tzitz Eliezer 8:34.
- Rivevot V’yovlot 2:273.
- Tzitz Eliezer 8:34.
- See Teshuvot V’hanhagot 1:702 for an opposing view.
- Magen Avraham 261:6; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 221:1; Yechave Da’at 5:60; Teshuvot V’hanhagot 1:702b, 3:379.
- Teshuvot V’hanhagot 1:702b.
- Mishlei 20:27.
- Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 90:23; Magen Avraham 261:6; Mishna Berura 261:16.
- Tzitz Eliezer 6:10; Ketav Sofer, OC 65. See also Biur Halacha 514 s.v. Ner.
- Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 98:1.
- Kol Bo 68.
- Rema, OC 610:4.
- See Har Tzvi, YD 198.
- Nedarim 12a; OC 568:8; Rema, YD 376:4, 402:12; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 221:2; Teshuvot V’hanhagot 3:379.
- Maharam Mintz 9; Levush, YD 402:12; Noheg K’tzon Yosef.
- Maharam Mintz 9.
- Terumat Hadeshen 293.
- Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 221:1; Kaf Hachaim, OC 565:5.
- Minchat Yitzchak 6:135.
- Minchat Yitzchak 6:135; Minhag Yisrael Torah, OC 132:7.
- Ben Yehoyada, Sanhedrin 42a.
- Shaarei Yerushalayim 8.
- Minhag Yisrael Torah, OC 131:3
- Yabia Omer 3:11:9; Tzitz Eliezer 11:17.
- OC 568:8; Mishna Berura 568:44; Rema, YD 402:12; If, however, burial took place quite some time after death, an authority must be consulted as to when to observe the first yartzeit.
- Igrot Moshe, YD 3:159.
- Mateh Moshe 5:767; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 221:8; Mishna Berura 568:42;
- Teshuvot V’hanhagot 1:698.