Some Laws and Customs of the Memorial Prayers
"Yizkor" ("May He Remember")
By "Memorial Prayers," we refer to prayers in which we ask Hashem to "Remember" and that He, in His Mercy, grant a "Menuchah Nechonah," a "Proper Resting Place," to our loved ones who have passed away. In addition to prayers, we also make donations to "Tzedakah," "Charity," and ask Hashem to apply the "credit" for those donations to the "accounts," so to speak, of our loved ones. These Memorial Prayers are "Yizkor," "May He Remember," and "E-l Malei Rachamim," "Almighty, full of Mercy."
Sponsored byWhat was the Original Custom?
The current custom is to recite "Yizkor" and "E-l Malei Rachamim" four times a year:
Each individual in the congregation recites "Yizkor" for all those he or she wishes to commemorate, and then "E-l Malei Rachamim" for the same set of individuals and groups.
"Individuals" include parents and other relatives, and "groups" include Martyrs of the Holocaust or other Martyrs (unfortunately, there are many catastrophes in Jewish History to choose from).
In a special category are Israel Defense Force Martyrs - for these died in defense of a State which, despite all its problems, many consider to be the "Beginning of the Redemption of the Jewish People."
In this fortunate case, the individual may choose to leave the synagogue during the recitation of "Yizkor."
However, everyone should return and be present for the Commemoration of Souls observed by the Jewish People as a whole - namely, the "E-l Malei" recited publicly by the Chazzan (the person leading the Prayers) for the Martyrs of the Holocaust, and Martyrs of the IDF (Israel Defense Forces).
During the first year of mourning, the mourner should recite "Yizkor" with the congregation, because that is when the need of the deceased for atonement and mercy is greatest. However, there is another opinion regarding this matter, and if the mourner feels that he or she could not restrain themselves from loud and uncontrolled expressions of grief, such as would disturb the other congregants, they may leave the synagogue during the first year.
"Loud and uncontrolled expressions of grief" are perfectly natural in the early stages of mourning, but the Rabbis of the Talmud, who were experts in human nature, estimated that, by the mercy of Hashem which allows the living to continue to live, the process of "forgetting" begins to set in, in general, sometime within the first year. This allows the mourner to begin to look beyond the gaping hole in his or her life, and proceed with the process of "normal" living, but with indelible memories retained of the loved ones who have departed.
No, although both "Yizkor" and "E-l Malei Rachamim" are intended to be recited in the synagogue, in the presence of a "minyan," a quorum of ten men. If one finds himself or herself away from a synagogue, he or she may recite the "Yizkor" and the "E-l Malei Rachamim" Prayers even in the absence of a "minyan."
Perhaps it was realized that there are numerous Jews who, for one reason or another, age or sickness or the like, cannot make it to "shul," and that it would be unfair to them not to allow them to say "Yizkor" for their loved ones.
One should definitely light a "Yahrtzeit" Candle (an assembly of wax or oil which will burn at least 24 hours - lit generally on the night before the Anniversary of the Death of a loved one) on "Yom Kippur", in commemoration of the soul(s) of one's parent(s), together with the other candles.
This candle is also called a "Ner Neshamah," a Lamp of the Soul, based on the verse in "Mishlei"/Proverbs (20:27) "The Soul, or Conscience, of Man is a Lamp of G-d, searching out all the hidden recesses of the Person," alluding to the fact that the soul of the departed will also be "standing before G-d" for Atonement.
There is an opinion that one should light the "Yahrtzeit" Candle on all the occasions when one recites the "Yizkor" and "E-l Malei" Memorial Prayers.
When referring to the deceased, the custom of the Ashkenazic community is to mention the name of the deceased as the son of the father (for example: "Moshe ben Maimon;" Moshe, the son of his father, Maimon) or the daughter of the father (for example: "Miriam bat Amram;" Miriam, the daughter of her father, Amram.)
In doing so, this is the same way in which a person is called up to the Torah, which is called an "aliyah," an ascent, which we wish both for ourselves and, on this special and holy day, for our departed loved ones.
When referring to the deceased, the custom of the Sefardic community is to mention the name of the deceased as the son of the mother (for example: "Yaakov ben Rivkah;" Yaakov, the son of his mother, Rivkah) or the daughter of the mother (for example: "Miriam bat Yocheved;" Miriam, the daughter of her mother, Yocheved.)
This is the way a person is referred to when ill, and in need of healing from Hashem. In this "Yizkor" or "E-l Malei Rachamim" Prayer, it is healing in terms of Atonement that we seek for our departed loved ones.