Yizkor, the special memorial prayer for the departed, is recited in the synagogue four times a year: on the last day of Passover, on the second day of Shavuot, on Shemini Atzeret and on Yom Kippur. Customarily,1 those whose parents are still living leave the sanctuary for the duration of this short prayer.

What are the reasons for this custom?

Evil Eye

Many explain that those who have parents leave the room in order to avoid evoking jealousy and prompting an ayin harah (“evil eye”)from those who have lost a parent.2 This is reminiscent of a story in the Talmud of an individual who mentioned to an orphan that both his parents were alive. The orphan then looked at him with an “evil eye,” resulting in both of his parents’ passing away.3

Power of Speech

The Talmud tells us that G‑d “made a covenant with the power of speech,” giving speech the power to effect change. In light of this, there is a fear that if those who have parents stay in the sanctuary, they may accidentally say Yizkor, which can cause a fulfillment of the need for the prayer.4 And even if they don’t recite it, their being in the sanctuary when it is announced to say Yizkor can have the same consequence.5


It is generally expected that everyone join in group prayers, lest they give the impression that they belong to a different faction or that they do not condone the prayer being said.6 In this case, since people with parents obviously do not wish to say Yizkor, it is best that they leave the room, leaving all present to say the prayer together.


Commonly, children are named after their grandparents. Thus, if the entire congregation were to stay during Yizkor, and one were to mention his departed parent’s name, it is very likely that there would be a descendant present who has that very name. In Judaism, we are careful “not to open one’s mouth to the negative”7—not to verbalize anything that might be construed as negative, lest it materializes.8

Joy of Yom Tov

Additionally, it may be halachically problematic for those with parents to remain in the sanctuary.

According to halachah, the entire congregation does not recite the Av Harachamim prayer (which mention the souls of the departed) on a regular Shabbat if there is a newlywed in the synagogue. Since we are meant to rejoice in our brothers’ happy occasions, we don’t want to dampen the joy with anything that might elicit sadness.

Likewise, Yizkor could dampen the joy that we are meant to have on holidays.9 Now, for those whose parents have passed away, reciting Yizkor also provides a certain sense of relief in that they are able to do something for the merit of the departed. Therefore, they are permitted to recite Yizkor, as it is not entirely an expression of sadness and grief. However, all those who don’t have this element of relief are, on the contrary, commanded to rejoice on the holidays.10

May we merit the day when G‑d will once and for all wipe away our tears—when we will be reunited with our loved ones with the coming of Moshiach and the Resurrection of the Dead!