What is a yahrtzeit?

A yahrtzeit ("year time" in Yiddish) represents a significant date on the Hebrew calendar: the day when a soul left our world.

Each yahrtzeit, the soul ascends to greater spiritual heights. We assist the soul on its journey by praying, learning, performing mitzvahs and reciting Kaddish in the merit of the departed. As with all Jewish days, this observance begins at nightfall and extends until the following nightfall.

As we explore further, we’ll delve into the unique customs surrounding this day, recognizing the rich tapestry of practices that are woven throughout our communities.

What is done on Shabbat preceding the yahrzeit?

It is customary for sons to be called to the Torah on the Shabbat preceding the yahrtzeit,1 preferably for maftir.2

Many host or sponsor a post-services kiddush reception (or post-Shabbat Melaveh Malkah3), which brings spiritual benefit to the departed soul.4

If the yahrtzeit is on Shabbat itself, the aliyah and kiddush are observed on the yahrtzeit day itself, not the preceding Shabbat.5 (Some have the custom to get an aliyah both on the previous Shabbat and the Shabbat of the yahrtzeit itself,6 although this is not the Chabad custom.7)

Many Sephardic communities have the custom to start saying Kaddish from the Friday night prior to the yahrtzeit and then continuing every day through the yahrtzeit.8

Some make an effort to lead the Musaf or all prayers on the Shabbat and/or Saturday night preceding the yahrzeit.9 (This is not the Chabad custom.10)

How is a yahrtzeit commemorated?

Lighting a Candle: On the eve of the yahrtzeit, it is customary to light a candle that will last until nightfall the next day.11 The custom is not to put out the candle, even if it burns for longer than the yahrtzeit.12 Additionally, when the mourner leads13 the prayers, the Chabad custom is to light five candles by the amud (lectern) in honor of the departed’s soul.14

Kaddish and Leading Services: Men recite Kaddish in the synagogue at all prayers on the day of the yahrtzeit. A son who is observing a yahrtzeit for his parents should endeavor to lead the services for all prayers if possible.15

Adding Mitzvahs: While the Kaddish holds significance, delving into Torah study and accepting additional mitzvahs in the deceased’s merit is even more impactful and important for the departed soul.16

Giving Charity: It is customary to give extra charity in the merit of the deceased. (If the yahrtzeit is on Shabbat, do this on Friday.)17

Called to the Torah: If the yahrtzeit is on a day when the Torah is read, men should make an effort to get an aliyah and then recite the half-Kaddish following the reading of the Torah.18

Memorial Prayer: Many have the Kel Maleh Rachamim prayer said in memory of the departed. This is either recited at the Torah reading on the day of the yahrtzeit or on the Shabbat (either in the Shacharit or Minchah prayer) prior to the yahrtzeit.19 (This is not the Chabad custom.20)

Providing Refreshments: Following Shacharit prayers, many have the custom of providing snacks and spirits for the congregants, as the blessings and l'chaims benefit the departed soul.21 Additionally, many hold a Chassidic gathering in honor of the departed.22

Learning Mishnayot: During the yahrtzeit, it is customary to learn chapters of Mishnayot, especially those that begin with the letters of the Jewish name of the departed.23

Find the Appropriate Chapters in Hebrew & English Here

Siyum: Some endeavor to make a siyum, celebrating the completion of a tractate of Talmud or another significant Jewish text.24

Visiting the Cemetery: Many make it a point to visit the grave of the departed. When that is not possible, some visit the graves of others, especially the righteous, since all souls are essentially connected.25

When visiting the grave, many say Psalm 91, and some add Psalms 33, 16, 17, 72, 104 and 130. Some also recite verses from Psalm 119 that spell the Hebrew name of the deceased and the word נשמה, neshamah (soul).26 If there is a minyan27 present, then Mourners' Kaddish can be recited as well.28

Should one fast on a yahrtzeit?

While there was an ancient custom of fasting on the day of a yahrtzeit,29 it’s seldom observed today,30 and Chabad doesn’t adhere to this practice.31

Those who fast don’t do so if the yahrtzeit falls out on Shabbat or a day when Tachanun is not recited.32 Special occasions, like a son's circumcision or a bride and groom’s Sheva Brachot, also override this fast.33

If fasting, add the “Aneinu” paragraph in the Amidah (in the blessing of Shema Koleinu).

Is the yahrtzeit a day to mourn?

The yahrtzeit is a day of reflection, but it is not a time of mourning per se.34

The one exception is that some have the custom not to participate in a wedding (unless it's that of a very close relative) on the eve of a parent’s yahrtzeit. They would, however, participate in a wedding the night after the yahrtzeit, as well as other celebrations on the day of the yahrtzeit such as a brit milah and pidyon haben.35

It is interesting to note that, the first yahrtzeit is typically the final day of the 12 months of mourning that follow a parent’s passing, and the mourning restrictions are in effect.36 This would not apply in a Jewish leap year, when the 12 months of mourning end a month before the first yahrtzeit.

How is the date of yartzeit calculated

A yahrtzeit is marked on the Jewish calendar anniversary of the passing, which starts at nightfall. While this is typically simple to calculate, there are sometimes hiccups. The Chabad custom is presented here, though some communities may have divergent traditions, so consult your rabbi.

What if the burial was delayed?

Some have the custom that if the burial occurred two or more days after the death, the first yahrtzeit is observed on the burial date, but subsequent years follow the date the person passed away. However, the more widely accepted custom (as well as the Chabad custom37) is to observe the yahrtzeit based on the day of passing, regardless of when the burial occurred, even in the first year.38

What if the passing occurred during twilight?

As mentioned, Jewish days start at nightfall. However, the time between sunset and nightfall (“twilight”) is considered to be a gray area. If the passing occurred during twilight, some commemorate the later day as the yahrtzeit but recite Kaddish on the first day as well.39 If this happened to your relative, consult a rabbi.

What if I don’t know the day of passing?

If the day of the passing is unknown (as was common among those who perished in the Holocaust), consult a rabbi who will help ascertain a proper date to commemorate the yahrtzeit. If you know the civil date, you can use our Yahrtzeit Calculator.

What if the passing was during Adar in a regular year and the current year is a leap year?

The common custom is to commemorate the yahrtzeit in Adar I. Kaddish is recited on the same date in Adar II, but other yahrtzeit customs are not observed.40

What if the passing was during Adar in a leap year?

In an ordinary year, observe the yahrtzeit in the (lone) Adar. When there are two Adars, observe the yahrtzeit in the actual month of passing.41

What if the passing was on the 30th of Adar I in a leap year?

A regular Adar only has 29 days, so no date corresponds to 30 Adar I. Therefore, the yahrtzeit would be celebrated in non-leap years on the 30th of Shevat.42

What if the date does not exist?

The two months of Cheshvan and Kislev can have either 29 or 30 days, depending on the year. Thus, if the passing was on the 30th of one of these months, the date of the yahrtzeit may not exist in the current year.

In this scenario, many have the custom of establishing the yahrtzeit based on the first yahrtzeit. For example, if there was no 30th of Cheshvan in the first year after the passing, the yahrtzeit is observed on the 29th, and this practice continues in all subsequent years that don’t have a Cheshvan 30. However, if the first year had a Cheshvan 30, then in years without Cheshvan 30, the yahrtzeit is observed on Kislev 1. The same rule applies to the 30th day of Kislev.

Although most,43 including Chabad,44 follow this custom, some have the custom of observing the yahrtzeit on both days in years when there is no 30th of the month.45

Confused? Our Yahrzeit Calculator does the heavy lifting for you.

Addenda: When is the last day of reciting Kaddish?

Kaddish for a parent is recited for eleven months minus a day, which is (normally) a month and a day before the yahrtzeit.

If the day of passing isn’t the same as the burial, there are differences in customs. Some calculate the eleven months from the day of burial,46 while others, including Chabad,47 calculate from the day the person passed away.48

Some Sephardic communities say Kaddish until the final week of the 12 months after the passing.49

May we merit the day when we will once again be reunited with our loved ones with the coming of the Moshiach and the resurrection of the dead!