Jewish Funeral Traditions
The Process of a Jewish Funeral
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The Jewish mourning tradition of Yahrzeit marks the yearly anniversary of a death. Yahrzeit is observed according to the Hebrew calendar, and begins in the evening before the anniversary, and lasts until the next sundown.
Remembering that Jewish funeral practices are guided by the family's membership in one of the three Jewish movements–Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform, we can easily understand that there would be variations in the way Yahrzeit is observed.
With that said, traditionally the observance of Yahrzeit takes place in different locations: the home, the synagogue and the cemetery; and is observed by three distinct activities: the lighting of candles, the recitation of prayer, and a generous charitable action.
The first Yahrzeit observance involved the recitation of the Mourner's Kaddish prayer at the synagogue with a minyan, the traditional quorum of ten Jewish adult men required for certain religious obligations. However, non-Orthodox streams of Judaism allow adult females to participate in the minyan. This is done at morning, afternoon, and evening services. If there is a memorial Yahrzeit plaque for the deceased at the synagogue, its light will be ceremonially lit in recognition of this anniversary.
The second observance takes place at home, where the mourner's light a candle or memorial lamp in commemoration of their death. The other location for Yahrzeit observances is the grave of the deceased, where visitors recite proscribed prayers.
The third Yahrzeit observance involves charitable giving, or Tzedakah, which has long a part of Judaic tradition. So much so that Rabbi Bradley Savit Artson wrote, "Tzedakah is not about giving; Tzedakah is about being." The practice of Tzedakah, as it relates to Yahrzeit, involves making a charitable donation in memory of the deceased.
To assist Jewish families in the determination of the proper date for Yahrzeit observances in commemoration of a loved one, Sherman's Flatbush Memorial Chapel, Inc., Inc. provides everyone who asks with a personal Yahrzeit calendar. Simply fill out the fields and your request will be sent to us. And a Yahrzeit calendar will be sent to you shortly. If you have additional questions about Yahrzeit observances, or need assistance with our online Yahrzeit calendar request form, please call us at (718) 377-7300. A member of our staff will be pleased to assist you.
Lamm, Maurice, "Yahrzeit: Memorial Anniversary", Chabad, accessed 2014.