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I Keep Forgetting When to Light the Yizkor Candle

By Rabbi Rafi Rank

Dear Cyber Rav,

There are four times a year when we say Yizkor for our loved ones--Yom Kippur, Shemini Atzeret, Pesah, and Shavu'ot. Do we light one Yizkor candle for all our loved ones who have departed on each of these days, do we light one for each person on each of these days, or should we not light a candle at all? If we light a Yizkor candle on each of these days, when is the appropriate time to do so -- before or after candle lighting. If the holiday begins on a Saturday, when do we light the Yizkor candle? Do we light the candle on the erev or on the day we say Yizkor and do we have to say any special prayer when lighting the Yizkor candle? I am awaiting your reply. Light My Fire

The Answer

Dear Light My Fire,

There are many different customs surrounding the lighting of Yizkor candles and the rule should be something like this--whatever your parents did is probably what you should do as well. But for those who may not recall what their parents did or for those whose parents were not involved with Jewish tradition, I think we can come up with some reasonable guidelines.

First of all, although everyone is in agreement that a candle should be lit for Yahrzeit, not everyone agrees that a candle should be lit for Yizkor. So if the tradition in the family is not to light a candle for Yizkor, don't. There is nothing wrong with that. The following, then, applies only to those who wish to light a candle for Yizkor.

There is no need to light one candle for each loved one--some families would end up with tens of candles throughout their kitchen! One candle suffices for all. The Yizkor candle should generally be lit just before hadlakat nerot or the lighting of candles for the festival. This would be especially true when the festival coincides with Shabbat. Once the Shabbat candles are lit, no more lighting of candles should take place.

Since the Yizkor services for the three pilgrimage festivals always falls on the last day of Yom Tov, and it is forbidden to create fire on Yom tov, the Yizkor candle should be lit from an existing flame. For those with gas burning stoves with a pilot, just use the flame from the pilot. If you have no pilot on your stove, you should have a candle burning through the first day of Yom Tov and use its flame to light the Yizkor candle.

When the festival begins on a Saturday, the Yizkor candle should be lit following Havdalah. The only prayers recited when lighting the Yizkor, or for that matter, the Yahrzeit candles, are the prayers in your heart--and sometimes, those are the very best prayers to recite.

I hope this helps--
Cyber Rav

Rafi Rank is Rabbi of Midway Jewish Center in Syosset, NY as well as Vice President of the International Rabbinical Assembly.

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