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A yahrzeit candle, also spelled yahrtzeit candle or called a memorial candle, (Hebrew: נר נשמה, ner neshama, meaning "soul candle"; Yiddish: יאָרצײַט ליכט yortsayt likht, meaning "anniversary candle") is a type of candle that is lit in memory of the dead in Judaism.
This kind of candle, that burns up to 26 hours, is also lit on the eve of Yom Kippur or of the Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony (Yom HaShoah) to burn through the entire occasion. (Judaism reckons "days" to begin at sundown, in accordance with Genesis, e.g., 1:5: "And there was evening and there was morning, one day.")
The use of a yahrzeit candle is a widely practiced custom, where mourners light a yahrzeit candle that burns for 24 hours, on the anniversary of the death on the Hebrew calendar. The word "yahrzeit" (Yiddish: יאָרצײַט yortsayt ) itself means "anniversary" (or more specifically "anniversary [of a person's death]") in Yiddish, originating from German Jahr, year, and Zeit, time. It is customary to light the candle inside one's home, or near the grave of the deceased. The candle is also lit on Yom Kippur and there are also customs to light a yahrzeit candle on the dates when yizkor is said (Yom Kippur, Shemini Atzeret, final day of Pesach, and Shavuot). It is also customary to light the candle during the shiva, usually a larger one that lasts the entire seven days. The custom of lighting a yahrzeit candle comes from the Book of Proverbs 20:27 "The soul of man is a candle of the Lord."
The custom of lighting a yahrzeit candle for the deceased is very widespread and deeply ingrained in Jewish life. Many Jews who are otherwise unobservant follow this custom. Today, some people use an electric yahrzeit candle that plugs into the wall instead of a candle for safety reasons.
The yahrzeit candle is lit during the week of Shiva (mourning). It is also lit at sundown on the eve of the yahrzeit (anniversary of the death) and at sundown preceding the start of Yom Kippur and at sundown preceding the last day of Succot, Passover and Shavuot. These holidays all have yizkor (memorial) in synagogue as well.
Many observant Jews light candles made for Yahrzeit observance at the start of holidays which last for two or three days in order to allow the lighting of candles on the following days, since on holidays other than Shabbat and Yom Kippur lighting of flames is prohibited, while transfer of fire is permitted. 48 hour and 72 hour candles have also been manufactured for these purposes.
- After Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995, the young people who came to mourn Rabin at the Kings of Israel Square where he was killed were dubbed the "Youth of the Candles" (נוער הנרות, noar hanerot) after the many yahrzeit candles they lit.
- Yahrzeit candles are often lit by many Jewish communities on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) in remembrance of those who were killed in the Holocaust.
The assassination site of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin. It is usually filled with yahrzeit candles and flowers.
- Chana and Her Seven Sons, The Jewish Press, Chana Katz, December 8, 2004
- Ner Neshama, Morfix Dictionary (in Hebrew)
- Memorial honors Yitzchak Rabin, The Daily Pennsylvanian, Brennan Quinn, December 6, 2000
- Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures: The new JPS translation according to the traditional Hebrew text. Philadelphia and Jerusalem: Jewish Publication Society. 1985. p. 3.
- The Jewish Religion, Louis Jacobs, Oxford University Press, 1995