Saturday, October 23, 2010

When to Light a Yahrzeit Candle

Dear Tanta Golda,
My friends and I were admiring a new yahrzeit candle holder from our sisterhood gift shop the other day, and the question came up about when one is supposed to light a yahrzeit candle. Some thought it had to be on the anniversary of the family member’s death by the Hebrew calendar, some thought the secular date was okay, and someone at the table thought that we should also light it on certain holidays! What does tradition say?
Burning with Desire to Know
Dearest Burning
Such a learned group you dine with, Talmudic scholars beware! But you asked a serious question.

First, yahrzeit is Yiddish for “anniversary (of a person’s death)”. The reason given for the lighting of a candle to mark this comes from the book of Proverbs 20:27 where it states, “The soul of man is the candle of God.” So, the flame of the candle helps us honor our departed’s soul. Yahrzeit candles

Tradition would have it that the candle is lit on the anniversary as reckoned by the Hebrew calendar. If you are not sure what the Hebrew date is you can go to: and click the on ‘yahrzeit, birthday, and anniversary calendar’. You’ll be asked to enter the Gregorian date of your loved one’s death (that’s our current secular calendar) and it will calculate the yahrzeit dates for the next ten years. Now remember my desirous one that in the Hebrew calendar system a new ‘day’ starts at sundown, so you’ll actually light the candle the evening before. (“There was evening, there was morning, day one.”) If you forget the night before, it is okay to light the candle in the morning.

Among the Reform, it has become common practice to honor a person’s yahrzeit on the anniversary of the secular date. e.g. June 7th. So Tanta Golda would advise that you follow the practice that feels most respectful to you.

As for other dates, your friend was correct! Yahrzeit candles are also supposed to be lit whenever a Yiskor (remembrance) service is said in synagogue. This would be, Yom Kippur, and the last day of the three pilgrimage holidays: Shemini Atzeret (the 8th day of Sukkot), Passover, and Shavuot. Oye, that’s a lot of candles! *Candles are lit in the evening 

Some people also use the yahrzeit as a time to visit the gravesite, give tzedakah, perform acts of kindness, study Torah, and even fasting.

Burning, I hope that you and your friends continue to hold such thoughtful discussions and come up with more questions for Tanta Golda!


  1. ekruger4@optonline.netApril 6, 2012 at 7:29 AM

    when are yahzeit candles lit on Passover?

  2. An excellent question! You will light your yahrzeit candle on the evening preceding the final day of Passover. So, if you are Reform and celebrate Passover for 7 days, you will light the candle(s) on the evening of April 12th this year. If you are Conservative or Orthodox and observe Passover for 8 days you will light the candle on the evening of the 13th.

    No blessing is said when you light a yahrzeit candle, but many take a moment to reflect on those that they are honoring with the lighting of the candle.

    Have a wonderful Pesach, and may you always hold your loved ones close to your heart. Tanta Golda

  3. Dear Tanta Golda,
    I am about to be Bat Mitzvahed in May and I plan to light a yahrzeit candle for my deceased granparents. 2 of my grandparents were Jewish, my other grandparent was cathlic. Should I still light a candle for my cathlic grandfather? By the way I belong to a REFORM temple.
    Thank you.
    Soon to be bat mitzvahed

  4. Dear Soon to be Bat Mitzvahed,

    First let me wish you much mazel on your upcoming bat mitzvah!

    An excellent question for one who is readying to become a Daughter of the Commandments!
    In Tanta Golda's Temple, which is also Reform, we encourage our members to remember ALL of their loved ones, Jewish or not. And Reform Halacha# (Jewish law) would also seem to permit the custom, as it is seen as "honoring your father and mother". So that even if one converts, one is duty bound to uphold this moral responsibility. *
    However, if you are planning to do this at the synagogue as part of your Bat Mitzvah, you should check with your Rabbi as well to be sure that she or he also follows this interpretation. (Remember my dear, when you have 2 Jews in a room, you invariably have at least 3 opinions!)

    For others who may ask the same question but who are not Reform, there seems to be some question in this area. Some authorities hold that the convert is not required to recognize and legal bonds between them and their gentile relatives, and some go so far as to say it is forbidden to say the mourner's Kaddish. Others follow the Talmudic discussion about honoring father and mother. Again, you should check with your Rabbi to see how they interpret this.

    I hope I have given you a clear enough answer Soon to Be. Thanks for asking - Tanta Golda

    #Contemporary American Reform Responsa, no.121 and Resp. Zekan Aharon 2:87 *Babalonian Talmud - Y'vamot 22a

  5. Thanks for the clarification Tantaleh, on which day of Pesach to light, Do i light one for each parent on the off yahrtzeit holidays, like the 8th day of Passover? Thank you. janet

    1. Janet Darling - Your question is not as straightforward as you might think. There is no 'halacha' or Jewish law pertaining to this.

      The short answer - do what your parents did. If, like most of us, you don't remember what they did, well...

      First, not all Jews agree that one should light yahrtzeit candles on the days we say Yiskor, but they seem to be in the minority.
      Some say (the majority) that on Yiskor memorials, one need only light one candle total.
      Some voices say that it is wonderful if you want to remember each close family member individually, so long as it doesn't pose a fire hazard. (Tradition says we light candles for parents, siblings, spouse, children - kenohora)
      Others say that you go ahead an light a candle for anyone who was special in your life whom you wish to honor.

      Confused yet?

      Going back to your question Janet, I'd say light one for each parent if you have enough candles, otherwise, one will honor the memory of both/all very respectfully.

    2. Thank you Tanta Golda,
      For your warmth, wit and caring. I lost my Dad two years ago. I cannot remember when he lit his memorial candle for his parents and I was feeling pretty sad and like I am an awful daughter. Then I read your reply..."The short answer - do what your parents did. If, like most of us, you don't remember what they did, well..." and I was no longer separate, worse than, alone. Thank you so very much for that.

    3. Aviva - Spring, such a beautiful name!
      I'm sorry to hear of the loss of you father. It is never easy losing a parent. Please do not beat yourself up for not remembering your grandparents' yahrtzeits. We count on our parents always being there to help guide the way, even when in the back of our minds we know this isn't possible.

      Tradition says that you are not obligated to light candles for grandparents, but Tanta Golda believes if they were special to you, why shouldn't you honor their memory?

      If you have a vague idea of what month, season, or what holiday their deaths occurred near, pick a date to honor them. Or, light a candle for them during the four holidays mentioned above and don't fret about the date of their passings.

      I'm sure your grandparents would be honored that you are remembering them.
      May you be comforted by the memories of all your loved ones. TB

  6. The Yahrzeit Candle is called a "memorial candle", and just as the name suggests, this is a special candle or electric bulb that is lit in the commemoration of a loved one's death.

    1. So true! And, one can commemorate (recall and show respect for-Webster's Dictionary) a loved one at any time. A memorial is something established to remind people of a person or event. It is not confined to the anniversary.
      However, tradition says we should be sure to do so on the anniversary of their death, and the conclusion of the four pilgrimage holidays.

  7. Would it be acceptable to light a Yarhtzeit candle on my mother's birthday? She died under three months ago.

    1. My Darling Anonymous -

      First, I am sorry to learn about your recent loss. Losing a parent is never easy. They are/were such significant forces in our lives.

      Tanta Golda's research has found no prohibition on lighting a yarhtzeit candle on a loved one's birthday.

      While one is instructed to light it on the anniversary of their death, and 4 specific holidays, nowhere does it say that you cannot commemorate a parent on additional occasions.

      By lighting a yarhzeit candle on your mother's birthday, you are continuing to honor and remember her. What a wonderful tribute to her.

      May her memory be a blessing. TG

  8. I am just wondering since Passover ends on the 22 of April 2014 are the Yizkor candles lit at sun down on the 21st of April or on the 22nd also is it always the evening before or the actual day of Yizkor. Thank you and have a wonderful Pesach.


  9. Dearest Anonymous - I'm so glad you asked, you reminded me to update my post "Do You Light Yahrzeit Candles on Passover?"
    But, to answer your question: If you are celebrating Pesach for eight days, then yes, yahrzeit candles are lit after sundown on April 21st. Candles are always lit the evening before the yahrzeit day - confusing, I know, but no one asked Tanta Golda.

    I hope you have a wonderful Pesach and are able to attend at least one seder with family and/or friends.

  10. My son died. February 6th 1985 what date di i ligh yahzeit candle

  11. Dearest Anonymous - The death of a child is something no parent should have to experience. May his memories bring you more joy than sorrow.
    If you go to, and click on Yahrzeits, Birthdays, Anniversaries, you can find the candle lighting dates for the next 20 years. I'm posting the next five.
    Mon 25-Jan-2016 Person1's Yahrzeit (15th of Sh'vat)
    Sat 11-Feb-2017 Person1's Yahrzeit (15th of Sh'vat)
    Wed 31-Jan-2018 Person1's Yahrzeit (15th of Sh'vat)
    Mon 21-Jan-2019 Person1's Yahrzeit (15th of Sh'vat)
    Mon 10-Feb-2020 Person1's Yahrzeit (15th of Sh'vat)

  12. Do you light Yahrzeit for your parent during the first 12 months of mourning?

    1. Darling Anonymous - Should you find yourself in the position of mourning for your parents, please accept my condolences.

      If I understand your question correctly, we do not keep a candle burning during the entire year.
      Traditionally when a parent dies a special yahrzeit candle is lit which burns for seven days-the length of shiva, from the time one returns from the cemetery. If you don't have access to one of these, then you may light several as needed.

      A candle is lit thereafter on any of the Pilgrimage holidays: Yom Kippur, the last day of Peach, Shavuout, and Simchat Torah, as well as on the anniversary of their passing.

      I hope kindeleh that this answers your question. TG


Please feel free to leave your questions for Tanta Golda here.