Field Guide

Yarhtzeit

In Hebrew cemetery symbolism, the yahrtzeit is an oil-filled basin with a floating wick. Nowadays a yahrtzeit can also be a candle. It can also refer to an event as well as an object. Thus, during Yahrtzeit, a yahrtzeit candle is burned to commemorate the dead. The yarhtzeit is also called a Ner Neshamah, a "Lamp of the Soul," based on the verse in Proverbs 20:27 - "The spirit of man is the candle of the LORD, searching all the inward parts of the belly."(1)

Yahrtzeit is a Yiddish word that means “anniversary,” and is used specifically to refer to the day on which a person passed away. On the day of the yahrtzeit, there are various customs one can do to honor the memory of the departed. As with kaddish and yizkor, the observance of the yahrtzeit, particularly for parents, has the ability to bring great benefit and merit to the soul of the departed.(2)

(1) Taken from Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography written and photographed by Douglas Keister, published by Gibbs Smith, Salt Lake City, 2004.

(2) Taken from myKaddish http://www.mykaddish.com/yahrtzeit-basic.html