Yom Kippur Yizkor

From: Andrea in St. Louis

Dear Rabbi,

I know there are certain times and holidays when it is appropriate to recall the memory of the departed. I was wondering if Yom Kippur is one of those times since we ask of G‑d’s forgiveness, or if Yom Kippur applies only to the living. If appropriate, I would like to remember my mother of blessed memory. Thank you.

Dear Andrea,

I offer you my condolences on the passing of your mother. May her soul rest in Gan Eden.

The Sages prescribed that children recall the souls of their departed parents during prayer every Yom Tov at which time the child pledges charity and resolves to improve his or her deeds in order to increase the merit of the departed. This occurs after the Torah reading and before the scrolls are returned to the Ark. This “hazkarot neshamot” is recited on the last day of Pesach, on Shavuot and on Shemini Atzeret concluding Succot. Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are considered as one in this regard, and the service is recited on Yom Kippur for both days.

As you intuited, “hazkarot neshamot” is of greater significance on Yom Kippur than it is at other times since the very essence of the day is the quest for forgiveness and atonement which are as necessary for the deceased as for the living. Even though the departed can no longer effect their own atonement, the charity and good deeds pledged by their children stands in their merit. Particularly if these were the ways of the deceased himself that he imparted to his children, their acts are considered a perpetuation of the parent’s deeds, and it is as if the parent is fulfilling them himself.

According to the Ashkenazi custom of yizkor, one whose parents are still alive leaves the synagogue. There are several reason for this: in deference for the feelings of the bereaved; he may mistakenly recite the service himself which is considered unpropitious for his parents; or because even if he remains silent, it would not appear appropriate to be silent while others are praying. In Sefardi communities, however, the entire congregation remains in the synagogue while the leader of the services recites the memorial and each individual gives him the names of his own deceased for mention in the collective prayer.

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