Memorial candle that burns up to 26 hours
A yahrzeit candle lit in memory of a loved one on the anniversary (the "yahrtzeit") of the death
Special yellow Yizkor candle for Yom HaShoah
An electrical memorial candle with a Hebrew inscription reading נר זכרון “Ner Zikaron” (light of remembrance)
A yahrzeit candle beside a grave, in a box to protect it from the wind
A yahrzeit candle on a grave, in a box to protect it from the wind

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.[1]


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.

In Hebrew, the candles are also called Ner Neshama – a candle for the soul.[2]


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.[3] Many Jews who are otherwise unobservant follow this custom.[3] It is customary to light the candle inside one's home, or near the grave of the deceased.

The candle is also lit before Yom Kippur and there are also customs to light a yahrzeit candle on the dates when the yizkor prayer is said in synagogue (Yom Kippur, Shemini Atzeret, final day of Pesach, and Shavuot). Some also light before the Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony (Yom HaShoah).

In all cases, the candle is lit before sundown. This is because in Judaism, days begin at sundown, in accordance with Genesis, e.g., 1:5: "And there was evening and there was morning, one day."[4])

It is also customary to light the candle during the shiva, usually a larger one that lasts the entire seven days. In the absence of a seven-day Shiva candle, seven yahrzeit candles can be lit on successive days (but not in violation of Shabbat).

Today, some people use an electric yahrzeit candle that plugs into the wall instead of a candle for safety reasons, such as in a hospital.[5]


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."[3]

A candle similarly appears in the midrashic description of Aaron's death:

[God] said to [Aaron]: "Enter the cave", and he entered. He saw a bed made and a candle burning. [God] said to him, "Go up on the bed", and he went up. "Spread out your hands", and he spread out his hands. "Close your mouth", and he closed his mouth. "Close your eyes", and he closed his eyes. Moses immediately desired that his death would occur the same way.[6]


Yahrzeit candles are also commonly used on holidays, for reasons of convenience rather than symbolism.

On Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot, and Rosh Hashana, it is forbidden to light a new fire, but permitted to light one flame from an existing flame for certain purposes (like cooking). Therefore, a yahrzeit candle (or other long-lasting candle) is lit before the holiday, so that a flame is available in case of need. Similarly, havdalah after Yom Kippur requires a fire that has burned since before the holiday, and yahrzeit candles are often used for this purpose as well.

48 hour and 72 hour candles have also been manufactured, for holidays that last more than one day.

In culture


See also


  1. ^ Memorial honors Yitzchak Rabin, The Daily Pennsylvanian, Brennan Quinn, December 6, 2000
  2. ^ Ner Neshama, Morfix Dictionary (in Hebrew)
  3. ^ a b c The Jewish Religion, Louis Jacobs, Oxford University Press, 1995
  4. ^ Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures: The new JPS translation according to the traditional Hebrew text. Philadelphia and Jerusalem: Jewish Publication Society. 1985. p. 3.
  5. ^ Sari Bloom. "Spending Shabbat in the ER". It was the first time in my married life that I was unable to light Shabbat candles on Friday afternoon (due to hospital regulations).
  6. ^ Rashi, Numbers 20:26