A yahrzeit candle, also spelled yahrtzeit candle or called a memorial candle, (Hebrew: ?, ner neshama, meaning "soul candle"; Yiddish: ? 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: 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, such as in a hospital.
It is lit before sundown on the eve of the yahrzeit (anniversary of the death), and by some before sundown preceding the start of Yom Kippur. Some also light before sundown preceding the eighth day of Succot, and the ending days of Passover and Shavuot. These holidays all have yizkor (memorial) in synagogue as well.
Many observant Jews light longer-lasting 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.
During the week of Shiva (mourning), in the absence of a seven-day Shiva candle, seven yahrzeit candles can be lit on successive days (but not in violation of Shabbat).
The assassination site of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin. It is usually filled with yahrzeit candles and flowers.
Yahrzeitlicht from Lengnau in Aargau (Switzerland), 1830, now in the Jewish Museum of Switzerland
It was the first time in my married life that I was unable to light Shabbat candles on Friday afternoon (due to hospital regulations).