Hazkarat Neshamot

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HAZKARAT NESHAMOT (Heb. הַזְכָּרַת נְשָׁמוֹת; "mentioning of the souls"), memorial prayer. In the Ashkenazi ritual, it is said after the reading of the Torah, during the morning service of the last day of Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot (the three pilgrimage festivals), and on the Day of Atonement. In the Sephardi rite it is recited also on the Day of Atonement eve before Ma'ariv.

The prayer is divided into three sections; the principal part opens the prayer with the words, "Yizkor Elohim" ("May God remember… the soul…"). In common language the prayer has therefore become known as Yizkor or Mazkir. Hazkarat Neshamot expresses the fervent hope that the departed souls will enjoy eternal life in God's presence. There is evidence that this custom dates back to the period of the Hasmonean wars (c. 165 b.c.e.) when *Judah Maccabee and his men prayed for the souls of their fallen comrades and brought offerings to the Temple in Jerusalem as atonement for the sins of the dead (ii Macc. 22:39–45). The belief that the meritorious deeds of descendants can atone for the departed appears frequently in aggadic literature (Hor. 6a; tj, Sanh. 10:4, 29c; Sif. Deut. 210; Tanh. Berakhah 1; et al.). However, *Hai Gaon and his pupil *Nissim b. Jacob (c. 1000 c.e.) opposed the custom of praying for the departed on festivals and on the Day of Atonement, and of donating to charity on their behalf. They believed that only the actual deeds performed by a person during his lifetime count before God. Nevertheless, the memorial prayer became one of the most popular and cherished customs, especially in the *Ashkenazi ritual. Historically, it gained its significance through the *Crusades and through the severe persecutions that took place in Eastern Europe during the 17th century when thousands of Jews died as martyrs. They were all inscribed in the death rolls (called kunteres or memorbuch, or yizker-bukh) of their communities and commemorated in the memorial prayers held on the three festivals, on the Day of Atonement and, in some congregations, on the Sabbaths during the *Omer period (between Passover and Shavuot). In time, the death rolls came to include names not only of martyrs, but also of other members of the community, and the custom of memorial prayers for individuals evolved. After the memorial prayer for relatives, in the Ashkenazic rite the prayer *El Male Rahamim is recited for those who have died. Nowadays, a special prayer is frequently added for the victims of the Nazi Holocaust and for the Jewish soldiers who died in wars, particularly in Israel. The traditional memorial service concludes with the recital of *Av ha-Rahamim. The Torah Scroll(s) which had been taken out for the Reading of the Law is (are) returned to the Ark and the musaf service follows. In the Sephardi ritual, instead of reciting the Hazkarat Neshamot after the Torah service, everyone who is called to the Torah, after blessing it, recites a memorial prayer for his relatives. Hazkarat Neshamot mentions charitable offerings "for the repose of the departed souls" (Sh. Ar., oḤ 621:6) and in Orthodox synagogues, it is customary to promise donations during the service. It is also customary that those whose parents are still alive leave the synagogue during the entire Hazkarat Neshamot prayer. In the Conservative ritual, several introductory readings and appropriate Psalm verses in Hebrew and in the vernacular, as well as sections for meditation and special responsive readings in that language, were added to the traditional text of Hazkarat Neshamot. In the Reform ritual, the memorial service is held only on the last day of Passover and on the Day of Atonement as part of the late afternoon service before *Ne'ilah. This service consists of a shortened version of the traditional text, the recital of Psalm 23 and of selected poems by Ibn *Gabirol, *Judah Halevi, and *Baḥya b. Joseph, and of readings and meditations expressing the transience and evanescence of life and the merits of those who have lived an exemplary life. Solemn music accompanies this Hazkarat Neshamot service which concludes with the entire congregation reciting the *Kaddish. Synagogues are usually well attended by both men and women on the days that Hazkarat Neshamot is said; in some congregations these days have become occasions for major sermons by the rabbi.


et, 8 (1957), 603–9; S. Hurwitz (ed.), Maḥzor Vitry (19232), 392; Eisenstein, Yisrael, 96f.; M. Silverman, High Holiday Prayer Book (Conservative) (1939), 321–31; idem, Sabbath and Festival Prayer Book (Conservative) (1946), 221–7; Union Prayer Book (Reform), 1 (1959), 268–73; 2 (19453), 306–24; Hertz, Prayer, 1106–08; P. Birnbaum, High Holiday Prayer Book (1951), 727–34; Petuchowski, Prayerbook Reform in Europe (1968), index.

[Meir Ydit]