Performing Yizkor is an important part of Jewish culture. You can get Yizkor services by this link if there is an important event like the Yom Kippur coming up.
Yizkor refers to prayers recited for the soul of the departed. The departed can be a family member like a parent or a close relative. However, it can also be recited for those that may have died for the Jewish cause or simply for being Jewish. A good example is when such prayers are said in memory of Holocaust victims or any Jews that may have lost their lives as a result of persecution in eras past. Yizkor can also refer to the ceremony when such prayers are said.
For many non-Jews, Kaddish is another ceremony that is often confused with Yizkor.
Kaddish is a term used to refer to a recitation said during a Jewish prayer service. Such recitations are usually praised for exalting the name of God or for extolling his virtues. There is also a mourner’s Kaddish, said in remembrance of a dead relative.
The Context of the Afterlife in Jewish Culture
Understanding the concept of what happens in the afterlife as far as Jewish culture is concerned is crucial to getting a good perspective on Kaddish, Yizkor, and several other Jewish ceremonies.
Unlike other religions like Christianity and Islam, Judaism (an essential part of Jewish culture) does not subscribe to this school of thought. Instead, in all its teachings, there is only a mention of a World to Come. While there is mention of a “fiery place of judgment” in some Jewish religious texts, it is ambiguous at best and is not what Christianity and Islam describe. Instead, there is mention of Sheol—a reference to the bowels of the earth. Sheol is believed to be the place where the souls of the dead go after leaving the physical world. This seemingly metaphoric place of oblivion is where souls are purified before their admission into a World to Come—the equivalent of heaven.
Both Yizkor and Kaddish heavily draw on this concept. When Yizkor is recited at special ceremonies like the Passover, it is to aid the souls of a departed parent and any such Jews to be purified in Sheol. Kaddish, being a prayer for the remembrance of the dead, is meant to implore God to look favorably on the soul of the departed while it is Sheol, regardless of their transgressions.
Contrasts Between Kaddish and Yizkor
Kaddish and Yizkor have some parallels. These parallels are in the timing, significance, and how they are performed.
Kaddish is supposed to be performed at all Jewish ceremonies. While some, like the mourner’s Kaddish, are only performed during specific occasions, Jewish people perform Kaddish at every ceremony.
Yizkor, on the other hand, is only performed four times a year. Each time marks a specific occasion. These include Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), Pesah (the eighth day of Passover), Shavuot (Feast of Weeks), and Shemini Atzeret. During the recitation of these prayers, relatives of the dead are allowed to insert the names of the deceased at some point during the proceedings.
The object of Kaddish is praising God; it is about exalting his name. It, therefore, seems unusual that a mourner’s Kaddish would exist. However, the latter is about praising God while asking him to remember the dead. However, the praise of God is the central theme. Yizkor is more about the remembrance of the departed. For instance, the Holocaust is a significant event in the history of the Jewish people. It is commemorated each year, with Yizkor being recited for the millions that lost their lives during that era. The Yizkor is also used to commemorate other notable Jewish figures who may have lost their lives in service of the state of Israel—the Jewish homeland.
3) Special Considerations
Unlike Yizkor, Kaddish has to be performed in the presence of a minyan. A minyan is a group of ten Jewish individuals, usually males, that are required to be present during a Kaddish. In some reformed sects of Judaism, women are allowed to form part of a minyan. Yizkor is an all-inclusive ceremony with no special quorums necessary.
Ashkenazi vs. Sephardic
Many of these Jewish practices go according to certain rites. For instance, reciting Yizkor on Yom Kippur and other such occasions is a rite of Ashkenazi Jews—those of Russian and German extraction. Sephardic Jews—those of Mediterranean and Spanish origins—have slightly different customs when performing some of these ceremonies.
The differences between Yizkor and Kaddish come down to the significance of a particular occasion.