CCAR RESPONSA

Contemporary American Reform Responsa

180. Memorial Lights/Tablets on Yom Kippur

QUESTION: Should the memorial lights and the memorial tablets be lit throughout the Yom Kippur service or only for the memorial service in the late afternoon? (Rabbi S. Pinskey, Tenafly, NJ)

ANSWER: The memorial light on Yom Kippur seems to go back to another custom which is quite old. The Talmud states in several places that we add honor to the Day of Atonement by using fine garments (Shab. 119a), while Asher ben Yehiel in his commentary to Yoma (the last chapter) added that aside from festive garments, we also have the custom of increasing the number of candles lit in the synagogue. This commentary sought to base itself on Isaiah 24.15, "Therefore, glorify the Lord in the region of light." Targum Jonathan translates "light" here as "candles." Later the Kol Bo (68) gave a much simpler reason. As people were in the synagogue all day and all night, they needed as many lights as possible. Kol Bo continued by stating that every individual brought a light to study Torah as Yom Kippur marked the anniversary of Moses' appearance with the second tablets. Such study was considered helpful in the redemption of the soul of each individual. This factor of "redemption" was then extended to deceased parents based on, "Atone for thy people Israel thou hast redeem" (Deut. 21.8). These individuals who were already dead would be provided with further atonement. The Sifra already found this meaning in the verse of Deuteronomy, and Kol Bo added it as a reason for lighting memorial candles. This custom is mentioned in the Shulhan Arukh (Orah Hayim 610.4) with comments by Isserles. The custom is more important to Ashkenazim than Sephardim.

It would, therefore, be appropriate to light memorial candles or memorial lights on a memorial plaque through the entire Yom Kippur service beginning with the Kol Nidre. This would be in keeping with an honored tradition.

August 1979

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