Contemporary American Reform Responsa

126. Two Yahrzeit Candles

QUESTION: Two individuals have died in an accident. Should they be honored by two commemorative candles, which will burn for the shivah week and subsequently by two yahrzeit candles, or will a single candle suffice? What does tradition recommend? (R. R., Pittsburgh, PA)

ANSWER: It is difficult to trace the origin of both customs. Baer, in Totzaot Hayim, felt that the custom of lighting candles during the shivah was Talmudic. He recalled that Judah Hanasi wanted a light to continue to burn in his home, and everything else in his household to go on as before his death (Ket. 103a), yet that is hardly likely to be the origin of this custom. Its source must still be discovered.

As far as a yahrzeit candle is concerned, this old custom may have spread from the lighting of a candle in the synagogue on Yom Kippur (Isserles, Darkhei Mosheh to Tur Orah Hayim 610).

In each of these instances, the light commemorates a single individual. We should in this tragic case utilize two lights, one for each of the individuals who is mourned, both during the shivah period and in future years for their yahrzeit.

December 1985

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