QUESTION: A family will be together approximately twoweeks before the yahrzeit for their father. They would, therefore, like to move the yahrzeit and commemorate it two weeks early during this year. Is that permissible? (D. F., Pittsburgh, PA)
ANSWER: The yahrzeit has become an honored andestablished custom among Jews throughout the world. Its historic development and practices have been dealt with elsewhere (W. Jacob, American Reform Responsa, #127). There has been discussion about commemorating it on the day of death or burial, and tradition decided that the day of death should be used, except in the first year. If that date is not known, then a date may be arbitrarily set. However, the same date should be used in subsequent years (Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayim 568.8; Maharil Responsa #7).
A fairamount of custom and halakhah have developed around the commemoration of yahrzeit. All of it indicates that once the date has been fixed, it should not be arbitrarily moved. The family in this instance should continue to commemorate the yahrzeit on the appropriate date. There is, however, no reason for not doing something a few weeks earlier when the family happens to be together. In fact, we would encourage that as the mobility of the present day American Jewish community makes such family gatherings rare. The family should visit the grave of their beloved father and attend a synagogue service together, as they normally would on the yahrzeit; this should be done either on any day they are together or on a shabbat when they are in the city. In this way, they will honor the memory of their father as a family, but also not disturb the regular commemoration of yahrzeit from year to year.