May God Remem­ber — Yizkor: Mem­o­ry and Memo­ri­al­iz­ing in Judaism (Prayers of Awe)

Lawrence A. Hoffman
  • Review
By – August 2, 2013

Memo­r­i­al prayers have become more promi­nent, par­tic­u­lar­ly over the past sev­er­al cen­turies. Yizkor, for exam­ple, came to be viewed as so impor­tant that some urban syn­a­gogues offered the ser­vice numer­ous times on hol­i­days, so that even if a per­son was at work dur­ing the day, he or she could run in to ser­vices to catch a Yizkor ser­vice and return to work. The Kad­dish prayer — which only a few hun­dred years ago was, in many com­mu­ni­ties, only recit­ed by one per­son at any giv­en ser­vice — gained such pop­u­lar sup­port that the num­ber of Kad­dish recita­tions that appear in ser­vices was increased and its recita­tion extend­ed to all who were memorial­izing a loved one. The rab­bis and schol­ars whose stud­ies appear in May God Remem­ber exam­ine the ori­gin and devel­op­ment of the var­i­ous memo­r­i­al prayers, some of which were writ­ten in response to tragedies such as the mas­sacre of Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties dur­ing the Cru­sades, the Chmiel­nic­ki mas­sacres, and the Shoah. Impor­tant ques­tions are raised about the role of memo­r­i­al prayers, the con­tra­dic­tion between the fes­tive cel­e­bra­tion of hol­i­days and the sad­ness of Yizkor recit­ed dur­ing those hol­i­days, and the nature of mod­ern innova­tion in cre­at­ing new memo­r­i­al prayers. The vol­ume con­tin­ues with a col­lec­tion of brief per­son­al reflec­tions about indi­vid­ual writ­ers’ expe­ri­ences of the memo­r­i­al prayers in their reli­gious prac­tice. Final­ly, a set of appen­dices exam­ines, among oth­er things, dif­fer­ences in region­al cus­toms and even the music of memo­r­i­al prayers. Rab­bis as well as thought­ful Jew­ish prayers will find new insights and think­ing around both ancient and more mod­ern memo­r­i­al prayers. Appen­dices, glos­sary, notes. 

Rab­bi Arnold D. Sam­lan is a Jew­ish edu­ca­tor and rab­bi liv­ing in Mia­mi, Flori­da. He serves as exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Orloff Cen­tral Agency for Jew­ish Edu­ca­tion of Broward County.

Discussion Questions