Cemetery History

Riga New Jewish cemetery was founded in the mid-‘20s of XX century, taking over the functions of the already filled old cemetery. The project author was Paul Mandelstam, the renowned Jewish architect. He created the layout of the cemetery and a hall for funeral ceremonies, which has survived to the present.

In May 1934, the monument to 37 Jewish soldiers and officers who died fighting for the independence of Latvia in 1918-1920 was opened at the central alley of the cemetery.

In July 1941, Nazis burned down the mourning hall together with people who were there. After World War II Holocaust survivors and Jews who returned to Riga restored the surviving buildings of the cemetery.

In 1964, Soviet authorities decided to open the cemetery for the burials of inhabitants of Riga, regardless of their nationality, the cemetery was renamed Smerli Cemetery.

In the summer of 1990, the Jewish community of Riga placed a memorial stone on Zanis Lipke and his wife Johanna, who saved more than fifty Jews during the Nazi occupation.

Philologist Nahum Pereferkovich, artists Michael Yo and Haim Rysin, philosopher Max Schatz-Anin, composers Oscar Strok and Vladimir Hvojnitsky, writer Mark Razumny, chess-player Mikhail Tal, academician Julius Anshelevich and other famous people are buried in the cemetery.

Also, the Holocaust victims from Eglaine and Dobele are reburied at the cemetery. Memorial stone to the German Jews murdered by the Nazis in Riga, and other commemoratives stand there.

Currently, the cemetery is Jewish again. The area of the cemetery — 93 thousand sq. m, the number of graves — is about 22,500.

Cemetery visiting rules

Cohanim (descendants of those who served in the temple) are forbidden to visit the cemetery.

According to Jewish law, flowers or wreaths shall not be laid on the grave. Flowers laid on the grave, and even more in the coffin – a relic of the pagan custom of sacrifice to the spirits of ancestors, is banned to Jews. If flowers are already brought by mistake, they can be put at the graves without rites and ceremonies. Approaching the grave, the left hand shall be put on the gravestone. It is not accepted to come to the grave twice during the visit to cemetery.

Visiting the grave is a tribute and respect to the deceased. There are days on which tradition prescribes special visit to the grave. And there are days when visit to the graves should be avoided.

Days on which the tradition dictates to visit the grave:

  • On the seventh day after the funeral.
  • On the thirtieth day after the funeral.
  • In Yortsayt — the anniversary of the death according to the Jewish calendar (in the first year after the death the anniversary of the funeral, not the death is marked).

To calculate the date of death according to the Jewish calendar, click here.

On these days come to the grave, read psalms and prayers, and give a donation — tzedakah. If these days fall on Saturday or a holiday, then visit the grave the next day.

Days on which it is not customary to go to the cemetery

Do not visit the cemetery on days, when penitential prayer Tachanun is not recited, namely on:

  • Saturdays and holidays
  • Purim — 14th and 15th day of the month of Adar. And also (except when these days fall on Yahrzeit)
  • For the entire month of Nisan
  • Pesach Sheni — the 14th day of the month of Iyar
  • On Lag B'Omer
  • The month Sivan — with the new moon and to the 12th day
  • 9th day of Av
  • 15th day of Av
  • From Yom Kippur until the end of the month of Tishrei
  • In Hanukkah
  • Tu BiShvat — the 15th day of the month of Shevat
  • Purim-Kata (14th and 15th day of the first month of Adar in a leap year)
  • Rosh Hodesh (new moon)

In the remaining days visiting the cemetery is not regulated.

Anyone who sees Jewish graves after a gap of 30 days or more must recite the appropriate blessing.

There are several variations of this blessing, depending on the tradition. Therefore, it is advisable to recite it according to the siddur. This blessing should not be recited for one grave in which only one person is buried, since it is addressed to the dead in plural.

Cemetery customs prohibit frivolous behavior, eating and drinking, and relieving oneself. It is also prohibited to walk directly around the burial site, take grass from the cemetery, sit on the grave, and lean on it.

After visiting the cemetery, wash your hands. It is customary to wet each hand three times in turn.

Tradition of remembrance and memorial prayers


For eleven months after the funeral of parents (and any dead Jew, if no one else can do it), read the Kaddish Yatom — Kaddish orphans. It is read during each of the three daily prayers. Kaddish is read standing, only in the presence of a minyan in the completion of prayer or after reading the Psalms. If you cannot read the Kaddish Yatom yourself, you can order the reading of the prayer in the synagogue.

Yahrzeit — the anniversary of death

Yahrzeit is marked according to the Jewish calendar. In the first year of Yahrzeit celebrate the anniversary of the funeral, and not the death. On this day it is customary to visit the grave. In the evening before Yahrzeit light a candle or oil lamp. Electric lamp lit specially for this purpose is also allowed if you cannot light a candle or oil lamp. Candle or lamp should burn for 24 hours — until the next evening (before the stars). Read Kadish and the chosen Psalms. For men on this day, it is desirable to conduct public prayer. On this day, it is customary to give tzedakah (donation) for the credit of the deceased. During Yahrzeit, no entertainment is arranged.

Yizkor — prayer in the days of remembrance

Four times a year, on the last day of Passover, Shavuot (in Diaspora — the second day of the holiday), Yom Kippur, and Shemini Atzeret, after reading the Torah scroll to say prayers for the soul of the deceased — Yizkor. This prayer must be read in the synagogue during the morning Eid prayer because Yizkor is read in the presence of a Torah scroll. Failure to comply with the text of the prayer to donate money to charity renders it meaningless. Those with both parents alive, leave the room during the reading of Yizkor. During the first year, those who mourn do not read Yizkor and do not leave the room. When reading the Yizkor prayer the name of the mother of the deceased should be mentioned, but if it is unknown, the father's name is mentioned.

Laws of reading Kaddish Yatom

The actual prayer that the orphan says is Kaddish Yatom.

Who reads

The duty to read Kaddish Yatom applies primarily to the children of the deceased. If the deceased had several sons, all of them should read Kaddish. But if one of them for some reason cannot do it, and others read, then that's enough. Minor son, if he is able to do it, can read Kaddish, too. If the deceased does not have a son, Kaddish is read by the closest relative, for example, a brother. If the wife dies — husband reads. If they do not have family or for some reason cannot read Kaddish, then it is entrusted to a stranger for a fee. If a son or a close relative cannot read Kaddish daily and has instructed somebody else to read it, yet he must try, when possible, to read this prayer himself.

How to Read

Kaddish is only read during the minyan (prayer meeting of no less than ten Jews over 13 years of age). Kaddish is pronounced standing upright with closed legs. Kaddish is pronounced loud enough so that everyone present can hear and respond Amen. If several people are present who have to read Kaddish, they should read Kaddish Yatom simultaneously.

What should do those who listen to Kaddish

Those who listen to Kaddish, must respond Amen at the end of each sentence and Amen, yehey shmey rabba... (Amen, may it be His great name be blessed...) in the middle, putting in these words all the powers of the soul. Wise men say that the respondent Amen, yehey shmey ... with all the power of which the soul is capable, silences all his accusers in the Heavenly Court and cancels most severe sentence imposed on him in Heaven.


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