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Cemetery, Grave and Tombstone in Judaism

Beit Hachayim

The Jewish Cemetery

According to Jewish law, a Jew should be buried among Jews. It is forbidden for a Jew to be buried in a mixed- denomination cemetery, or in a cemetery that allows the burial of questionably converted Jews.

Should a situation arise where a non-observant parent or loved one acquired a plot in such a cemetery, a rabbi who specializes in this area of Jewish law should be consulted.

The Kever – Grave

  • A kosher grave is one in which the casket is laid directly in the ground, and covered with earth until it is full and a small mound is formed on top. The grave should be at least forty inches deep, and wide and long enough for the casket.

Above-ground burial is strictly forbidden according to Jewish law, and Kabbalah adds that all alternative burial options interfere severely with the eternal rest of the soul.

Some communities bury their loved ones in family plots, or side-by-side in the case of a spouse. Other communities will bury men and women in separate sections. Both of these approaches are permissible. One should follow the custom of his community or ask a competent rabbi for guidance.

The planting of grass or flowers on the grave is discouraged. Besides involving several transgressions, it is seen as following in the way of the gentiles.

The Matzeivah or Tzion – Tombstone

Setting a tombstone at the gravesite has been a custom among Jews since Biblical times and is a fitting way to honor the deceased. The tombstone is usually placed at the head of the grave, and the plot outlined with a low lying frame.

Many erect the tombstone on the day after Shiva (which is eight days from burial). Others wait until the Shloshim (thirty days), and still others wait twelve months. One should follow the custom of his community.

  • The tombstone should be made from stone or granite. It should be similar to those around it, to avoid embarrassing those whocannot afford an ornate tombstone. This does not apply to erecting a special monument for a great Torah leader and sage.

It is customary to engrave the Hebrew name of the deceased and his or her father’s name, as well as the Hebrew date and year of passing on the tombstone.

Some also add the name of community where he lived or the name of the Tzaddik or sage whom the deceased followed.

  • On all tombstones one adds the Hebrew letters תנצב”ה, which in acrostic form means “May his (her) soul be bound in the binding of life.” Others write on the heading פ”נ , which means “Here is buried.”
  • When preparing the text for the tombstone, one should avoid embellishing the deceased’s qualities and praises, since some believe that the soul will have to account for what is written there during judgment.
  • Carving or engraving the form of a human being on the tombstone and mounting any pictures is forbidden.
  • It is best to use only the Hebrew language for writing on the tombstone. It is also highly advisable to review the text with the Chevra Kaddisha or a competent rabbi before ordering the tombstone.

Source: Zalman Goldstein – CHABAD