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Why do people place pebbles on a tombstone?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

Library » Life Cycle » Death » Burial/Cemetery | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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According to Rabbi Maurice Lamm (author of "The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning") the custom of placing stones on the monument "probably serves as a reminder of the family's presence. [The evidence that this grave is attended, visited and cared for, is respectful for the deceased - NS]. Also, it may hark back to biblical days when the monument was a heap of stones. Often the elements or roving vandals dispersed them, and so visitors placed other additional stones to assure that the grave was marked."

Also, by placing a stone we further participate in the "construction" of the tombstone -- which in itself constitutes a Mitzvah.

Incidentally, it is not a Chabad custom to place stones on tombstones.


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COMMENTS

Stones on graves

Posted by: Michael, Winchester, UK on Feb 28, 2005

Info easy to access and a swift answer to my question - thanks.

Stones on graves

Posted by: Adele Marie, Bohemia, New York on Apr 20, 2005

I am not Jewish, but I follow the Jewish custom of placing pebbles or rocks on a head-stone. Most of my visits to cemeteries are not planned, so I don't bother to buy flowers. The pebbles are my way of letting somebody know that somebody was there. My baby sister and Mom are buried together-I put a stone for each of them. The same goes for my grandparents. I don't know how long those pebbles remain there. Is it an insult to them and to God if they are removed by groundskeepers?

Editor's Comment

It certainly isn't, although you might want to respectfully request of the cemetery staff to ignore the pebbles on these particular tombstones.

Pebbles on tombstones

Posted by: C. Klein on Jul 07, 2005

I am a religious Jew and never thought about the tradition of placing pebbles on tombstones, until aked once by a non-Jew why this was done. I felt foolish not knowing what to say. Thanks for your help.

Stones and Pebbles on top of Gravestones

Posted by: Barbara Silberg, Houston, TX on Nov 30, 2005

A while back, I came across reasons visitors traditionally lay pebbles and small stones atop the headstones in Jewish cemeteries.

An Hebrew inscription placed on many headstones is the abbreviation: taf, nun, tsadi, bet, hey. It is short for "teheye nishmato tsrurah b'tsror haChayyim, May his soul be bound up in the bounds of eternal life." Tsror can also be translated as pebble.

Another reason may be that in ancient times, a shepherd would used pebbles to tally his flock, carrying a sling over his shoulder full of the number of pebbles that corresponded to the number in his flock. So when we place small stones on the grave, we are suggesting that G-d keep the departed's soul in His sling.

Isaiah 40:6,7, "All flesh is grass, all its beauty like the flower of the field; grass withers, flowers fade." If flowers act as a metaphor for the brevity of life, then small stones and pebbles are better suited to the permanence of memory. Stones and souls endure.

Incidentally...not a Chabad Custom

Posted by: Anonymous on Dec 15, 2005

B"H

Thank you for the great article. The last line of the article says "Incidentally, it is not a Chabad custom to place stones on tombstones." I am wondering why. Thanks again.

Shalom

Editor's Comment

Hard to say. Historically, Jewish customs were adopted by certain communities and not others. This is not to say that Chabad is opposed to placing pebbles on tombstones -- rather it just isn't part of their tradition.
Mitzvah
(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Chabad
Chabad, an acronym for Wisdom, Knowledge, and Understanding, is the name of a Chassidic Group founded in the 1770s. Two of the most fundamental teachings of Chabad are the intellectual pursuit of understanding the divine and the willingness to help every Jew who has a spiritual or material need.