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What is the origin of erecting a tombstone over a grave?

by Rabbi Moshe Miller

  

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


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The custom of placing a monument over the grave of a departed person is an ancient Jewish tradition. The Book of Genesis1 records that Jacob erected a tombstone over the grave of his wife Rachel. It is also written2 concerning King Josiah of Judah: "And he said, 'What is this marker that I see?' And the people of the city said to him, 'The grave of the man of God who came from Judah...'" From Biblical times onward, wherever Jewish communities have existed, Jews have continued this practice of erecting a memorial in honor of their deceased.

From Biblical times onward, wherever Jewish communities have existed, Jews have continued this practice of erecting a memorial in honor of their deceased
According to Jewish law, children are obligated to erect a tombstone over their parents' graves, and a husband is required to provide a tombstone to mark his deceased wife's grave.3

Since Talmudic times it is customary to inscribe the name of the departed and his/her lineage and the Hebrew date of passing.

The tombstone is erected to indicate clearly where a person is buried, and to remember and honor the memory of the person who has died. The renowned Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534-1572 CE) writes that erecting a headstone is also a spiritual benefit to soul of the departed.

Today, we refer to the ceremony of formally consecrating a tombstone as an “unveiling.”

Footnotes

  • 1. 35:20.
  • 2. II Kings 23:17.
  • 3. Code of Jewish Law, Yoreh De'ah 348:2.

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Reason for Erecting Tombstone

Posted by: BDerringer, Brooklyn, NY, 10970 on Sep 15, 2007

The three reasons why tombstones are placed at the graves of the deceased, in order of significance:

1. To designate that the area is not fit for Kohanim to enter

2. To serve as a marker so that the family of the deceased and others who wish to visit the gravesite, may correctly identify the grave

3. To honor the deceased

Jacob
Third of the three Patriarchs and father of the Twelve Tribes. Lived most his life in Canaan and died in Egypt in 1505 BCE. Also known by the name of "Israel."
Isaac
Second of the three Jewish Patriarchs, son of Abraham and Sarah. Lived in Canaan (Israel); b. 1712 BCE, d. 1532 BCE.
Rachel
Third of the four Jewish matriarchs. Daughter of Laban, favorite wife of Patriarch Jacob, and mother of Joseph and Benjamin. Died while giving birth to Benjamin in 1557 BCE.
Genesis
The first book of the Five Books of Moses. It records the story of Creation and its aftermath, and chronicles the lives of the Patriarchs.
Judah
1. The fourth son of Jacob and Leah. He was blessed by Jacob to be the leader of the tribes. Consequently, the Davidic royal dynasty is from the tribe of Judah. 2. The southern part of Israel which was occupied by the Tribes of Judah and Benjamin, and always remained under the reign of the kings from the tribe of Judah.