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Cemetery, Grave and Tombstone

Cemetery, Grave and Tombstone


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.

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Feigele St Johns FL October 15, 2017

Only the deceased closest family (spouse/children) know how the deceased really lived. It's up to them to embellish or not his/her funeral. All what people want to hear is that he/her were a mensch. reality or not Reply

Grodrozi London October 15, 2017

Can a tombstone be written in the second person? Reply

Mendel Adelman October 17, 2017
in response to Grodrozi:

Hello Grodrozi,

The text that you wish to be put on the tombstone should always be checked over by the Chevra Kadisha to ensure that it is appropriate.

Putting text in second person does not seem to be a halachic issue, but the general custom is that the text is a description of the deceased, not a message to them.

It is for those who visit the grave, to know who was buried there. A tombstone is a marker. Reply

Eliezer Zalmanov for February 7, 2017

The fear is that if a close relative participates in the taharah, his or her grief may lead to overlooking some of the details of the procedure. Reply

Anonymous Visalia February 7, 2017

Can a family member participate in the Chevra Kaddisha Reply

Feigele Boca Raton FL June 10, 2016

No Praise for Deception! I agree with this concept. Why praise someone who deceived his environment? just because people don't want to hear, just get with it already that we can go home! no one really cares how the deceased lived, who he hurts during his life. Reply

Yehuda Shurpin for June 9, 2016

Re: Chabad With all due respect, I'm a bit puzzled by your comments. The entire site essentially advocates "proper living." One does not negate the other. It is important that the person themselves live properly, at the same time, there is also a concept of not embellishing what they did or didn't do. The point isn't that you aren't held accountable if it isn't mentioned, it is just that you are held even more accountable if all are singing your praise for something you really didn't live up to. Reply

Avi Bergman Haifa, Israel June 3, 2016

Chabad It is logically absurd that Chabad teaches to "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," yet they do not advocate proper living, for the soul will be held accountable for that as well at judgement. Just because a Chassid decides to leave out some writing on his/her tombstone doesn't equate to the all-knowing not being aware of said Chassid's shortcomings in life (behavior, etiquette, morality, etc.). In addition, lets remove the Torah and put Talmud there, after all the says "my son, be more careful in [the observance of] the words of the Scribes than in the words of the Torah, for in the laws of the Torah there are positive and negative precepts; but, as to the laws of the Scribes, whoever transgresses any of the enactments of the Scribes incurs the penalty of death." (Erubin 21b) Reply

Lucille Hollander Alvin, Texas February 15, 2016

Lucille I was notified that a new comment had been made. Years later, my update here is that nothing happened.
I wrote many people including learned rabbis, and several priests, several commiserated, nothing was ever done. I suppose there are bigger fish to fry.
It seems that all it takes is a signature attesting that the departed is Jewish to make someone eligible to be buried in an exclusively Jewish cemetery. That, to me, makes exclusivity meaningless in a real sense, but OK inasmuch as a signature instantly seems to make someone Jewish.
Perhaps one of these days someone will sign for the family dog and it will take its place in such a cemetery as well.
All this experience has taught me is that there is a lot of looking the other way. But, as I said, then and now, I'm not against mixed burials. Reply

Simcha M Bart for February 14, 2016

You are correct, the dead must be buried in the ground. As G-d stated: "...until you return to the ground, for you were taken therefrom, for dust you are, and to dust you will return." For more of an understanding of this please see The Interment Reply

Feigele Boca Raton FL February 10, 2016

Burrial in Crypts?
I take it that crypts in mausoleum are thus forbidden too? And why is that? Reply

Lucille Hollander Alvin, Texas December 2, 2012

Thank you for replying. The cemetery president informed me that someone would have had to sign a declaration saying that my father was Jewish. I suspect it may have been his wife at the time of his death, his third wife, not my mother.
In any case, the cemetery president stated in essence that since he had the signature, he was not interested in pursuing the matter.
I am not opposed to mixed burials. What I am opposed to is that his choice not to convert was ignored, and he was buried as a Jew with a rabbi in attendance. I also feel as if the cemetery's continued advertisement to the public that it is exclusive is somewhat misleading to those who for religious reasons are opposed to mixed burial.
To me, religion is a serious matter, and I personally believe that each person's choice in the matter should be respected, even when, or perhaps especially when, he is no longer in the position to defend his wishes.
Becoming Jewish by a signature trivializes the faith. Reply

Avi Toronto December 1, 2012

Mixed burial Hi Lucille, That's actually really bizarre that the cemetery allowed a non-Jew to be buried there. Indeed, there is no such thing as post-mortem conversion, and rest assured, your father is still Catholic. Perhaps there were extenuating circumstances at the time of burial that allowed for the error (like, if your mother insisted that he be buried in a Jewish cemetery-but that sounds like a detail you would have included-, or if the officiating rabbi neglected to ask about his faith). In any case, if what you are saying is correct, maybe the body should be exhumed. I think the best thing to do is to contact a Catholic cemetery/ member of the clergy in NJ and ask them how to proceed. Reply

Lucille Hollander Alvin, Texas September 16, 2012

Mixed burial I have continued to ask and question why my Catholic father was buried at the Riverside Cemetery in Saddlebrook, New Jersey. I have spoken to several rabbis and all tell me unequivocally that there is no post-mortem conversion in the Jewish faith.
This cemetery continues to advertise that it is exclusive. If my father was not converted after his death, he is still a Catholic.
How can this be? Reply

Lucille Hollander Alvin, Texas August 5, 2012

Mixed burial My non Jewish father was buried in his still living wife's family plot. However, he was buried as a Jew, dressed with a yarmulke, and the cemetery president assures me that his cemetery is exclusively for those of the Jewish faith. While I am not opposed to a mixed burial, I am opposed to forcibly changing a choice that a person made in life (my father chose not to convert) and essentially making someone Jewish after their death. It seems to me that his choice made during his life should have been respected, and that the allegation that this cemetery is exclusively for those of the Jewish faith is a fiction if the conversion was post mortem. Reply

Introduction: Dealing with Death; The Jewish Approach
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