My family is in the midst of planning an unveiling for my mother. My aunt would like to have flowers planted on the grave before the event. Is this acceptable? I have been to many unveilings and have never seen flowers. Something about it just does not seem Jewish.


You are right. Planting flowers on a grave is indeed not a Jewish tradition.

Why is this? Allow me to share with you the contents of a letter written by the great Hungarian chassidic rebbe and halachist, Rabbi Chaim Elazar Spira of Munkacs (1871–1937), to a rabbi in whose town some people had wanted to plant flowers on the graves of the wealthy Jews. Rabbi Spira was of the opinion that this was not to be done. Here were the reasons behind his ruling:

  1. Our sages taught that the rich and the poor must be buried alike. (This is why all Jews—regardless of means—are buried in identical linen shrouds.) Placing flowers on the graves of the wealthy drives unnecessary barriers between the classes.
  2. Placing edible items into a casket is forbidden according to Jewish law, as it a waste of G‑d’s bounty. Similarly, putting good, fragrant flowers (which could possibly be used as spices) in a place where they will not be used, says Rabbi Spira, is an infraction of the same law.
  3. It is forbidden to use or benefit from the casket or anything associated with the dead—even the earth which covers them. As such, enjoying the fragrance of flowers placed on graves would be forbidden, and planting flowers there in the first place is just inviting trouble.
  4. The most important reason is that, as you pointed out, it is not a Jewish custom, but rather a non-Jewish practice. We read in Leviticus 18:3, “Like the practices of the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you, you shall not do, and you shall not follow their statutes.” This means that a Jew must be careful not to follow the practices of the non-Jews. It was primarily because of this reason that Rabbi Spira ruled that it is to be avoided.

I am sure your aunt has your mother’s honor in mind, so perhaps a meaningful conversation with her will help smooth things out. And while flowers are pretty, in Jewish tradition we have other, more spiritual ways of honoring the souls of our departed loved ones. You can find some suggestions here.

It is also important to keep this in mind: I’m sure your mother wouldn’t want family discord to be caused by all of this. The best thing you can do in her memory is to do your utmost to ensure that everyone gets along at a ceremony that is spiritually meaningful and uplifting. If everyone can put their differences aside, you mother’s soul will smile down at you and be proud.

May your family meet at more joyous occasions!

Minchat Elazar 4:61.