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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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Question 11.6.3:
Death and Burial: Is "stone setting" at the cemetery within a year after death is a Jewish tradition?


In the Torah, we read that Jacob set up a marker for Rachel (Genesis 35:20). This led to the practice whereby Jewish graves are marked with the name of the deceased. Note that there are no traditional words. The only things that tradition seems to have standardized upon is (1) Po niqbar (or the initials P"N) -- Here is buried (2) The Jewish name (So-and-so bas [the daughter of] Father's name); and (3) The hebrew letters TNTzB"H (Tehei Nafshah Tzoreres betzror HaChaim) -- may her soul be bound in the bonds of [eternal] life. Beyond that, a complimentary epitaph is common. Naming family members is frequent, but not requisite. As always, this is a good area to consulting with a local rabbi on this: the rabbi can also serve as a third party so this doesn't become a family issue, as well as helping the family at this time of loss.

Rabban Gamaliel's instructions for burial emphasized equality and simplicity (which is a hallmark of the Jewish burial customs); thus, large ornate stone markers are discouraged. His son, Rabbi Simeon ben Gamaliel is quoted in Beraishit Rabbah (82:11) as saying, "We need not erect monuments for the righteous; their accomplishments are their memorials." In fact, stone markers were not normative until the Middle Ages; Rabbi Solomon Adret (13th century, Spain) prescribed the use of a matzeivah (burial marker). Nowadays, tt has become traditional to mark a grave with a stone monument or metal plate on the ground. This is generally done some time during the first year, prior to the Yahrzeit (first year anniversary of the death), but traditions differ widely.

The dedication of the marker is a rather late tradition of American Jewry (19th century). Now, it is widely done and carried over to other countries, including Israel. The tradition is that the dedication is done at the end of the Avelut (mourning) period or 11 months following the death. It is an act of spiritual closure ending the time of recitation of the Kaddish prayer for a loved one. It is traditional not to return to the cemetery for 30 days (Sh'loshim). Therefore, one would not even order a marker until after that period, assuming the mourner would want to compare stones and inscriptions, etc.

Israelis occasionally dedicate the headstone (Matzevah) at the end of the Shiva (7 day) period. The reason I have been told that Israelis do a quick unveiling is that family might have traveled far (e.g. from outside Israel) for the funeral and it would be too expensive to return 11 months later. A problem for such a quick unveiling is that the stone cutters cannot prepare the stone in time for such a quick ceremony.

In many communities outside of the United States, the unveiling is often done after 30 days. Some Sephardim do return to the cemetery and have a ceremony marking the end of shiva. Their burial customs vary with those of Ashkenazim.

The unveiling ceremony itself is a simple graveside religious service marking the formal setting of a loved one's headstone at the cemetery. It is a brief ceremony, with a few psalms, an actual unveiling of the stone, and the Kaddish. The presence of a rabbi or cantor is not required.

The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

[Got Questions?]Hopefully, the FAQ will provide the answer to your questions. If it doesn't, please drop Email to The FAQ maintainer will endeavor to direct your query to an appropriate individual that can answer it. If you would like to be part of the group to which the maintainer directs questions, please drop a note to the FAQ maintainer at

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© (c) 1993-2002 Daniel P. Faigin <>