162-05 Horace Harding Expressway
Fresh Meadows, NY 11365
Phone: 1-800-675-0300
Fax: 347-438-2516

Jewish Funeral Customs: The Unveiling

What is an “unveiling?”

The “unveiling” (hakamat ha-matzeivah in Hebrew) is a graveside religious ceremony marking the formal setting of a loved one’s monument at the Cemetery as it is a religious obligation to place a marker at the grave of a loved one.

When should the unveiling take place?

There is no “religiously set” time for unveilings, but there are some customary times to consider holding one:

Some hold the unveiling on or close to the “sheloshim”, the thirtieth day after the death and completion of the mourning period for all, except a parent, as is customary in Israel.

The general custom for most Americans has been to have the unveiling around the eleventh Hebrew month (with the completion of Kaddish) or the twelfth Hebrew month (with the completion of the mourning period for a parent).

Because Jewish Tradition does not prescribe a specific time, an unveiling can be held at a time most convenient to the family, taking into account the weather, vacation periods, family simchas, and appropriate gathering times. Thus, if a family would like an unveiling near the Yahrzeit, but the timing is inconvenient because of weather or family needs, the unveiling date is flexible. When setting a date, always consult with the Rabbi who will be officiating to confirm their availability, and if the desired date is appropriate for an unveiling according to the Jewish calendar.

Are there periods when unveilings are not appropriate?

Unveilings are solemn occasions, marked by the recitation of memorial prayers and eulogies. As such, they are generally not held when they would conflict with festive periods on the Jewish calendar. These festive periods include any Jewish holidays -- including so-called “minor” holidays;Rosh Chodesh (the new moon), the entire Hebrew month of Nisan, certain “between-Holiday” times; and certain other dates, when, because the traditional petitionary prayers are not recited in the synagogue, the memorial prayers are also not recited. Always consult with your Rabbi before deciding on a date for the unveiling.

How is an unveiling ceremony conducted?

The immediate family should arrive at the gravesite well before the others arrive. They can then be sure that the unveiling cloth covers the monument. (Sinai Memorials will provide the unveiling cloth.) The family and friends gather around the grave. The Rabbi begins with readings from the book of Psalms and recitation of the appropriate prayers, followed by words of eulogy usually spoken by the Rabbi or sometimes by family members. The traditional Memorial Prayer (the “Moleh”) is recited, followed by the Kaddish if there is a minyan present. The Rabbi will direct the family when to remove the covering from the monument.

Is it necessary for a Rabbi to officiate at the unveiling?

While not required by religious law, it is highly recommended that a Rabbi officiate, since Rabbis are religious professionals who are acquainted with the rituals, the appropriate prayers, and the Jewish calendar. A Rabbi can provide guidance and advice during a very stressful time, and ensure that the ceremony to honor the deceased is both appropriate and meaningful. Families may find it more comforting to choose a Rabbi who knows the family or was personally acquainted with the deceased.

I am unaffiliated with any particular synagogue, but would like a formal service with a Rabbi. Can you help?

Please contact us at 1-800-675-0300, and we will be glad to assist you.

Is a minyan necessary at an unveiling?

For most of the rituals and prayers recited at an unveiling, it is not necessary for a minyan to be present. However, Jewish law requires the presence of a minyan to recite the Kaddish—and since an unveiling is a time when it is most appropriate to say Kaddish, every effort should be made to assure the presence of a minyan.

When and how do we notify family and friends of the date of the unveiling?

Notification should be made approximately two to four weeks before the unveiling, so guests can plan accordingly. To help you notify family and friends, Sinai Memorials can provide you with complementary printed information that includes the details about the unveiling such as the date, time, and location.

What is the significance of the “unveiling cloth” over the monument?

In early times, it was the family who physically erected the monument to its loved ones. The monument might have been anything from a simple mound of stones with the name of the deceased engraved, to an elaborately carved, monumental edifice. In present day society, where professionals construct the monument and it is dedicated on a day convenient to family and friends, it became customary to “unveil” the monument in their presence, as if they were erecting it anew. The cloth itself has no religious significance, and can be discarded.

Where do we obtain a cloth for the unveiling ceremony?

Sinai Memorials will provide the family a cloth for the unveiling at no charge.

Is it customary to have refreshments at the unveiling?

The serving of refreshments at the unveiling is an outdated custom, which is today looked upon with extreme disfavor by both cemeteries and Jewish tradition. Years ago, when cemeteries were difficult to reach and transportation was an all day affair, it was therefore a perceived obligation on the part of the family to see that their friends were fed. At the end of the day, the spot of a very solemn ceremony had the appearance of an unkempt picnic ground. While no food should be served at the cemetery, families frequently take advantage of the gathering as a time to remember their beloved beyond the solemn ceremony at the cemetery. Some may choose to hold a luncheon, dinner or reception after the unveiling that provides a more joyous tribute to their memory. There are no rules or requirements, only that everything be conducted in the spirit of the day.