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Visiting a Cemetery

Does Jewish custom permit the visiting of the cemetery before the placement of a monument?

jewish cemetery monuments

There are many different customs regarding the visiting of a cemetery. It is a hallowed, age-old custom to visit the graves of our loved ones, as it benefits both the deceased and the living. In order that the gravesite does not become a “shrine,” our Rabbis discouraged too-frequent visits, especially during the first year. Nevertheless, there are appropriate occasions for visitation even before a monument is in place, such as:

  • The seventh day, after ending the restrictions of shivah
  • The sheloshim - the thirtieth day of mourning, which marks the end of the mourning period for all, except those who have lost a parent
  • On completion of the first twelve Hebrew months of mourning for a parent, even if that day is not the Yahrzeit (such as in the case of a leap year)
  • The Yahrzeit
  • Before or between the High Holidays

There are many different customs. Each person should follow the customs of their family or community. In case of uncertainty, always consult with your Rabbi.

Is a Kohayn allowed to visit a cemetery?

Since a Kohayn is a descendant of the Priestly Class among the Jewish People, the Torah prescribes certain “do’s” and “don’ts” for the Kohayn to observe. Traditionally, a Kohayn does not enter a funeral home, a cemetery, or any place where proximity to a deceased person causes ritual defilement. An exception to this observance may occur in the case where a Kohayn must tend to the burial needs of certain close blood relatives. Frequently, families of Kohaynim would be buried at the fence or wall of the cemetery, so the Kohaynim could stay outside the cemetery and still visit the graves of their loved ones. Depending upon the layout of the cemetery, it might be possible under certain circumstances, for a Kohayn to enter; consult with your Rabbi for guidance.

Is there any significance to the custom of putting a pebble on the monument when visiting a grave? What is the origin of the custom?

Historically, the first grave markers were merely mounds of stones or inside natural rock caves, as the graves of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The early Hebrews were nomadic tribes and shepherds who were not skilled in the arts of quarrying and stone carving until their contact with Babylon and Egypt. It was the custom when passing by a mound of stones marking a grave to replace those in the vicinity that may have fallen off. This became interpreted as a mark of thoughtfulness and regard for the memory of the departed one. These mounds of heavy rocks served to guard the graves from predatory beasts and grave robbers, as well as to warn of the presence of graves to those forbidden to come near. In modern times, the act of putting a pebble on the monument when visiting a grave has become a symbol of respect and honor to the deceased, and a visible sign that our loved ones have not been abandoned in death.