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Question: I came to the cemetery, only to find that a stone has never been placed over a close relative who died a year and a half ago. I spoke to the children and they tell me they will get to it when they have time. They seem to think that this is not a matter of any importance. I know that each rushed to take their share of the yerusha that was left them. I’m sure that in the will there is money set aside as well as a directive to place a monument. Please help me set them straight with sources that will prove their being obligated to erect a monument over their parent’s grave.

I have another related question; while I was there I also noticed one or two monuments that were quite dilapidated. Should they and may they be replaced?


Name withheld by request


Answer: Your first question, unfortunately, is not unique, however your cousins are in the minority in this matter as most people [Jew and gentile] are very diligent in giving this last honor that is due their departed, but there are always those few cases where there is laxness in this regard.

One of our earliest sources that require a child or husband [spouse] to place a tombstone over the grave of his parent or wife [husband] is found in Parashat Vayishlach. We know that when Rachel died Jacob placed a stone over her grave (Genesis 35:19,20): “Vatomos Rachel va’tikover b’derch Efrata hi Beit Lachem – And Rachel died and was buried on the way to Efrat, which is Bethlehem.” Vayatzev Yaakov matzeva al kevurata hi matzevet kevurat Rachel ad hayom – And Jacob erected a monument upon her grave, that is the monument of Rachel’s grave to this day.”

This custom is mentioned as well in other places as we find in Scripture (II Kings chapter 32-33) In the days of King Josiah, King of Judah returned to the service of Hashem like no other [person].before him. It is there that we find that monuments were used to mark graves, as the verse informs us (II Kings 23:17) “Vayomer meh ha’tziyon ha’loz asher ani ro’eh. va’yomru eilav anshei ha’ir, ha’kever ish ha’Elokim asher asita ba mi’Yehudah vayikra et hadevarim ha’eleh asher asita al ha’mizbeach Beit El – And he said, What is that monument that I see/ And the men of the city [Jerusalem] told him. It is the tomb of the men of Gon, who came from Judah and proclaimed these things that you have done against the altar of Bet El.”

The Talmud (Baba Bathra 58a) notes that Rabbi Bana’ah was especially praised for marking caves [tombs] where there were dead bodies, including the Cave of Abraham. We find as well (Baba Metzia 85b) that R. Shimon ben Lakish was marking the burial place of the Rabbis. Rashi (sv “m’orta d’rabanan”) explains that he did so in order that the kohanim – priests not inadvertently traverse them and he would create a cover so that the righteous not be the cause for any transgression on the part of others.

Indeed, Rav Tuccacinsky (Gesher Hachayim ch. 28) notes that a stone or monument is placed for three purposes: 1) To mark off the place of the grave — a sign of uncleanliness [ritual defilement] where a priest may not tread; 2) to establish the location of the grave so that the relatives and offspring may visit it to pray before it; 3) to honor the spirit of the departed soul.

The Gemara (Mo’ed Katan 5; Niddah 56) discusses this matter. Rabbi Simeon ben Pazzi said, “Where is there an indication in Scripture that gravesites should be marked? In the text, `V’ovru ha’ovrim ba’aretz v’ro’oh etzem adam u’vana etzlo tziyon ad kovru oto ha’mekabrim el geh-hamon gog. And when [passersby] see a human bone, they will set up a marker near it until the buriers bury it in the valley of Hamon Gog’ (Ezekiel 39:15)…’’ Thus we see even for one human bone we place a marker, surely for the entire Human remains we are so directed.

Rabbi Nathan (Shekalim 2:5) said; “With the surplus of funds collected for the burial of a person, a tombstone is to be erected over his grave.’’ Thus a gravestone should be erected at the expense of the estate of the deceased. [Obviously if such funds exist, but if not it should be funded with the residual monies collected for the burial.]

Interesting as regards the stone that Jacob placed upon Rachel’s grave the verse (Genesis 35:20) states: “Vayatzev Yaakov matzeva al kevurata hi matzevet kevurat Rachel ad hayom – And Jacob erected a monument upon her grave, that is the monument of Rachel’s grave to this day.” Sforno (ad loc.) notes that the monument we place over the [graves] of our departed are in order that we be reminded of their [good] deeds for their generations in order that they not be forgotten. This surely did not apply to Rachel, who was the Akeret HaBayit – the mainstay of the house, whose memory is never forgotten and our sages (the Jerusalem Talmud, Shekalim 2:5) state; We do not make monuments for the righteous, their words [and deeds] are their memorials. Thus in her case the monument was only placed so that we know the place of her burial. Indeed, the verse states; “matzevet kevurat Rachel – the monument of Rachel’s grave” – not Rachel’s monument. Insofar us we are very careful to place a monument as a zecher – for the memory of all our deceased relatives [and friends. In the event there are no relatives to be found, in effect such an individual would be designated a met mitzvah – one who has none to tend to his interment, such then becomes the communal responsibility].

Although a son should make every effort to erect a stone, nothing can be done to force him if he refuses. These children should, however, be persuaded by reminding them that they are required to honor their parents even after their death (Kiddushin 32). If they have their own children they would surely want to earn their respect not only in the present but also after such time as they depart this world, and children usually learn by example. As the years pass, they may come to regret their behavior.

To be continued


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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.