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Jewish Cemetery

Jewish Cemetery Etiquette

Proper decorum. It is forbidden to treat the cemetery lightly and derive any kind of benefit from the graves. Kalut Rosh / קלות ראש — levity and undignified behavior, is unacceptable in the presence of the dead in general and in the Jewish cemetery in particular. The solemn atmosphere of the cemetery requires appropriate conduct from all visitors.

One should dress properly when visiting the cemetery; scant or frivolous-looking dresses are certainly not appropriate. Eating and drinking is not allowed in the cemetery not only during funerals, but also during unveilings and visits to the Jewish cemetery. One may not relieve oneself there, nor may one use the cemetery as a shortcut to get from one place to another. It is likewise forbidden to gather grass or flowers for personal use, but trimming the plants, as part of cemetery maintenance, is permissible and commendable.

Sitting on a gravestone, which directly covers a grave is prohibited. One may, however, sit near the graves. One should avoid stepping on a grave, unless there is no alternative way to access other graves or to perform burials. It is customary to request forgiveness of the deceased if one must step on his or her grave.

Performance of Mitzvot. Loeg LaRash / לועג לרש — ridiculing the helpless, i.e., flaunting one’s ability to perform the Mitzvot / מצוותin the presence of the dead, is prohibited. The prohibition is based on the verse in the Book of Proverbs 17:5“One who mocks the poor affronts his Maker / לועג לרש חרף עושהו”. Since no one is more destitute than the dead, this verse is understood to prohibit the performance of certain Mitzvot while in close proximity to the grave which would distress the dead due to their inability to perform these commandments. Therefore, it is prohibited to wear Tefillin / תפילין in the cemetery and one should tuck in his Tzitzit / ציצית as well. It is forbidden to recite blessings, study Torah or recite the Psalms, etc., within Arba Amot / ארבע אמות — four cubits of a grave, unless it is done in honor of the deceased as part of the burial rites or upon visiting the graves.

Upon entering and leaving the cemetery, it is customary to wash one’s hands using a cup of water poured alternately on each hand.