The tradition of visiting the graves of the ancestors and praying for both the deceased and the living is very old. It is written in the Book of Numbers 13:22 about Caleb that “And they went up into the south, and he came to Hebron / ויעלו בנגב ויבא עד חברון”. The Talmud in Tractate Sotah 34a explains that he went there to pray by the graves of the Patriarchs. Visiting graves is an important demonstration of respect and remembrance.
When to visit. There is a custom to visit the grave at the conclusion of Shivah / שבעה, Sheloshim / שלושים and the twelve months of mourning. The grave is visited on the Yahrzeit / יארצייט, as well. If Shivah / שבעה or Sheloshim / שלושים was canceled by a Jewish Holiday, many have a custom to come instead on the seventh or thirtieth day respectively. It is also customary to visit the cemetery on fast days and on the eves of Rosh HaShanah / ראש השנה and Yom Kippur / יום כפור. Some have a custom to go to the cemetery on the day before Rosh Chodesh / ראש חודש, especially the Rosh Chodesh / ראש חודש of the months of Elul / אלול and Nisan / ניסן.
If the scheduled visit falls on the Sabbath or on a Jewish Holiday (including Chol HaMoed / חול המועד — the intermediate days of the Jewish festivals) it should be rescheduled; it is usually postponed. However, some have a custom not to reschedule a cemetery visit on the minor Jewish Holidays such as Chanukah / חנוכה, Purim / פורים and Shushan Purim / שושן פורים, Rosh Chodesh / ראש חודש and other days of communal rejoicing. In this case, the traditional memorial prayer is usually not recited.
Jewish cemetery customs. The solemn atmosphere of the cemetery requires appropriate conduct from the visitors, as was already discussed in the Jewish Cemetery Etiquette section.
The Jewish custom is not to bring flowers or floral wreaths to the graves. Instead, when taking leave of the deceased, one should place a pebble or a small stone upon the grave.
Upon entering and leaving the cemetery, it is customary to wash one’s hands using a cup of water poured alternately on each hand. The custom is not to come back the same day for another cemetery visit.