jewish Funeral Guide


Monument Design

Tombstone types. Matzeivot / מצבות — headstones and memorials come in various shapes and sizes including small flat, pillow and slant markers, bigger upright, ledger and bench gravestones, as well as huge multi-piece monuments and mausoleums. It is permissible to erect a companion (double) monument if one of the spouses is still alive, but some avoid doing this, because it shows lack of belief in Mashiach / משיח — the Redeemer, who may come any day.

Tombstone design. Most tombstones are made from granite, marble or limestone and are usually placed at the head of the grave, but often cover the whole grave. Memorial plaques, embellishments of the monuments and, sometimes, flat markers are made out of bronze. It is better to erect a modest monument in order not to embarrass those who cannot afford an ornate headstone. The soul of the deceased would be more pleased if the mourners would donate money to charity, instead of building extravagant and expensive monuments. However, one should ignore any prior request of a deceased parent to not erect any monument at all. In this case a small tombstone should be placed on the grave. Small plaques that are set flush with the ground are not recommended, though, because it is hard to see the grave boundaries they mark and people will end up stepping on a grave.

Cemetery rules and regulations. Many cemeteries allow only certain types of monuments. For example, many memorial parks allow only flat markers, while more traditional cemeteries allow upright gravestones. It is advisable to check the cemetery rules before purchasing a cemetery plot.

Tombstone art. Certain stylized Jewish symbols, such as Ner Tamid / נר תמיד - eternal light, Magen David / מגן דוד - Star of David, Torah scroll, tablets or an open book, a crown, which stands for כתר שם טוב  — crown of a good name, Lion of Judah, cluster of grapes, etc., are frequently engraved on a tombstone. On the gravestone of a woman may appear a carving of a bird and/or a Menorah / המנורה - a candelabrum with two or more branches, symbolic of her candle lighting. A broken candle symbolizes an untimely death at a young age. A lantern holding a Yahrzeit candle is sometimes incorporated into a monument. Artistic rendition of person's scholarship, talents or generosity is less common. A pitcher is often engraved on the headstone of a Levite / לוי. For a Cohen / כהן it is customary to engrave the hands spread in priestly blessing. However, engraving the form of a human being and placing any pictures or photographs on the monument, although common, is not considered appropriate.