CCAR RESPONSA

American Reform Responsa

108. Lapse of Time Before Setting a Tombstone

(Vol. XLII, 1932, pp. 84-85)

QUESTION: Can you inform me as to the origin of the custom of waiting at least eleven months after death before setting a tombstone? And will you please let me know if I am correct in holding that there is no good reason for waiting that long if one does not wish to.

ANSWER: There is, to my knowledge, no basis whatever for the custom of waiting eleven months after the death of a person before setting up a tombstone upon a grave. I doubt very much whether there is such a custom observed in any community. The people in the case you refer to, probably confuse the time for setting a tombstone with the time when the recitation of the Kaddish stops, that is, after eleven months. In fact, there is no fixed time for the setting of the tombstone. In many communities it is the custom to wait till twelve months after death. The origin of this custom is not very old. The first, to my knowledge, to mention this custom is R. Elijah Spira (died 1712) in his work Eliya Rabba on Orach Chayim (Sulzbach, 1756), ch. 224, p. 81a. He says: "Haminhag she-ein omedin matseva ad achar 12 chodesh mishum dehamatseva nir-a lachashivuta uve-12 chodesh yesh lo tsa-ar. Inamei dehata-am dehamatseva shelo yishkechu oto milev, yehamet eino nishkach ad le-achar sheneim asar chodesh.''l

The reasons for this practice as given by R. Elijah Spira are not satisfactory. R. Zevi Hirsch b. Azriel of Wilna in his work Beit Lechem Yehuda on the Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De-a 376.7 (Polnoi, 1804, p. 120a) also mentions this custom as obtaining in some communities, but does not give any reason for it. He merely says: "Haminhag pashut berov hamekomot she-ein omedin matseva ela le-achar sheneim asar chodesh." But I know personally of many communities in which the custom is to put up the stone as soon as possible after the seven days of mourning are over. From Genesis 35:19 it would appear that Jacob put up the stone upon Rachel's grave immediately after burial, if we may cite this as a precedent. At any rate, you are correct in holding that there is no good reason for waiting that long if one does not wish to.

Jacob Z. Lauterbach

NOTE:

1 Resp. Chatam Sofer VI, no. 29. See also: Geiger, Rabbinisches Gutachten ueber die Militaerpflichtigkeit der Juden, Breslau, 1842; Eli Rust (pseudonym for L. Landshuth), "Die Verbindlichkeit des Zeremonialgesetzes fuer Juedische Krieger in," Heinemann, Allg. Archiv, etc., 1842, vol. II, pp. 236-238.

If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.