Contemporary American Reform Responsa

120. Name of the Deceased on Two Tombstones

QUESTION: A family would like the ashes of a recently deceased member interred in one family plot in our cemetery; they have also requested that her name be engraved on stones in two family plots. This represents an effort to keep peace within the family. The plots are only a few feet apart, and there is no animosity between the two families. Would this be permitted? (V. Kavaler, Pittsburgh, PA)

ANSWER: We should look briefly to the history of tombstones in Judaism, which began when Jacob set up a pillar upon the grave of his beloved wife, Rachel (Gen. 35.20). Tombs were similarly marked by the kings of Israel (II K 23.17), by some of the Maccabees (I Mac. 13.27 ff), and in the Mishnaic and Talmudic periods (San. 96b; Shek. 47a). Tombstones were generally erected, but they were not absolutely obligatory, so some graves in cemeteries remained unmarked (Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 364). If the precise place of burial is not known, as has happened recently in the cases of cemeteries destroyed by the Nazis during the Second World War, then one may erect a tombstone on a site which is not the actual grave (Memaa-makim 1.28). It is permissible to memorialize the deceased on a general memorial plaque in another location, as on a monument for those who died in wartime or on a plaque in the synagogue. However, on the cemetery itself, there should be only one tombstone for a specific individual, and the name should not be inscribed on the stones of two different families.

September 1982

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