QUESTION: The deceased has requested that the grave marker used for her grave be a simple wooden one. This is in keeping with the simplicity of her life. She would like the fund normally used for a tombstone be spent charitably? What is the attitude of tradition to this request? (Mark Greenbaum, Dallas TX)
ANSWER: The first mention of marking a grave was with Rachel as the patriarch Jacob set up a pillar in her honor (Gen 35.20); similarly the graves of the ancient Israelite and Judean kings were provided with monuments. In the later period graves were marked so that the priests could avoid contact with the dead (M M K 1.2). Generally these gravemarker were made of stone as this is a durable material (Greenwald Kol Bo al Avelut), but there is no absolute requirement. We should also remember that the tombstones in many older cemeteries decay despite the effort at permanence. Furthermore wooden markers were used in various European countries when stone could not be afforded.
A wooden marker may be used if it is in keeping with the rule of the congregation. The congregation must be concerned with maintenance and the general appearance of the cemetery. There is nothing in the tradition which would object to this request.