QUESTION: The deceased has requested that the tombstone set upon his grave be a large piece of granite, uncut and without any markings. No name or date is to be placed upon it. What is the attitude of tradition to this request? (Dora Nelkoff, Philadelphia PA)
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, but nothing was said about inscriptions. In the later period graves were marked so that the priests could avoid contact with the dead (M M K 1.2). Generally tombstones were marked with the name of the deceased and there was some discussion of inscriptions (Greenwald Kol Bo al Avelut pp 380 ff), but there is no absolute requirement. We should also remember that the tombstones in many older cemeteries have become illegible, but the graves are nevertheless honored.
The request for marking the burial site with a simple natural marker should be honored.