CCAR RESPONSA

New American Reform Responsa

188. A Widow's Inscription

QUESTION: A woman has been married twice. She did not have children from either marriage and both husbands have predeceased her. She was married to her first husband for twenty-five years and her second husband for twenty-three years. She will be buried with her second husband, but would like to have the marriage to her first husband permanently remembered. May she have her name placed on the tombstone of both men? (Rabbi Robert L. Lehman, New York NY)

ANSWER: The original purpose of a tombstone in a Jewish cemetery was simply to make kohanim aware of the location of the grave so that they would not inadvertently come in contact with the dead and be defiled (M Ohalot 7.1). Tombstones were mentioned in connection with the patriarchs (Gen 42.23) and elsewhere (Ez 39.15). In these instances and subsequently, the honor of the dead was a major motivating factor (Y. M. Tukzinski Gesher Hayim Vol I pp 303 ff). The inscriptions on tombstones from Hellenistic and Roman times were simple and usually contained the name of the deceased and occasionally the name of the father (Gesher Hayim Vol II p 205 ff). Subsequently the name of the husband was frequently included on the wife's stone, but that was not mandatory (Greenwald Kol Bo al Avelut pp 381 ff). There was little discussion about tombstone engravings except for lengthy debates about the secular versus the Hebrew date. In the last century there was some discussion about the Hungarian custom of affixing photographs of the dead to the tombstone.

Biographical statements and the Biblical verses now found on some tombstones have not been mentioned in the literature. They have arisen as a folk custom.

In this instance there would be nothing wrong or novel about indicating on the tombstone of each husband that he was the husband of ... and so remembering the marriages on the stones.

July 1988

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