Understanding Jewish Gravestones – BillionGraves – Tombstone Tuesdays February 4, 2020

I made Understanding Jewish Gravestones – https://blog.billiongraves.com/understanding-jewish-gravestones/ posted on BillionGraves this week’s Tombstone Tuesdays post. The original post is over 2,200 words long, and I encourage reading it if you can. I am cutting it down to keep it just over 500 words.

Understanding Jewish Gravestones 

If you’ve spent much time in cemeteries, you’ve probably seen some matzevot or Jewish gravestones. You may have wondered – what is the significance of the rocks placed on them? Why are some of the gravestones vertical and some horizontal? Or what do the inscriptions and symbols on the Jewish gravestones mean?

You will understand Jewish gravestones better after reading this BillionGraves blog post. And your visits to the cemetery will be more interesting – whether the Jewish gravestones belong to your own relatives or to your ancestor’s neighbors.


Jewish culture tends to be infused throughout daily life in Jewish homes and that culture is even carried over into the cemetery. Understanding Jewish gravestones helps us understand Jewish hearts. And this fosters love and understanding.

Why are there rocks on Jewish gravestones?

Why are there rocks on Jewish gravestones? Well, there are various reasons, so that depends on who you ask.


Are Jewish gravestones vertical or horizontal?

Jewish gravestones may be vertical or horizontal, depending on the subgroup to which the deceased belonged. The two main Jewish cultural subgroups are Sephardic and Ashkenazic.


Most Sephardic Jewish gravestones are horizontal rectangular slabs.


While the most traditional tombstone style for Ashkenazic Jews is a vertical slab with a rounded or pointed top.

Jewish Gravestone Guidelines

Sephardic stones sometimes have angelic or human figures and biblical images on them.

But images are not permitted on Ashkenazic stones at all in order to prevent the sin of idol worship.


What do those Hebrew inscriptions mean?

The heading on most Jewish tombstones is an inscription of the abbreviation ‘פנּ, which stands for po nikbar or po nitman, meaning “here lies.”


Jewish Gravestone Dates

The Jewish calendar starts its first year with the creation of the world. It is believed that this calendar was designed in the 4th century by Patriarch Hillel II who determined the age of the world by adding up the ages of Biblical figures and other Biblical events. The calendar he created begins 3760 years before the Christian calendar.


Dates on Jewish gravestones are sometimes from the Western calendar and sometimes from the Jewish calendar.

To convert the Jewish calendar year to the Western calendar year, add 1240 to the commonly shortened version of the Jewish calendar—which leaves off the 5 in years after 5000. For example, if the Jewish calendar year is 5683, add 1240 to 683 to determine that the year is 1923 on the Western calendar.

Jewish Gravestones: Star of David


Jewish Gravestones: Hands


Jewish Gravestones: Menorah


Jewish Gravestones: Tree Stump

A tree that has been cut off symbolizes a life that has been cut short.


Jewish Gravestones: Books


Jewish Gravestones: Candlesticks


Jewish Gravestones: Pitcher


Jewish Gravestones: Alms


Jewish Gravestones: Lions


Jewish Gravestones: Deer


Jewish Gravestones: Sea


Jewish Gravestone: Bird


Jewish Gravestones: Music and Theater


Jewish Gravestones: Yartzeit Candle


Previous Tombstone Tuesdays posts: https://upsdownsfamilyhistory.wordpress.com/tag/Tombstone-tuesday/


About ICT Genealogist

Originally from Gulfport, Mississippi. Live in Wichita, Kansas now. I suffer Bipolar I, ultra-ultra rapid cycling, mixed episodes. Blog on a variety of topics - genealogy, DNA, mental health, among others. Let's collaborateDealspotr.com
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