Visiting a Gravesite


Dear Rabbi,
I was watching the funeral of a fallen Israeli soldier the other day at the military cemetery at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. It was sad and I’m sure mine were not the only dry eyes.
While watching, I remember hearing a custom for anyone who visits a grave to place a small stone on the headstone. What is the reason for this practice?
Thanks, Rabbi!



  1. I’ve heard a number of reasons for the custom to place a small stone at a gravesite when visiting there. One reason is that placing a small stone is a sign that the person visited the grave and showed honor to the deceased. Stones and pebbles are generally readily accessible in a cemetery to serve this purpose.

    Another reason has to do with the Hebrew of the word for stone, “even, which is spelled aleph bet nun, and pronounced “eh-ven.” This word can be viewed as a combination of the words “av” and ‘ben,” meaning “father and son,” and express the eternal nature of the Jewish nation. “Am Yisrael Chai,” as the song says. “The Jewish nation lives on!”

    Once, when I was touring the Mount of Olives cemetery, the Israeli guide told me the following story, a story that purports to explain this custom:

    Sometime during the Turkish occupation of Israel, on a Shabbat, an Arab was murdered in Jerusalem. Quickly, the rumor spread that he was killed by a Jew, and an immediate expulsion order was declared. The Jews of Jerusalem had to pick themselves up and leave or be killed. A noted kabbalist (rabbi well-versed in mystic teachings) came upon the scene of the crime, which was crowded with Arab onlookers. Even though it was Shabbat, the kabbalist wrote one of God’s names on a piece of paper and placed it upon the body of the dead man. The dead man rose and pointed to one of the Arabs standing in the crowd, who became violently afraid and admitted that he had done the killing. The expulsion order was rescinded.

    Shortly afterwards, the kabbalist, who was an elderly man, approached the chevra kadisha (burial society) and asked that his tombstone be pelted with stones after his death because he had written during Shabbat. He understood that due to the danger to life he had been permitted to desecrate the Shabbat, but he felt that some form of repentance was in order, nevertheless. At first the burial society refused because of the implied dishonor the stoning would represent to so righteous a Jew, but the kabbalist persisted. Finally, they agreed to place stones on his grave, but only if they would institute the custom that all graves would have stones placed on them in the future. If stones were placed on everyone’s grave, it would not be a dishonor to the kabbalist. From then on, stones were placed on the graves of all Jews buried in Jerusalem, and from Jerusalem the custom spread – and today, Jews all over the world place stones on tombstones when visiting a grave.

    This may not be the actual source of the custom, but it’s an interesting story.

    Best wishes from the Team