29 December 2015

Stones Upon a Grave

My daughter, Anna, and I visited several cemeteries on Sunday after Liturgy. One was the Jewish Cemetery – Beth Israel. She pointed out the stones laid reverently atop the tombstone and said this was done instead of leaving flowers. I had no clue.

Stones left on a grave may at first seem odd to those of us not raised or schooled in the Jewish Tradition. However, no surprise, the tradition dates back to the Old Testament when altars were made … you guessed it … of stones! In the days of the Old Testament, before the tombstones we are familiar with today, people marked graves by a mound of stones.

It also reminds us that it was upon a stone that Abraham offers his son Issac up to the Lord. (Genesis 22: 1-19).  Christ Himself was laid in a tomb in which a stone was rolled in front of the entryway. (Matthew 27:59-60).

“Stones are fitting symbols of the lasting presence of the deceased’s life and memory,” according to Shiva.com.

Another site, MyJewishLearning.com, offers several possible theories. Old Testament era Jewish priests believed they became unpure if they came too close to a grave. Marking the graves with stones was one way to ensure they would avoid the grave area. Another thought is that stones keep the demons from getting to the grave and the soul of the deceased from escaping. Another thought is that while flowers die, stones remain constant.

The stone pictured here is that of Florence and Herbert DeKosky. Florence lived 1926 to 2014. Herbert lived 1922 – 2008. Their first names are also given in Yiddish but I have no clue how to transcribe that here. Above their tombstone are several stones of various sizes laid across the top.

The DeKoskys are buried in the Beth Israel Cemetery in Wagontown, Chester County. It is located adjacent to the Polish Cemetery.

A Grave Interest, a genealogy related blog by Joy Neighbors that focuses on cemeteries, posted a few years ago about leaving stones. She points out that this tradition is not limited to those of the Jewish faith and Tradition. Called cairns, these stones have a practical function of keeping animals from tearing at the body. An Eastern European folklore is that the dead can come back to haunt essentially the living. Hence the stones hold the deceased from escaping.

Find A Grave Memorial #132141655. Florence Riebman DeKosky

Leaving Stones on Graves,” A Grave Interest. 6 April 2012.  

Placing a Stone.” Shiva.com.

© Jeanne Ruczhak-Eckman, 2015

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Locations listed are located in Pennsylvania (USA), unless otherwise noted in post.