Jewish law requires that a tombstone be prepared, so that the deceased will not be forgotten and the grave will not be desecrated. It is customary in some communities to keep the tombstone veiled, or to delay in putting it up, until the end of the 12-month mourning period. The idea underlying this custom is that the dead will not be forgotten when he is being mourned every day. In communities where this custom is observed, there is generally a formal unveiling ceremony when the tombstone is revealed.
It is also customary in some communities to place small stones on a gravesite when visiting it. Stones, unlike flowers, are permanent and do not get blown away in the wind.
What is written on a tombstone? In most cases, it is very straightforward Hebrew text, similar to what you might see on a tombstone in English.
At the top is the abbreviation Pei-Nun, which stands for "po niftar", which means "here lies..." The marks that look like quotation marks are commonly used to indicate an abbreviation or a number written in letters.
The next line is the name of the deceased, in the form (deceased's name), son of or daughter of (father's name).
The third line indicates the date of death. This line begins with the date, the month, and the year. The date and year are written in Hebrew numerals, which are letters.
The last line is an abbreviation that stands for "tehe nishmasah tzerurah bitzror hachayim," which means "may his/her soul be bound in the bond of eternal life."
You may also find Jewish symbols on a tombstone, such as a menorah, a magen David, a Torah scroll, a lion, or the two tablets of the ten commandments. Most of these symbols don't tell you anything about the decedent (other than the fact that he or she was Jewish). However, if you see a picture of two hands, this normally indicates that the decedent was a cohen, because this hand position is used when the kohanim bless the congregation at certain times of the year.
If you need assistance in ordering a stone inscription, please contact our Synagogue.