Sunday, June 6, 2010

Matzevah: Unveiling of the Tombstone

Matzevah is Hebrew for "tombstone" or "headstone." In Judaism, the tombstone is generally placed on the grave sometime after the burial. When the tombstone is placed on the grave, it generally done at a special unveiling ceremony. The dedication of the tombstone can be done at any time between Sheloshim, the first thirty days of mourning after the burial, and the anniversary of the death. The unveiling cannot take place during Pesach.

A cloth covering the tombstone is removed from in the presence of family and friends. A brief service at the dedication includes the reading of several psalms, often the 23rd Psalm, the Mourners' Kaddish, and the El Maleh Rachamim prayer.

The tombstone generally bears the Hebrew letters "pe" and "nun", which stands for "here lies buried." At the bottom of the tombstone, are the five Hebrew letters "tav", "nun", "tzadik", "bet", and "he." These letters stand for the phrase "May his/her sould be bound up in the bond of life eternal."

It is customary to leave a small stone on the tombstone. The origin of this custom is not known, but it may date back to Biblical times when bodies were buried beneath piles of stones. Today, the custom is a reminder that someone has visited the grave.

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