Rabbi Carla Freedman
March 2021 QUESTION:
When is it required/permitted to put up a gravestone?
March 2021 ANSWER:
To get to the answer to this question, let’s start by acknowledging that our tradition frowns upon putting a grave marker in position before 30 days after the burial. The thinking seems to be that mourners are still, for those 30 days, in the intense period following the death of a loved one, and seeing the gravestone might set them back in their recovery from it.
After that 30 days period has passed, it is very common for people to wait till another 11 months have passed, so that the “unveiling” happens near the first yahrtzeit, or anniversary. But Jewish “law” doesn’t specify when the marker must be in place.
We should note that the “official” mourning period for everyone but parents is 30 days; mourners stop attending services daily to say kaddish at that point, except for parents, for
whom the “official” mourning period is a total of 11 months (many people understand the “official” mourning period for parents to be a full year). Mourners then can attend simkhas and even remarry after 30 days of mourning for a spouse. Please note: Jewish law identifies as “official” mourners those who have lost a mother, father, sister, brother, son or daughter, or spouse. We certainly acknowledge that other relatives and friends may be mourning as intensely as these seven persons, but they don’t have any requirements to constrain their activities. actual mourners to get through this process.
In previous times and places, Jews all lived near each other, so there evolved some customs, like setting up the gravestone about a year after the death, which was easy to accomplish, because no one had to travel much to be present for that ceremony. But today (even without the coronavirus), families are scattered all over this country and beyond, so getting everyone together for the unveiling is a challenge. When my mother died, we were all at the funeral, but it took 2 years till we could all assemble again for the unveiling. That’s not unusual.
No matter when the unveiling ceremony occurs, it’s still a shock to see your loved one’s name on the graves time, it signals the necessity and the healthiness of the return to some form of normal life.
So the real answer to your question is: any time after 30 days, and whenever the family can assemble safely (especially right now, with Covid-19 travel restrictions) to pay their respects
to the deceased.