Contemporary American Reform Responsa
115. Fallen Gravestones
grave markers in a Central European cemetery have been neglected for many years. Some have fallen over; others are broken. Can they be re-erected on the sites of the original graves, or should fallen grave markers simply be left as they are? (J. Spear, Pittsburgh, PA)
ANSWER: Jewish cemeteries have long been accorded a special status in
Jewish life, and every effort has been made to maintain them properly. This meant that already in Talmudic times Jewish tombs were considered “more beautiful than royal palaces” (San. 96b). Every possible effort was made through the ages to protect the graves of the beloved dead, although often in the wake of persecution this failed and many medieval cemeteries were totally destroyed (Israel Abraham’s Jewish Life in the Middle Ages, pp. 93 ff; L. Zunz Geschichte, pp. 396 ff). Walls were usually placed around the cemeteries to protect them, and every effort was made to maintain the cemeteries, although communities were not to tax themselves too heavily in order to protect the cemetery from rapacious government officials (S. B. Freehof, “The Vandalized Cemetery,” in W. Jacob, American Reform Responsa, # 115).
This meant that whenever possible tombstones in vandalized cemeteries were
restored or replaced by new stones. Tombstones which were replaced because of their poor condition, or because the family could now afford a better stone, could not be sold for individual profit. They may be given to the poor in order to be refashioned into a stone for someone who could normally not afford a tombstone, or they may be sold for the benefit of the cemetery and the total community (San. 47b, Asher ben Yehiel to M. K. 3.79; Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 348 and commentaries; Shalom Schwadron Responsa, Vol. 2.122; Moses Taubesh Hayin Shel Shalom 2.104). When tombstones have collapsed, it is a mitzvah and appropriate to set them up again. If they are broken, they may be replaced.
If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.