CARR 177-178


Contemporary American Reform Responsa

116. Names on a Tombstone


A woman who has been married twice recently died. Her second husband is unwilling to pay for a tombstone to be erected on her grave. Her children, born of her first husband, are willing to erect such a stone but do not want to put the second husband’s name on it. Is it appropriate for them to omit any recognition of the second marriage? (Rabbi P. Knobel, Evanston, IL)


Let us begin by dealing with the entire matter of tombstones. From the fourteenth century on it was considered a husband’s obligation to provide a tombstone for his wife (Asher ben Yehiel, Responsa #13, 19; Solomon ben Aderet, Responsa #375; Shulhan Arukh Even Haezer 89.1; Joel Sirkes to Tur Yoreh Deah 348). The Shulhan Arukh went even further and states that the heirs of a man are compelled to provide a tombstone (Yoreh Deah 348.2). All of this indicates that it is the absolute duty of the husband to provide such a stone.

It seems that the children do not want to pursue the matter

further and force the second husband to erect such a stone. They want to erect the stone themselves. Can they now omit the name of the second husband?

The traditional

literature on this subject deals primarily with the Hebrew names inscribed on the tombstone. Some inscriptions in case of both men and women simply list their names and their descent with a reference to the father only (S. E. Blogg, Sefer Hahayim, pp. 258 ff). They sometimes mention the name of the husband, but on other occasions, do not (Greenwald, Kol Bo Al Avelut, pp. 381 ff). In our communities, of course, the individual is known by her English first name and surname. If the woman who died used the last name of her second husband during her lifetime, then that name should also be mentioned on the tombstone. Tradition even goes so far as to indicate that a name be changed to “avoid the angel of death,” in other words, during the last illness as was folk custom in medieval times, must be inscribed on the stone if used for more than thirty days (Greenwald, op. cit., p. 382). Of course the old name was given as well. There would be nothing wrong with indicating the other family name as well or to indicate the second marriage through a hyphen or parentheses .

October 1985

If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.