RRR 107-109

Name of the Missing on a Tombstone

A widow lost her only son on Bataan in World War II. The body was never recovered. Now she would like to have her son’s name engraved on her husband’s tomb stone. Is there any objection to this? (From Rabbi Eugene I. Hibshman, Sioux Falls, South Dakota)

I do not recall any discussion in the older law dealing with this question and therefore it must be dealt with by anal ogy. If the boy was married, or if it is understood that the boy is missing and not definitely reported as dead, then there could very well be an objection to putting his name on the tombstone of his father. If the government has reported him dead, then according to recent opinions, the government opinion must be accepted and the boy is legally considered dead (cf. Isaac Elchanan Spektor, “Ayn Yitzchok” 19), and therefore there is no objection to putting his name on the tombstone. If, however, the boy was married and the report of the government was merely that he was missing, then there can be objection on the part of the law to putting his name on the tombstone, because this would be equivalent to observing formal mourning for a man who is missing. This is generally objected to on the ground that his wife would take this as permission to be married when really she is not yet proved to be free to remarry (cf. responsum “Funeral Services and Mourning for Those Lost at Sea,” p. 104).

But, of course, if the boy was not married, or if he was married and the government reported him definitely dead, then there can be no objection at all to putting his name on his father’s tombstone. In order to indicate that the body is not buried there, the inscription could be worded as follows:

In Memory of [son’s name] Fallen in Battle on Bataan

Since writing the above, there has appeared a new collection of responsa of tragic interest in modern Jewish history. It is called M’ma’amakim (Out of the Depths) published by Rabbi Chaim Oshry (New York, 1959). Rabbi Oshry was a rabbi in Kovno during the Nazi occupation and his book of responsa gives a vivid record of those tragic days. The Nazis had destroyed Jewish cemeteries all over Lithuania. They removed all tombstones. Therefore it was impossible to know where the graves of any specific persons were.

After the war was over, Rabbi Oshry was asked by a man whose parents had been buried in the cemetery of Ponevesz whether he might arrange for a tombstone for his parents to take the place of the one the Nazis destroyed. Unfortunately, it was impossible now to identify any grave since all the original tombstones were gone. His question was, would it be permitted to set up a tombstone at any selected place in the cemetery in memory of his parents? Rabbi Oshry, discussing the various laws as to the purpose of tombstones, indicates on the basis of responsa, “Yad Yitzchok,” III: 38, that the tombstone is not only for the honor of the dead but also in behalf of the living. Therefore, one of the purposes of the tombstone is to keep the memory of the departed in living memory. Hence Rabbi Oshry answered that this man may put up the tombstone anywhere in the cemetery, even though it is not on the parents’ grave.

Thus in the case of the boy referred to in our question, who was lost on Bataan Peninsula, the inscription on the tombstone is for the purpose of keeping his memory alive, and so such an inscription is permissible and proper.