RRT 109-112



A number of people told me that they were told that it is improper to visit another grave after attending a funeral. Is there any basis in Jewish law or established custom for such a prohibition? (Asked by Rabbi Kenneth I. Segel, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.)


ON THE FACE OF IT, it seems unlikely that such a rule should be well founded in Jewish law or custom. The reason is that the tendency in Jewish law is in the reverse direction, namely, not to put restrictions on the visiting of graves, but, on the contrary, to encourage frequent visits to the graves in order to pray at the graveside. The custom is recorded in the Talmud. Especially on fast days, people would go to the cemetery to pray (Taanis 16a), and we are also given a classic example of prayer at the grave, namely, that Caleb prayed at the grave of his ancestors to be saved from the scheming of the ten spies, who wanted to bring a derogatory report about the land of Canaan (Sotah 34b). Of course the rules developed that there were certain days that were preferable for visiting the graves, such as fast days, the eve of New Year and Yom Kippur; and contrariwise, to avoid going to the cemetery on happy days, such as Sabbath and holidays. Nevertheless, the Mishmeres Shalom, quoted by Greenwald in his Kol Bo (p. 166), says that if someone has a sick person in the house in whose behalf he wants to pray, he may go to the cemetery even on a Sabbath or half-holiday (chol ha-moed). In spite of this general permission to visit the graves for prayer, the people on their own accord have developed certain curious restrictions.

It so happens that I have answered this question before. It is found in Reform Responsa, p. 176. The following is the essence of that response:

There are a number of popular ideas about visiting graves. Many of them have no validity in the law, and the scholars who discuss them, when a question is asked, usually brush them aside as without justification. For example, there is the popular belief that after the burial the grave must not be visited within a period of twelve months. This is not so. The Tur (#344) speaks of visits made on the seventh and the thirtieth days after burial, etc. Another idea is that if one has not visited a grave for twenty years (as could easily happen when a man emigrates to another country), it is wrong for him ever to visit that grave again. Some popular opinions hold that if one has not visited a grave for ten years, he should never visit it again. These popular opinions are brushed aside as invalid (see Dudoye Ha-Sodeh, 38, where other references are found).

Where such ideas come from is hard to say. The one you ask about is not even referred to in any questions that I have seen in the literature. There may be some scholar who has dignified this popular notion with a question, but I doubt it. Therefore it is not even widespread. I have a theory as to how this particular idea arose. First, at a funeral you may not step on another grave {Yore Deah 364, to the Shach, at the end of # 2 ) . Hence, it may be that the people were discouraged from wandering away from the grave lest they tread on other graves. Second, there is a law (Orah Hayyim 224:12) that he who sees graves must pronounce a blessing, but that blessing must not be pronounced again if he sees other graves within a period of thirty days. This would seem to the people to be a discouragement from seeing too many graves in too short a time. Also, much folklore is involved. People were afraid of “the spirit of uncleanness,” “evil spirits”; therefore they rushed from the cemetery, pulling up grass, throwing it over their shoulders, and washing their hands of uncleanness when they got home. So they hurried out after a funeral.

To that responsum I might add the following source as a possible reason not to visit other graves. In some editions of the Sefer Chassidim by Judah He-Hasid, there are appended two pages known as the will of Judah He-Hasid. This is a collection of folkloristic beliefs; for example, never to build a house on land on which no house had ever stood before; not to marry a woman whose name is the same as your mother’s name, etc. This booklet had a very wide influence, even though some scholars said that the “will” was meant to apply to Judah’s own descendants, not to the rest of Jewry. Nevertheless, this folkloristic collection of customs appealed, and the booklet has had a very wide influence on Jewish folk customs. One of the regulations in this booklet is that one should not visit the same grave twice in one day. This regulation was perhaps extended to mean that one should not visit another grave after having been to an interment.

Another possible source for this folk notion is the rule, dating back to the Mishnah {Berachos 3:2) and recorded in the Shulchan Aruch {Yore Deah 354:1; see also Baer, Totz’os Chayim, p. 75), that after the interment the people present should stand in rows to comfort the mourners as they walk away from the grave. Perhaps people came to feel that if they left immediately after the interment to visit other graves, they would not be staying at the graveside of the person just buried and thus would be failing in their duty to comfort the mourners. In other words, the regulation evolved to keep the people from scattering to visit the graves of their own relatives immediately after the funeral just concluded.

Any or all of these may explain this custom, which, after all, seems to have no foundation in Jewish law or even established minhag. Even Mishmeres Shalom (Shalom Schachne Tcherniak), who gives all the latest laws and customs as to mourning, etc., makes no mention of this supposed prohibition (as far as I can find) where he discusses in great detail the laws and customs of visiting the cemetery (V, 26-32).