At the end of the movie Schindler\’s List, I saw people placing stones on the top of the headstone. What is the reason for this? One idea is discussed in the Talmud (Eidiot 5:6): Elazar Ben Hanoch was excommunicated. When he died, the court laid a stone on his coffin. From here we learn that if any man dies while under excommunication, they put a stone on his coffin. The Talmud (Smachot 5:11) also says: An excommunicated person who dies is worthy of stoning. But not that they placed a heap of rocks upon him, rather a messenger of the court places a stone upon his coffin in order to fulfill the mitzvah of stoning. Rabbi Klonimus, who was buried next to the great Rabbi Ovadia M\’Bartenura, asked that stones be placed on his grave, so that if he had committed any transgressions that warranted excommunication, this would atone for it. (Code of Jewish Law Y. D. 334:3)
But I think in today s time, we follow a second reason for putting a stone a grave.
Rabbi Yehudah Ashkenazi writes in Be\’er Heitev, his 18th century commentary on the Code of Jewish Law (O. C. 224:8), that the custom of placing stones on the grave is for the honor of the deceased person by marking the fact that his grave had been visited. In a similar custom, the Code of Jewish Law (Y. D. 376:4) says that upon visiting a gravesite, you pull up grass and toss it behind your back.
This shows our belief in resurrection: Just as grass that withers can grow again, so will the dead rise in the messianic era. (source: Machzor Vitri 280) One of the most common Jewish cemetery customs is to leave a small stone at the gravesite of a loved one after saying Kaddish or visiting. Its origins are rooted in ancient times and throughout the centuries the tradition of leaving a visitation stone has become part of the act of remembrance. The origin of this custom began long ago, when the deceased was not placed in a casket, but rather the body was prepared, washed, and wrapped in a burial shroud, or for a male, in his tallit (prayer shawl). Then the body would be placed in the ground, covered with dirt and then large stones would be placed atop the gravesite, preventing wild animals from destroying the remains.
Over time, individuals would go back to the gravesite and continue to place stones, ensuring the security of the site and as a way to build up the memory of the loved one. As time passed on, and carved monuments became the preferred memorial, the custom of leaving a small visitation stone became a symbolic gesture a way for the visitor to say of the loved one, I remember you. Another explanation of this custom is derived from the phrase often inscribed on a headstone that reads: t hey nishmato tsurura b tsor hachayim (may the soul be bound up in the bonds of eternal life).
Interestingly, the word tsurura (bound) is related to the word tsur, a pebble kept by shepherds in their slings to keep track of the number of sheep in the herd. It is fitting that we ask G-d, our shepherd, at this time of year to remember each soul and keep it in His protection. (Rabbi David Wolpe, www. myjewishlearning. com). Cemetery visitation is particularly high during the time of year prior to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. JCAM provides for this custom on its cemeteries by filling receptacles with small stones for our visitors to leave, so you too, can continue with this ancient custom of remembering. L Shana Tovah!