Greetings Rabbi. I hope you and your family are very well. Question: what is our specific obligation regarding a gravestone for a parent? Must it have the Hebrew name and birth/death dates? My father is buried in Jewish section of a cemetery and has a grave marker supplied by the military with his English name and secular date of birth/death. Must I obtain a second gravestone with the Hebrew information and if so, what information is required? I’m curious about the sources for this if easily available. Thank you very much, and wishing you a gmar chatima tova
Shalom, Thank you for your question. May you be rewarded for your concern towards your late father. The source for a grave marker is an ancient one. In Berashit (35,20) we find Jacob placing a monument over the grave of Rachel in Bet Lechem. Throughout Jewish history we see that we marked the graves of our departed with gravestones – and there is certainly religious significance to this. According to Zohar and the Ari there is a certain aspect of the soul (the nefesh) which stays connected to the grave (except on Shabbat and Festivals) – and to honor it we mark the grave with a gravestone or monument (see Ta'amay HaMinhagim p. 476). As to what is to be inscribed on the gravestone, we normally put three things – and then any other praises of the deceased. 1. Their name. The Ashkanazi custom is to write their name and their father's name, while Sephardim write the mother's name. This is written in hebrew. In many countries the english name and family name is also recorded. 2. The date of death (and many people also have the date of birth). This is traditionally the hebrew date. Great Rabbis have stressed the importance of using the Jewish calendar for these dates. Some people also add the secular date as well. 3. Generally some hebrew abbreviations – which stand for the words "Here is buried" (peh nun) and / or tav nun tzadi bet heh, "May their soul be bound up in the Bond of Life". Some people then add a praise of the dead. (All of this can be found in the work Mourning in Halacha, Rav B Goldberg chapter 41). As too the obligation to replace the existing gravestone – I have not been able to find any sources that relate directly to this issue. However it would seem that if the surrounding gravestones have the traditional Jewish inscriptions (mentioned above), it would be especially good if you could provide such a monument for your farther's grave also. In general it is the correct thing to ensure a Jewish gravestone over the grave – although it is not clear exactly how much of an obligation this is in a case where there is already a marker there. Blessings.