I'm going to "link" this question to something in this week's parsha (Torah reading):

Genesis 35:20:

וַיַּצֵּ֧ב יַעֲקֹ֛ב מַצֵּבָ֖ה עַל־קְבֻרָתָ֑הּ הִ֛וא מַצֶּ֥בֶת קְבֻֽרַת־רָחֵ֖ל עַד־הַיּֽוֹם׃

And Jacob set up a pillar upon her grave; It is the pillar of Rachel’s grave unto this day.

The Torah does not state that there was any inscription on the pillar. I assume that it was just a pile of stones arranged in a some shape so that people passing by would recognize that there was a grave there.

AT what point did it become common to engrave tombstones? Was / is it done for strictly personal reasons or are there halachot or minhagim that indicated that tombstones must or should be engraved rather than just leaving a pile of stones?

  • 2
    From Masheches Shekalim 7 רשב"ג אומר [ג] אין עושין נפשות לצדיקי' דבריהם הן הן זכרונן , it seems like they did write on the stone so people would be remembered
    – sam
    Commented Nov 24, 2015 at 16:57

1 Answer 1


The name of the deceased should certainly appear on the tombstone, but some Rishonim say that this was not always done.

The Gemorah says that there is no reason to make special monuments because “their teachings are their memorial" While monuments don't last, Torah teachings and actions are eternal, they are passed down from generation to generation and remain forever. Therefore other than the name little was written on a tombstone.

I don't know exactly when it changed but the reason why it changed is given in the Minchat Yitzchak 1:29. In the post-Talmudic era, it was realized that it was no longer a given that the righteous would be remembered simply by virtue of their teachings. The increase of national calamities, future exiles, and the spiritual decline of future generations, created a risk that the Jewish people may indeed forget the earlier sages and their teachings. As a result, a more permissive attitude toward erecting elaborate monuments on the graves of the righteous became common.

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