Cemetery Etiquette

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By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

We are required to conduct ourselves with a sense of reverence when visiting a cemetery. There are a number of different terms that are used within Torah literature to describe a cemetery, among them are: Beit Ha’almin, Beit Hakvarot, Kever, Chatzer Mavet, and Beit Hachaim. The place of burial is also the place from where the soul clings to and keeps its presence in this world.[1] As such, in addition to holy rabbis and other individuals of note who are buried in a cemetery, we can see why the cemetery is deemed to be a holy place.[2] 

It is improper to eat or drink in a cemetery or to perform any activities not directly related to the cemetery or the dead who are buried there.[3] We are not to derive any personal benefit from a cemetery visit. It is also prohibited to relieve oneself in any part of the cemetery unless there are designated facilities available for this purpose. Even learning Torah, praying, or performing unrelated mitzvot in a cemetery is forbidden, lest the deceased feel slighted at not being able to perform these mitzvot themselves.[4] As such, one must be sure to hide one’s Tzitzit and remove one’s Tefillin before entering a cemetery.[5] It is permitted to recite Tehillim[6] and deliver eulogies that contain Torah content  at a grave, as they are done in order to show honor the deceased.[7] It is an ancient custom to visit the graves of rabbis and relatives on their Yartzeit to offer prayers and engage in words of Torah there.[8] The deceased derive great pleasure when their grave is visited.[9] 

One may not make use of a cemetery to serve as a shortcut in order to allow oneself to quickly reach the other side. It goes without saying that one must be careful to never step on a grave.[10] Animals must be left at the entrance of the cemetery and are not to be led into its perimeter.[11] One who tends to a cemetery, such as by mowing the lawn, and the like, should burn any clippings rather than thrown them out with the garbage.[12] Fruits that have grown on any trees in a cemetery may be eaten.[13] It is interesting to note that anything dedicated for holy purposes, including a cemetery, synagogue, or even holy books, only assumes such status after its first use.[14] 

There are special prayers, including the blessing “Asher Yatzar”, that are recited when visiting a cemetery after an absence of at least thirty days[15] since one’s last visit.[16] When visiting a grave, it is customary to touch the tombstone with one’s left hand,[17] and one should place a stone upon it before leaving which serves to show that someone had come to pay their respects.[18]  One should wash one’s hands both before and after visiting a cemetery,[19] as well as any time one has come into contact or even close proximity with the dead.[20]  The vessel used when washing one’s hands after such occasions should not be passed from person to person, but rather it should simply be put down for the next person to pick up.[21] Some authorities recommend not drying one’s hands after this washing, but rather allowing them to air dry on their own.[22] One should be sure to perform these washings before entering one’s home.[23] 

It is recommended that one only visit the same grave once per day.[24] Many people have the custom to throw some grass or earth behind their shoulder before leaving a cemetery.[25] It is taught that doing so serves as a reminder of the ashes of the Para Aduma, the red heifer, of the Beit Hamikdash, which was the only way one was able to achieve full ritual purity. Others suggest that throwing grass behind one’s shoulder serves as a sign of pain and mourning.[26] 

The members of a family are collectively obligated to erect a tombstone at the grave of their deceased.[27] The tombstone is meant to honor the deceased and ensures that a deceased’s resting place can be located quickly and with certainty. It also ensures that a Kohen will know not to approach the immediate area.[28] The funds to purchase a tombstone should come from the estate of the deceased.[29] It is not of Jewish origin to decorate a grave with flowers and therefore, according to many authorities, it should be avoided.[30]


[1] Beit Yosef;Y.D. 376

[2] Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 128:13

[3] Megilla 29a, Y.D. 368:1

[4] Rambam Avel 14:13, Y.D. 368:1

[5] Berachot 18a, Rambam Avel 14:13, Mishna Berura 23:3

[6] Birkei Yosef Y.D. 344:17

[7] Y.D. 344:17

[8] Rashi;Yevamot 122a

[9] Ta’amei Haminhagim p.485

[10] Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 199:14

[11] Y.D. 368:1

[12] Y.D. 368:1

[13] Y.D. 368:2

[14] Pitchei Teshuva Y.D. 368:1

[15] Mishna Berura 224:17

[16] O.C. 224:12

[17] Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 128:13

[18] Gesher Hachaim 29, Ta’amei Haminhagim p.470, Be’er Heitev O.C. 224:8

[19] Y.D. 376:4, Mishna Berura 4:42

[20] Mishna Berura 4:43

[21] Rabbi Akiva Eiger Y.D. 376:4

[22] Kaf Hachaim O.C. 4:78

[23] Mishna Berura 4:43

[24] Rabbi Akiva Eiger Y.D. 376:4, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 128:13, Mishna Berura 581:27

[25] Y.D. 376:4

[26] Shach;Y.D. 376:5, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 199:10

[27] Bereishit 35:29, Shekalim 2:5, Bava Batra 58a, Bava Metzia 85b

[28] Gesher Hachaim 28

[29] Shekalim 2:5

[30] Melamed L’hoil Y.D. 109

About Ari Enkin

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (8 volumes), Rabbinic Director of United with Israel and a RA"M at a number of yeshivot. www.rabbienkin.com

17 comments

  1. What is the source for the nonsensical custom of pregnant women not going to a cemetery (I guess I’m revealing my biases here).

  2. Baruch-

    I actually have a lot of material on this.

    Bottom line: its for two reasons. 1. Lest the fear and sadness that is common at funerals/cemeteris cause a women to miscarry and 2. Demons like to attach themselves to pregnant women

    It is not halachically prohibited.

    Ari Enkin

  3. Shalom Rosenfeld

    Can you clarify about where exactly you can/can’t (should/shouldn’t) walk? Seems like no matter where you stand it’s over some grave or another.

  4. The KSA in source 10 specifically says you can step on a grave if it’s the only way to reach the grave you want to visit. “Never” and “it goes without saying” don’t seem to apply here.

  5. Where did you see that one cannot learn torah or perform mitzvos in a cemetry?

  6. Chaim-I think that it is understood from Brachos 18b that Limud HaTorah or displaying Tzitzis in a Beis Olam is viewed as Loeg LaRaosh-that you are demonstrating that you can perform a mitzvah but that the deceased cannot,

  7. steve- it appears from the poskim that it is only within daled amos of a meis

  8. R’ Shalom-

    Most cemeteries have marked paths in every which direction. When that is not possible one should at least try to avoid areas where the deceaseds’ heads would be positioned.

    Ari Enkin

  9. “steve- it appears from the poskim that it is only within daled amos of a meis”

    That pretty much defines a cemetery…

  10. I too was wondering about stepping on the grave. Is there a more authoritative source? Ganzfried is a rather late source and not particularly authoritative.

  11. Dov-

    The KSA is *very* authoratative. Dont confuse his psak-for-Hungarian-Jews vs. his global authority.

    It can be confusing — but dont fall into that trap.

    Ari Enkin

  12. Cyberdov-As Chaim pointed out=daled amos of a mes, is what defines a Beis Olam.I seem to recall a story involving one talmid chacham who was walking in a funeral procession with R Chaim Ozer ZL, and attempted to “talk in learning” with R Chaim Ozer ZL, and was criticized for doing so by R Chaim Ozer ZL. Engaging in any sort of action that demonstrates that you are performing a Mitzvah, let alone Limud HaTorah is what is called Loeg LaRosh.

  13. “The deceased derive great pleasure when their grave is visited.[9]”

    Rabbi Enkin, Can you elaborate?

  14. “There are special prayers, including the blessing ‘Asher Yatzar’, that are recited when visiting a cemetery after an absence of at least thirty days[15] since one’s last visit.[16]”

    Rabbi Enkin, What prayers or brachos, aside from keil moleh and tehillim? Asher yatzar? Can you particularly explain the details?

    Also, is it permissible, when visiting, to actually talk to the deceased? Does the deceased hear us? Does the decease derive pleasure from hearing us?

  15. R’ Elliot, shalom!

    (…and thank you for your email offline)

    What you are looking for can be found in the sefer “Atra Kadisha” by Rabbi Lior Roshenroz. His phone number is (03) 676 0596.

    It is a very readable and well organized sefer on all cemetery related issues. Easy Hebrew. Maybe order a copy.

    (I have some material on talking to the deceased in my books…bottom line: chassidim endorse it/litvaks shun it)

    Ari Enkin

  16. Thank you.

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