Visiting cemeteries

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, September 27, 2011
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It is customary to visit the grave of a parent before Rosh Hashanah

It is customary to visit the grave of a parent before Rosh Hashanah

Many people have the custom to visit the graves of their parents before Rosh Hashanah.

The origin of this practice is in Talmud (Ta'anit, 16a), which teaches that on communal fast days of repentance and reflection,people used to go and pray in cemeteries.

The Talmud offers two reason for this; one is to remind us of our mortality, while the other is to ask that our righteous departed ancestors intercede on our behalf.

The Talmud makes a distinction between these two reasons by considering the practical instance of going to a non-Jewish cemetery, which recalls mortality, though not our ancestors.

Based on this idea, the Mishnah Berurah writes that if there are no nearby Jewish cemeteries to visit, we can go to a non-Jewish one (Orach Chaim 559:41).

The Mishnah Berurah stresses that when we go to cemeteries, we should not pray to the dead, but rather ask God to help us in their merit (Orach Chaim 581.27). Jews do not do ancestor worship.

The visit to the burial grounds can rouse one to remember the values that parents taught and inspire recommitment to those values in the year ahead.

    Last updated: 11:22am, September 27 2011