Why Do People Put Rocks on Gravestones?

by Alexis Vega-Singer

Every culture has rituals for commemorating the dead. in the United States, the most common way to show that you have visited a loved one's grave is to bring flowers. However, that custom is not universal; Jews place a rock on the gravestone instead.

History

According to Rabbi Tom Louchheim, the custom of putting rocks on gravestones may have originated as a way to participate in building the gravestone (since in ancient times graves were usually marked with a cairn rather than a headstone, as we do today).

Significance

The usual explanation for this custom is that, unlike flowers, rocks are permanent, so they remain on the grave as a memento forever, and symbolize that you will never forget the deceased.

Theories/Speculation

Another theory is that this custom is not for the deceased's benefit, but for the mourner's; seeing all the rocks that other have placed upon the grave is a comfort to someone grieving for a lost loved one.

Size

The rocks are usually small, ranging from pebble-sized to golf-ball sized.

Famous Ties

An example of this custom can be seen at the end of the movie "Schindler's List," when the people Oskar Schindler saved visit his grave, and each places a stone upon it.

About the Author

Alexis Vega-Singer has been an editor for ten years, doing general copyediting and developmental and production editing for ESL textbooks. She has an A.M. from Harvard in Greek and Latin Philology.

Photo Credits