Stones on Graves
At the end of the movie Schindler's List, I saw people placing stones on the top of the headstone. What is the reason for this?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
One idea is discussed in the Talmud (Eidiot 5:6): "Elazar Ben Hanoch was excommunicated. When he died, the court laid a stone on his coffin. From here we learn that if any man dies while under excommunication, they put a stone on his coffin." The Talmud (Smachot 5:11) also says: "An excommunicated person who dies is worthy of stoning. But not that they placed a heap of rocks upon him, rather a messenger of the court places a stone upon his coffin – in order to fulfill the mitzvah of stoning."
Rabbi Klonimus, who was buried next to the great Rabbi Ovadia M'Bartenura, asked that stones be placed on his grave, so that if he had committed any transgressions that warranted excommunication, this would atone for it. (Code of Jewish Law Y.D. 334:3)
But I think in today’s time, we follow a second reason for putting a stone a grave. Rabbi Yehudah Ashkenazi writes in Be'er Heitev, his 18th century commentary on the Code of Jewish Law (O.C. 224:8), that the custom of placing stones on the grave is for the honor of the deceased person by marking the fact that his grave had been visited.
In a similar custom, the Code of Jewish Law (Y.D. 376:4) says that upon visiting a gravesite, you pull up grass and toss it behind your back. This shows our belief in resurrection: Just as grass that withers can grow again, so will the dead rise in the messianic era. (source: Machzor Vitri 280)