Tombstone Unveiling

In a few weeks we are having the unveiling of the tombstone for my mother-in-law. She was not a member of a synagogue and did not have a rabbi who knew her. I had a very good relationship with her and we respected each other very much. I would like to perform the ceremony myself. My wife and sister-in-law, her only children, feel it would be more meaningful if I did it. If you agree, I would like to know what prayers need to be said. And is it customary to serve refreshments to those attending the ceremony?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

An unveiling is a way to commemorate the first year since the passing of a loved one. Some do it as soon as possible after the shiva, while others wait till after the year of mourning.

The custom is to gather a minyan at the cemetery, and to begin with the recitation of Psalms. There are different customs. Here is one recommended list (the common custom in Jerusalem):

Begin with Psalms chapters 33, 16, 17, 72, 91, 104 and 130.

Afterwards, the deceased's Hebrew name is spelled out. If you open to chapter 119, you will see that it is comprised of many short paragraphs according to the order of the Aleph-Bet. For example, if the deceased's name was Moshe (spelled mem, shin, hey), then one recites the entire paragraph beginning with the letter MEM, then the paragraph of SHIN, then HEY.

Afterwards, the same thing is done, but this time according to the Hebrew word for soul – "neshama" – nun, shin, mem, hey.

It's common to deliver a eulogy during an unveiling. (This should not be done on minor holidays, when eulogies may not be made such as on Rosh Chodesh or the month Nisan.)

If a minyan is present, then the one who is reciting Kaddish on behalf of the deceased recites Kaddish at this point.

The "El Maleih Rachmim..." prayer is said.

By the way, it is very important that Kaddish be said every year on the yahrtzeit (and every day during the first 11 months after death). If nobody is doing this, we have a service in Jerusalem whereby yeshiva students do so at the Western Wall. See: www.aish.com/kaddish

I should also mention regarding the tombstone itself: The custom is to engrave the Hebrew name of the deceased and his father’s name, as well as the Hebrew date of death.

Finally, it is not necessary to serve any food. If it is convenient for people to come to your house afterward, you might want to provide some refreshments.

May the Almighty grant an elevation to the soul of your beloved mother-in-law.

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