Visiting the Cemetery
A very important part of the Jewish tradition is visiting the gravesite, after someone has passed away, which expresses that you have not forgotten your loved one. But how often should you go? Are there customs and traditions for when you should visit a cemetery? As it turns out, there are certain special times when going to the cemetery is most appropriate. In the Jewish faith, it is extremely important to remember, honor and celebrate loved ones who have departed, but overall, Jews tend to visit cemeteries fairly infrequently, as dwelling on the deceased is not encouraged once a certain period of time has passed.
According to tradition, the first time that people are permitted to visit the cemetery following the burial is after sitting shiva. The shiva period is the first seven days of mourning. On the seventh day, the restrictions are lifted, and it is considered acceptable to visit the cemetery.
The Sheloshim and the Yahrzeit
The Sheloshim is exactly 30 days after the burial, and it is considered very appropriate to visit a gravesite at this time. After this day, from a pure textbook standpoint the mourning period should conclude for most mourners. However, if you are mourning your parents, it will continue for a full year until the Yahrzeit occurs.
The Yahrzeit is the anniversary of the death. This is a common time for survivors to visit the gravesite. Also on this day, the custom is for a special candle to be lit, and to burn for 24 hours.
Visiting on Solemn Days
There are certain days on the Jewish calendar considered to be quite solemn, and, as a result, these are appropriate times to make a visit to the cemetery. These days include the last day of a month, before the New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and on Tisha B’Av, as it is already a day of mourning.
When Should You Avoid Visiting the Cemetery?
There are certain days each year when people traditionally do not visit Jewish cemeteries. These include Shabbat, so usually you will not see mourners at cemeteries on Saturdays. Saturday is the Sabbath and considered the day of rest.
Typically, it is not appropriate to mourn on days of celebration and happiness. It is not customary to visit during certain Jewish holidays, including Chanukah, and the intermediary days of Sukkot and Passover. Some also believe that Rosh Chodesh, the first day of any new month, is another day when you should likely avoid going to the gravesite, as this day is considered to be the celebration of the New Moon.
Of course, there are exceptions to these rules. For example, if relatives have travelled a far distance and want to visit the gravesite, they are welcome to do so on any day of the year.
A Focus on Renewal
In general, Jewish law seeks to encourage mourners to concentrate on bonding with life as opposed to dwelling on the deceased. There is a defined and structured mourning period intended to help mourners grieve and cope with the loss of a loved one, but be prepared to enter ordinary life shortly following the conclusion of the mourning period.
Traditionally, the sharing of memories and honoring of family is encouraged, while the habitual visitation to the cemetery is often shied away from to help ensure that the prayers remain focused on G-d as opposed to those not with us. Consequently, frequent visits to the cemetery are not encouraged once the first “mourning year” has concluded.