A Jewish cemetery is a cemetery that it is exclusively for the burial or entombment of decedents of the Jewish faith. It is a place where the remains of people are laid to rest in specific, identifiable burial sites. More specifically, a Jewish cemetery is a dedicated area of land, containing precise plot locations with clearly demarcated boundaries, whereas a burial ground may be less formally planned and defined. A specific section within a larger non-denominational cemetery may also be designated as a Jewish cemetery section, in which case it is to be separate and distinct from the other sections of the cemetery. A Jewish section should have a dedicated entrance and it is generally operated according the Jewish law, which includes the observance of the Sabbath and Jewish holidays.

Jewish Cemeteries are regarded as sacred places that are entrusted with respectfully caring for deceased individuals, along with the preservation of history. Orthodox Jewish cemeteries may require decedents to be strictly shomer shabbos observant, and may require that all sides of each grave is marked so as to provide an exact understanding of the location of each graves bounds.

Jewish Cemeteries, Burial Services, & Funeral Homes

Cemeteries are also responsible for burial related services, which include the sale of physical land (i.e., plot), performing the opening and closing of the ground in conjunction with a burial, the memorialization of the deceased through a designated marker (e.g., headstone, tomb stone, mausoleum), and grounds keeping, also known as perpetual care services. These services are typically performed by individuals whom work for a cemetery, commonly referred to as cemeterians.

The cemetery and cemeterian services are distinguishable from those provided by funeral homes, or individuals who work for a funeral home whom are referred to as funeral directors. A funeral director provides personal services on behalf of the deceased for the family, which includes transportation, preparation, and coordination of the burial and funeral service.

Cemeteries may have interment (memorial) chapels that are used for gatherings before a burial and some cemeteries are associated with, or maintain a full-service funeral home or crematory that is located on the cemetery’s grounds. It is important to note that funeral homes are regulated by the federal government through the FTC Funeral Rule, whereas cemeteries are regulated at the state and local level. Accordingly, each U.S. state and/or municipality may impose a unique set of rules governing burial practices. For example, in some states, it is illegal for cemeteries and funeral homes to be owned and operated by the same organization.

Purpose & Characteristics of a Cemetery

A cemetery is responsible for providing the appropriate level of care for those buried within their grounds, and to be a comforting place for visitors and mourners who attend the cemetery to remember, pay tribute, and honor departed individuals.

One feature of a cemetery is the ability to memorialize individuals in proximity to their final resting place, through the use of various types of monuments, headstones and markers. Within a cemetery, there are several types of burials and arrangements that may serve as a final resting place. For example, individuals may be buried in a grave or entombed in a mausoleum, crypt or sarcophagus. Most modern cemeteries also offer both interment and inurnment options for cremated remains as well as for traditional, full-body, burials.

Jewish Memorials

The Jewish tradition of marking the resting place of a loved one originates in the book of Genesis wherein Jacob erects a monument of Rachel’s grave. Within a Jewish cemetery, permanent memorialization placed at a gravesite services a myriad of purposes including simple site identification, terms of endearment for personal remembrance, and traditional Hebrew prayers or sayings. The most common of which are the Hebrew letters `ת`נ`צ`ב`ה, which mean, ‘May his (or her) soul be bound in the binds of everlasting life’. Another common inclusion of Hebrew is פ"נ , which means ‘Here is buried’.

Memorials may include artistic features or emblems to further personalize the remembrance. Most commonly used are Stars of David, Menorahs, Kohanim Hands. Most Jewish cemeteries have no prohibition against other, non-religious, emblems being used.

Within modern Jewish Most cemeteries most permanent memorials are made of bronze or granite for their beauty and longevity. Older Jewish cemeteries may have used marble, but this material is no longer used for exterior memorials as marble degrades more quickly over time.

Unveilings and Dedications

Within first year after the passing of a loved one, mourners and their family gather at the gravesite for a ceremony called the unveiling, the placing of the tombstone. At this event, a grave marker is put into place and the monument is formally dedicated. There are a variety of specific customs that revolve around the gravesite to honor the person who is now deceased. During this ceremony, it is not necessary for rabbis or cantors to be involved. It is a spiritual time for the family to comfort each other and remember their loved one.

Ownership of Cemeteries

There are a variety of ownership structures of cemeteries, which carry a unique set of rules and regulations. Each type of cemetery maintains an ownership structure, financial endowment plan, and staff configuration. Cemeteries may be public (owned by government) or private, religious or secular; monument or lawn; perpetual or term. Accordingly, there are many types of cemeteries because each provides and serves the unique and personal backgrounds of individuals that rely on it for comfort, care, and service. In particular, a temple or synagogue may own and operate a cemetery or sections of a cemetery that are consistent with the traditions, customs and religious observances of its congregants.

Types of Cemeteries

Cemeteries have been around and evolving since the beginning of human history. The cemetery is designed to reflect the religion and culture, beliefs and habits of the people it services. This has led to the evolution of many different types of cemeteries to serve the many different needs. Unless specifically noted, most cemeteries do not allow for the burial of non-human remains, such as pets. However, there are specifically designated pet-cemeteries and pet sections at cemeteries across the U.S.