The laws associated with a cemetery and visiting of a Kever-Summary
This chapter will discuss all the details relevant towards grave visiting, including the times that one should and should not go, the people who should and should not go, the behavioral restrictions applicable at a gravesite, the laws pertinent to a cemetery, and the laws and customs followed prior and post the visitation. While the main focus of this chapter is in regard to visiting the gravesite of a relative, we will also include the Halachas relevant towards visiting the gravesite of Tzadikim; the times that one should and should not go, the behavioral restrictions applicable at the gravesite, and the laws and customs followed prior and post the visitation. In general, all the laws and customs brought throughout this chapter regarding cemeteries and graves applies likewise towards the grave of a Tzaddik and its visitation, unless explicitly stated otherwise.
There are four reasons recorded behind the custom of visiting graves. As stated above, one is avoid visiting graves unnecessarily.
A. May one visit a cemetery at night?
- Some avoid visiting a cemetery at night. However the widespread custom is to visit graves even at night.
B. Visiting a Kever twice in one day:
- One is not allowed to visit the same gravesite twice in one day. [Some write that so long as one is still within four Amos of the grave, then one may return to pray. Furthermore, some write that so long as one has not yet left the cemetery, he may return to the grave.]
2. People restrictions-Kohanim/Pregnant/Nidda/children/Seven years absence/Baal Keri:
- It is forbidden for a Kohen to enter a cemetery unless he remains at least a four Amos distance from any graves, or walks with a wall like structure that is at least 10 Tefachim high surrounding him, in which case he must only distance himself 4 Tefachim from the graves. In addition, he must beware not to walk under any item that hovers over the graves. If the above is guarded, he may enter even into a gated cemetery. See Chapter 9 Halacha 1 for the full details of this matter!
- Car: A Kohen who remains in his car is protected from any impurity, and he may thus enter the cemetery grounds in his car and remain inside it throughout the burial.
- Yahrzeit: A Kohen may visit the cemetery of his parent on the day of the Yahrzeit, or other auspicious time, if he stands near the cemetery from the outside. Doing so is considered as if he has visited them.
B. May Kohanim visit Kivrei Tzaddikim?
- A Kohen may not to be lenient and so is the vintage Chabad custom, and the practical directive given by the Rebbe. Kohanim who desire to merit the advantage of praying by the gravesite of a Tzaddik are to stand a distance from the cemetery or grave, in view of the grave, and pour their hearts to Hashem from there.
- Mearas Hamachpeila: It is permitted for Kohanim to visit the burial site of the forefathers in Chevron known as the Mearas Hamachpeila, and so is the practical custom. However, there are Poskim who are stringent.
- Kever Rachel: Kohanim are not to enter into Kever Rachel. However, some are lenient as stated above.
- Rashbi: Kohanim are not to enter into the building of the Tziyon of Rashbi in Meiron. Likewise, care must be taken while ascending the mountain, to walk only through the special path for Kohanim. However, some Poskim are lenient as stated above.
- The Rebbe’s Ohel: The Ohel of the Rebbe is set up in a way that allows Kohanim to access the Ohel through a special path that contains dividers of ten Tefach on each side. It is forbidden for Kohanim to extend their hand past these dividers. The Kever itself is unroofed and is surrounded by a short wall [of at least ten Tefach] which is a distance of at least four Tefach from the grave. This allows the Kohanim to stand anywhere near the wall. It is permitted for them to stand even in the front area of the Kever where the tombstone is found. Nevertheless, care must be taken not to extend the hand past the wall surrounding the Kever. Thus, when throwing the Pa”n, the Kohen is to do so from behind the wall or give it to a friend to do so.
C. Pregnant wife of Kohen and other pregnant women visiting cemeteries:
- Not married to Kohen: Many women are accustomed not to visit a cemetery when they are pregnant. Those who have received such a custom are to abide by it. However, many women are lenient in all cases, as is the letter of the law.
- Wife of a Kohen: It is permitted for the pregnant wife of a Kohen to enter a cemetery. Nonetheless, some Poskim rule it is proper to be stringent not to do so [even on a Yahrzeit or by Kivrei Tzaddikim]. This especially applies if she knows that the gender of the child is male or she is at the end of her term and is ready for birth. Nevertheless, even in such a case, most Poskim rule it is allowed from the letter of the law.
D. Nidda-May a woman visit a cemetery when she is menstruating?
- It is customary for women to avoid visiting a cemetery during the days that they are a Nidda.
- A woman may be lenient in a time of need to go during her clean days.
- If not going will cause her great distress then she may be lenient even when seeing the actual flow. Nevertheless, in such a case it is best for her to stand four Amos away from the Kever.
- Based on above, a woman may be lenient to visit the Kever in the following instances, even while menstruating: 1) Yahrzeit of her parents, or Hakamas Matzeiva. 2) She is leaving town and not returning for a while.
- Does the above custom apply even to Kivrei Tzaddikim? Many women are accustomed to only be stringent during the actual flow and not during the seven clean days [or by a single girl when she is not having her flow]. This is the widespread custom followed by women regarding going on Lag Baomer to Meiron, that they are only stringent when seeing the actual flow.
E. Children-May one bring children to a cemetery?
- There is no Halachic prohibition against bringing children to a grave or cemetery, if the child is not a Kohen. This applies even if the child is of a very young age, such as a newborn. Nevertheless, some are careful to avoid doing so. Practically, one may do so if he so chooses, or in a time of need.
F. Baal Keri:
- One who is impure due to nocturnal emission [Keri], or any release of seed, may not visit a cemetery until he immerses in a Mikveh. [He may, however, stand from a distance of four Amos from the grave/cemetery and pray from there.]
- Going alone to a cemetery: One is to avoid going by himself to a cemetery.
- Mental illness: One who suffers from mental illness is to avoid visiting graves and cemeteries.
3. The ceremony followed upon visiting the cemetery:
A. Eating and drinking prior to the visit:
- The Chabad custom is not to eat any food prior to visiting a grave site, although one is to be particular to drink before visiting.
B. Immersing in a Mikveh:
- One who is impure due to nocturnal emission [Keri], or any release of seed, may not visit a cemetery until he immerses in a Mikveh.
C. Davening with a Minyan:
- On the day one visits the Kever of a Tzaddik, one is to be particular to Daven with a Minyan.
D. Washing hands prior to entering the cemetery?
- Some Poskim rule that one is to wash his hands prior to walking into a cemetery. Other Poskim, however, question this ruling and do not require washing beforehand.
E. Saying the blessing of Asher Yatzar Eschem Badin:
- One who has not visited a cemetery [in thirty days] is to recite the following blessing upon seeing it:
ברוך אתה יי אלקינו מלך העולם אשר יצר אתכם בדין וזן אתכם בדין וכלכל אתכם בדין והמית אתכם בדין ויודע מספר כלכם והוא עתיד להחיותכם ולקיים אתכם בדין: ברוך אתה יי מחייה המתים:
- How often is the blessing recited? The blessing said over seeing a cemetery, is not to be repeated within thirty days of the previous sighting and subsequent blessing. For example, if one visited the cemetery on the 1st of Marcheshvan and said the blessing, and then re-saw it again on the 30th of Marcheshvan, a blessing is not repeated. If, however he saw it on the 1st of Kisleiv, the blessing must be repeated.
- If one saw a different cemetery within thirty days: If one saw a different cemetery within thirty days of seeing the previous cemetery, then the blessing is not to be repeated.
- The blessing said upon seeing a grave of a gentile: Upon seeing the grave of a gentile one is to say the verse “Bosha Imchem, Meod Chafra Yoladas-chem. Hinei Acharis Goyim Midbar Tziyah Ve’arava.”
- Where should the blessing be said; inside or outside the cemetery? The blessing may be recited from outside the cemetery, in view of the grave, however, if one plans to enter the cemetery, then he is to delay saying the blessing until he enters within four Amos near the graves.
F. Giving charity:
- One is to distribute charity at the gravesite [prior to Davening there].
G. Taking off the shoes:
- As a sign of respect, it is accustomed to remove the shoes prior to entering into the Rebbe’s Ohel.
H. Placing a hand on the grave and Hishtatchus:
- Many are accustomed to place a hand on the grave upon praying. One is to place specifically his left hand on the grave.
- Hishtatchus: Hishtatchus is the general term used for the Mitzvah of visiting a Tzaddik’s grave. It literally means prostrating, as the ideal Mitzvah of being by a Tzaddik’s grave is to prostrate oneself over the grave and recite prayer. It is for this reason that many are accustomed to try to at least touch the grave while visiting.
I. How to pray by the gravesite:
- Where to stand: It is best to stand towards the area of the feet of the interred.
- The prayer on the grave: When one arrives at the grave, some are accustomed to recite the following prayer near the grave “May it be G-d’s will that the resting place of so and so be with honor and may his merit stand for me in my favor” Upon placing the left hand on the grave, one is to say the verse in Yeshayah 58:11:
- “ונחך ה׳ תמיד והשביע בצחצחות נפשך ועצמותך יחליץ והיית כגן רוה וכמוצא מים אשר לא יכזבו מימיו”
- After the above verse is recited, one says “Tishkav Beshalom Ad Ba Menachem Mashmiei Shalom.” [The above prayers are omitted from the Chabad Seder of Maaneh Lashon, and are seemingly not recited according to our custom. Sephardim are accustomed to reciting Hashkavos on the grave, however, the Arizal negated the recital of Hashkavos, and they are thus to be omitted or at least diminished.]
- How to ask for requests by a gravesite: At the grave of a Tzaddik, one is to pray to Hashem to answer his prayers in the merit of the Tzaddikim. Likewise one may ask the Tzaddik to intervene on one’s behalf and pray to G-d for the matters which he needs.
- Maaneh Lashon: It is customary to recite a compilation of Psalm’s and prayers entitled “Maaneh Lashon” upon visiting a gravesite of a Tzaddik. There exist various versions of this compilation. The Chabad Nussach of Maaneh Lashon was compiled by Rabbi Dov Ber of Lubavitch, known as the Mittler Rebbe, on occasion of his visits to the burial site of his father, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, in Haditch. This Maaneh Lashon was reprinted by the Rebbe in the year 1950 shortly after the Histalkus of his father in-law, the Rebbe Rayatz.
- Pan: It is customary to write a Pa”n and read it by the Ohel of the Tzaddik. [One tears it upon concluding its reading and places it near the burial site. It is best to read the Pa”n towards the area of the Tzaddik’s holy feet. If there are two Tzaddikim buried there, then it is to be read in between the graves by the feet.]
- Tehillim: Some are accustomed to reciting the following seven Psalms upon visiting a grave: Tehillim 33, 16, 17, 72, 91, 104, 130. One then says Psalm 119 in accordance to the name of the deceased and the name of his mother, as well as the word Neshamah. The documented Chabad custom, however, is to recite the Psalms printed in the Maaneh Lashon, which include 25, 34, 111, 112, 119 and from 120 until 150. This is then followed by Vayehi Noam, Yosheiv Beseiser, and Ana Bekoach. The Rebbe was witnessed to follow the former custom upon visiting the grave of his brother in-law, the Rashag, by the first Yahrzeit.
- Kaddish: Some are accustomed to reciting Kaddish Yasom after the completion of the Tehillim.
- Keil Malei Rachamim: Some are accustomed to reciting Keil Malei Rachamim after the completion of the Tehillim and the recital of Kaddish Yasom. [Some omit the prayer of Keil Malei Rachamim on days that Tachanun is omitted while others recite it.]
- Crying: One is to avoid crying over the death of the deceased upon visiting the grave, as the Sages allocated three days for crying and not longer.
J. Lighting a Candle:
- It is customary to light a candle on the Kever, being that on it resides the soul of the deceased. Upon lighting the candle, one is to say, “I am lighting this candle in merit of the soul named so and so.” [As soon as the Rebbe reached the part in the Maaneh Lashon of “Hareini Madlik Halamp,” the Rebbe would light a candle.]
K. Encircling the grave:
- Many have the custom of encircling the grave. [The Rebbe would circle the grave one time prior to leaving. One is to encircle it from the right side.]
L. Placing a stone on the grave:
- Many have a custom to place a stone on the grave prior to leaving. The reason behind this custom is to leave a sign that one had visited the grave, out of respect for the dead. [It was never witnessed that the Rebbe placed a stone on a grave.]
M. Kissing the Kever:
- Some are accustomed to kiss the Matzeiva prior to leaving the cemetery. This is not the widespread custom.
4. Restrictions applicable while at the gravesite or cemetery:
- This Halacha will discuss the various restrictions, and code of behavior, applicable within a cemetery, or near a grave. There are three forms of restrictions applicable in a cemetery, or near a grave:
- Loeg Larash: Not to do actions that are considered to be mocking the deceased.
- Kalus Rosh: Not to do actions which are frivolous and unbefitting of the serious nature of the cemetery.
- Benefit: Not to benefit from the cemetery.
- A new cemetery: The restrictions only apply in a cemetery which already contains graves, however, a new area designated for burial, and which will eventually serve as a cemetery, does not contain these restrictions.
A. Wearing Tzitzis in a cemetery or near a grave or corpse:
- One may not enter a cemetery while wearing Tzitzis that are revealed to the open. Thus prior to entering into a cemetery one is to tuck his Tzitzis into his pants, or pocket in a way that it will no longer be visible.
B. Wearing Tefillin in a cemetery, or near a grave, or corpse:
- It is forbidden to enter within a four-cubit radius of a corpse or grave while wearing [revealed] Tefillin on one’s head [or arm], as this is considered an act of scoffing the dead [i.e. Loeg Larash].
- May one wear Tallis and Tefillin near the gravesite of a Tzaddik? Yes. However, one may only do so if he is not near the gravesites of any other Jew.
- May one join a funeral wearing Tallis and Tefillin? If one does not enter within four cubits radius of the corpse, then it is permitted to do so if the funeral is taking place in an outside setting. If however the corpse is lying inside a room, then according to some Poskim it is forbidden to enter into that room with revealed Tallis and Tefillin even if one is more than four cubit distance from the corpse.
C. Davening and learning Torah in a cemetery, or near a grave, or corpse:
- It is forbidden to Daven [or say Kaddish], or learn Torah, within four Amos of a corpse, Kever, or within a cemetery.
- It is permitted to Daven or learn Torah in merit of the deceased, and for his benefit, even if one is within four Amos of the grave. Thus, one may recite Tehillim near the grave and learn Mishnayos there in his memory.
- Davening with a Minyan and learning Torah by Kivrei Tzadikim: The custom is to permit Davening and Torah learning near the Kever of a Tzaddik, If, however, the grave is in the midst of other graves without a Mechitza to separate between them, then it is forbidden to Daven there.
D. Bringing a Sefer Torah into a cemetery:
- It is forbidden to bring a Sefer Torah into a cemetery.
E. Greetings/Shalom Aleichem:
- One may not greet others in a cemetery while [a burial is taking place and] the deceased is in the cemetery.
- If there is no corpse in the cemetery, it is permitted to greet others if one is a four distance Amos from any graves [or if there is a Mechitza of 80 centimeters surrounding the grave].
F. Frivolity & Kalus Rosh:
- It is forbidden to act in a lightheaded way, or way of frivolousness [i.e. Kalus Rosh], in a cemetery. [This applies throughout the entire cemetery, even if one is a distance of four Amos from the graves.]
G. Going to the bathroom in a cemetery:
- It is forbidden to go to the bathroom in a cemetery. [This applies throughout the entire cemetery, even if one is a distance of four Amos from the graves. Thus, the bathrooms are to be built at the edge of the cemetery, away from the graves.]
H. Eating and drinking in a cemetery:
- It is forbidden to eat or drink inside of a cemetery. [This applies throughout the entire cemetery, even if one is a distance of four Amos from the graves, as explained in the Q&A. This applies even if one already said a blessing elsewhere and will not have to recite a new blessing in the cemetery. All the more so is it forbidden to say a blessing over food in a cemetery.]
- May one enter food into a cemetery? There is no prohibition against entering food or drink into a cemetery, and the food does not contract impurity or an evil spirit through doing so. It goes without saying that there is no issue with eating foods and drinks that entered a cemetery.
- May one eat or drink in the cemetery if one is a distance of four Amos from any of the graves? No.
- May one eat or drink near Kivrei Tzaddikim? If the grave is inside a cemetery, then it is forbidden to do so due to the other graves that are around. If, however, the Tzaddik’s burial place is in its own grounds, and not within a cemetery, then seemingly it is permitted to eat and drink near the Kever, or inside the Tziyon, and so is the widespread custom.
- May one sleep in a cemetery?
I. Reading and studying:
- It is forbidden to read or study [Torah and perhaps even mundane literature] inside of a cemetery. [This applies throughout the entire cemetery, even if one is a distance of four Amos from the graves.]
J. Reading the words on the Matzeiva:
- One is not to read the words on the gravestone/Matzeiva if it contains protruding words. However, words that are flat or engraved may be read.
K. Cheshbonos-Budgeting and accounting:
- It is forbidden to do accounting of one’s finances [or the finances of a public institution] inside of a cemetery. [This applies throughout the entire cemetery, even if one is a distance of four Amos from the graves.]
L. Grazing animals:
- It is forbidden to graze one’s animals inside of a cemetery. [This applies throughout the entire cemetery, even if one is a distance of four Amos from the graves.]
M. Channeling water:
- It is forbidden to channel water through a cemetery. [This applies throughout the entire cemetery, even if one is a distance of four Amos from the graves.]
N. Using as a shortcut:
- It is forbidden to walk through a cemetery as a short cut to get to the other side. [This applies throughout the entire cemetery, even if one is a distance of four Amos from the graves. It goes without saying that one may not build a road through a cemetery.]
O. Using its earth, flowers, plants, and fruits:
- It is forbidden to collect herbs [i.e. plants and flowers] from a cemetery.
- It is permitted to gather [and eat vegetables and] fruits from trees which are planted in a cemetery, so long as they were not planted [and do not grow] over the actual graves.
P. Sitting on tombstone:
- It is forbidden to sit on a grave due to the prohibition against receiving benefit from it. Likewise, it is forbidden to lean on the grave. See Halacha 10 for the full details of this subject!
Q. Stepping on graves:
- It is forbidden to step on a grave unnecessarily.
- It is permitted for those carrying the body of the deceased during burial to step on other graves if necessary.
- The same applies regarding anyone who desires to reach a certain location in the cemetery, that if necessary, he may step on a grave while walking. [However, one may not sit on the grave, as stated above. Likewise, one may not remain standing on it.]
5. Customs applicable upon leaving a gravesite:
A. Washing the hands after leaving a cemetery:
- One who walks amongst graves [i.e. enters a cemetery] is required to wash his hands [immediately] afterwards [being that the evil spirits escorts the person until he washes]. [One is to wash his hands only after he exits the cemetery, prior to entering a home, as explained in the Q&A.]
- Washing with water: The hands must be cleaned specifically with water. It does not suffice to clean the hands in other ways [such as to rub them on something].
- How many times to wash: Although from the letter of the law washing one time suffices, the custom is to wash one’s hands three times inconsecutively after leaving a cemetery.
- Drying the hands: Some are accustomed not to dry the hands with a towel after the washing and rather let the hands dry on its own. It is noted that this was the custom of the Rebbe.
- Learning Torah and eating/drinking prior to washing: The above washing is only in order to remove impurity, and does not prevent one from studying Torah or praying. [Nevertheless, it is best to wash the hands immediately after the above actions, in order to remove the impurity right away, as stated above.]
- What occurs if one does not wash his hands? If one did not wash his hands after any of the above actions, then if he is a Torah scholar, he will forget his learning. If he is a layman, he will lose his mind.
- May one wash his hands in the cemetery? One is to wash his hands only after first distancing himself four Amos from the cemetery.
- Is one to wash his hands prior to entering a house? Yes.
- If one entered a non-Jewish cemetery, must he wash his hands upon leaving? Some Poskim question whether one is obligated to wash his hands afterwards. Practically, one is to wash his hands afterwards.
- If one entered a cemetery and remained a distance from the graves, is he required to wash his hands upon leaving? Yes.
- If one walked under a tree that grows in a cemetery must he wash his hands afterwards? Some write one is to wash his hands afterwards just like one who entered a cemetery.
- Must one wash his hands after leaving the burial grounds of Tzaddikim? The custom is not to wash hands after leaving the resting place of a Tzaddik unless the Tzaddik is buried in a cemetery, or near other graves.
B. Washing the face after leaving a cemetery:
- Some Poskim write one is to wash his face after leaving a cemetery. Others however write that the custom is not to be particular to do so.
C. Throwing grass, or earth, behind the back after leaving a cemetery:
- Some are accustomed to throw grass, or earth, behind their back after leaving a cemetery. [The Rebbe’s custom: Prior to leaving the Ohel, the Rebbe would tear grass from the ground three times and throw it behind him. This is not to be done on Chol Hamoed.]
D. Immersing in a Mikveh:
- Some are accustomed to immersing in a Mikveh after visiting a cemetery.
- The Rebbe’s customs upon visiting the Ohel: Non-leather shoes: The Rebbe would wear non-leather shoes to the Ohel, similar to the shoes worn on Tishe Beav and Yom Kippur.
- Knocking on the door: The Rebbe would knock on the door of the Ohel twice prior to entering, symbolizing asking permission prior to entering.
- Maaneh Lashon: Immediately upon entering the Ohel, the Rebbe would begin saying the Maaneh Lashon.
- Lights candle: As soon as the Rebbe reached the part in the Maaneh Lashon of “Hareini Madlik Halamp,” the Rebbe would light a candle.
- Reading the Pa”n: The Rebbe would read the Pa”n, tearing off any blank area of paper from the Pa”n, and place the Pa”n in the Ohel.
- Encircling the Ohel: Upon completing the reading of the Pa”n, the Rebbe would encircle the Ohel one time.
- Exiting: Upon exiting, the Rebbe would stop by the door and recite the Yehi Ratzon which concludes the Maaneh Lashon.
- Throwing grass: Prior to entering the car, the Rebbe would tear grass from the ground three times and throw it behind him.