Jewish Heritage Europe

How to Read Jewish Gravestones

Libochovice, Czech Republic

There are many online and other resources telling lay people how to decipher Hebrew epitaphs on Jewish gravestones.  Many people are primarily interested in the biographical information included in the inscriptions, to help trace family history, but there is also an important field of study on epitaphs that also focuses on the poetry, orthography and broader aspects inherent in what is written.

Jewish Epitaphs web site — 

An online resource about the content and value of the Jewish epitaph and its associated tombstone and cemetery. It focuses on the fact that that beyond family history, the epitaph “is a valuable source that contributes to our understanding of Hebrew orthography, Jewish sepulchral art and Jewish history, both of the individual and of the community.” The web site is a project of Dr. Heidi M. Szpek, Ph.D.,  Professor Emerita of Religious Studies at Central Washington University and currently an educational consultant and epigrapher on a number of cemetery-related projects. (We have included some of her work in our resources and news posts.)

Based in large part on Szpek’s research in the Bagnowka Jewish cemetery in Bialystok, Poland, the web site includes essays, examples, illustrations and suggestions for further reading.

How to Read and Record a Hebrew Tombstone

A comprehensive PDF file, complied by Rabbi Bernard Susser, a pioneer in documenting Jewish heritage in southwest England, in association with the United Synagogue, London — How to Read a Jewish Tombstone

Tips mainly aimed at people who do not read Hebrew, from JewishGen, the central web site for Jewish genealogy (more basic than Rabbi Susser’s instructions)

 A Field Guide to Visiting a Jewish Cemetery: A Spiritual Journey to the Past, Present and Future.

By Rabbi Joshua L. Segal, Jewish Cemetery Publishing, 2007

This book “takes any Jewish cemetery and its artifacts and transforms them into a Jewish museum. The material presented is simple enough that it can be understood by those with the most minimal exposure to Hebrew, but it is comprehensive enough to be a valuable resource to the most sophisticated Jewish readers.”