What Do Stones Placed on a Grave Mean?

It's customary in the Jewish faith to place stones on graves.

It’s customary in the Jewish faith to place stones on graves or tombstones instead of flowers. Some religious leaders of Judaism even outright oppose the idea of placing flowers on graves. Jews believe flowers represent a long-held pagan tradition, not a Jewish one. The tradition’s origin is unknown, although several explanations exist.

1 Grave Markers

Long ago, before headstones, people used to mark grave sites with a pile of stones. The pile of stones was used as an identifier. Even though Jews use headstones today as a grave’s official marker, the tradition of piling stones continues.

2 Stone Placement

People place stones on graves in a seemingly random way. This is because it’s a sign of disrespect to move or alter the placement of another person’s stone.

3 Sign of a Visitor

It's common practice to place a stone on a love one’s grave in the Jewish faith as a sign you’ve visited the grave site before leaving. The stone you leave is a sign the deceased person’s memory lives on after his passing. The more stones on the grave site; the more honored and respected the deceased was in life.

4 Religious Symbolism

Some Jews say the tradition dates back to a time when shepherds used stones to manage the number of sheep in their flock. The shepherd carried a sling over his shoulder that contained pebbles. Each pebble represented one of the sheep. Whenever the shepherd lost count of the number of sheep in his flock, he simply counted the number of pebbles in his sling to ensure his count was accurate. The placing of stones on graves is a way Jews ask God to keep the deceased person’s soul in his sling to watch over in heaven.

5 Superstition

Others believe stones are meant to keep the soul in the grave. The superstition is that a person’s soul continues to settle for a period of time in their grave before going entirely to heaven. It’s thought the grave or a beit olam—Hebrew for a permanent home—holds a part of the departed soul kept in with stones.

Christie Gross has been writing since 1998. Her work writing public policy platforms for elected officials nationwide has been featured in national and local newspapers under various client pen names. Gross has a Bachelor of Arts in English and political science, as well as a Master of Public Administration from the University of Delaware.