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Understanding Cemetery Symbols

Oftentimes, visitors are curious as to the meaning and origin of cemetery headstone symbols. Below is a brief explanation of the some symbols found on Jewish cemeteries.

The 2 Hebrew letters (Pey and Nun) are an acronym for the words “Po Nikbar” meaning “Here Lies. It appears at the top of Jewish monuments.”

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Monuments in the shape of a tree trunk are symbolic of the “tree of life” cut down. Often used at the gravesite of someone who died young.

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The ancient sign of the Cohayn. Originating from Aaron, Moses’ brother. The Cohayn holds his hands this way when performing the Aaronic benediction over the Jewish people. This priestly order is passed down from generation to generation.

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The sign of the Levite. Descendents of the tribe of Levi. The Levi would assist the Cohayn in his holy tasks. Often a Levi monument will show a hand pouring water over the hand of the Cohayn with a pitcher of water.

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Candesticks. Most common symbol at the gravesite of a Jewish woman as a symbol of her piety.

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A draped urn or vessel on top of a monument is symbolic of the body that houses the soul. The draping is a sign of grief.

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A lamb at the gravesite of a small child is usually found on older, Victorian-era Jewish cemeteries.

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A Mausoleum is a stone structure for above ground burials, often used as a family lot. The mausoleum is not commonly found on Massachusetts Jewish cemeteries.

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