What is the Origin of Putting Stones on Jewish Graves?
In the early years of the Jewish people, caskets were not in use. Bodies were washed, wrapped in shrouds or in the case of men, their tallisim, gently placed in a grave, covered with dirt, then piled with heaps of stone to both mark the gravesite and keep animals from disturbing the deceased. Each time the grave was revisited, loved ones continued to pile stones to further secure the grave.
In more recent centuries, families continued the custom of leaving stones as an expression of their visit, and to help them connect with memories of their loved ones. Some bring stones of special significance, but any type of stone can suffice, from smooth pebble to solid rock.
“Rock” has special significance in the history of the Jewish people, cited many times in our Chumash. One of G-d’s special names is “The Rock”. Abraham placed Isaac on a stone. Jacob slept on a stone when he dreamt about the ladder. He also removed a stone cover from the well when he saw Rachel. Moses smashed a rock when he mourned the death of his sister Miriam. And… the 10 commandments were carved in stone.
The Hebrew word for “pebble” also means a bond. So, esoterically, when we place the pebble, the stone or the rock on the grave, many believe that we are making connection with the soul of our beloved ones, recreating memories, delivering quiet messages from the heart, or simply continuing the bond that represents the continuous cycle of life.
Hope this helps, Ha-Shem be with you.