What is recorded on a Jewish headstone?
As almost all Jewish graves in Northern Ireland are contained within two cemeteries, it is highly probable that many people here have not seen a Jewish headstone. As is expected its purpose is in essence identical to the universal precept that the deceased should not be forgotten and that their burial place ought not to be desecrated. Unlike other interments the headstone is not always immediately erected, but in some Jewish communities the stone is veiled or delayed until the end of the 12-month mourning period. The actual gravestones in Northern Ireland, and indeed other English speaking countries, are generally inscribed with Hebrew on the top half of the stone and English on the lower section. In most cases the English section records the deceased’s name, date of death and memorial inscription (e.g. G.R.H.D.S.I.P etc). The Hebrew text is a little different. It usually records a prescribed set of information in a straightforward Hebrew text. The first line, (which resembles question marks) is the abbreviation Peh – Nun, which stands for either “poh nitman” or: poh nikbar” which means, “here lies”. The following line is the name of the deceased, in the form:
[Deceased’s name], son or daughter of [father’s name]
Son of is either ben ( Bet-Final Nun) or bar (Bet-Resh). Daughter of is bat (Bet-Tav). Often, one or both of the names is preceded by the letter Resh, which simply stands for “Reb” and means “Mr.” and is sometimes followed by a title indicating that the deceased was a kohein, a Levite or a rabbi. The third line indicates the date of death. This line begins with the abbreviation Nun-Peh followed by the date, the month and the year written in Hebrew numerals which are letters. The last line is an abbreviation that stands for “tehe nishmatah tzerurah bitzror hachayim” which translates “may her (or his) soul be bound in the bond of eternal life”.9 Almost all headstones show a Magen David and on the gravestones of those who were koheins (including most obviously the Cohens) we see the picture of hands in the position used when the kohanim bless the congregation at certain times of the year.