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Kever Avot

KEVER AVOT (Heb. קֶבֶר אָבוֹת; "grave of the fathers"), the custom of visiting the graveside of parents or close relatives and praying there. The theme of the prayers is peaceful eternal rest for the departed and an invocation for God's aid to the living on the basis of the pious deeds of the dead performed in their lifetime.

Judaism did not encourage "praying to the dead" and the custom of kever avot was, therefore, limited to special occasions; the day of the *Yahrzeit, the eve of Rosh Ḥodesh especially that of the month of Elul, and in various Ashkenazi communities also the Ninth of *Av in the afternoon (Isserles to Sh. Ar., OḤ 459:10 and 481:4).

It was also customary to visit the graveside of pious individuals so that "the departed will intercede for mercy on behalf of the living" (Ta'an. 16a). It was related that Caleb visited Hebron and prostrated himself upon the graves of the patriarchs, saying to them, "My fathers, pray on my behalf that I may be delivered from the plan of the spies" (Sot. 34b). According to the Midrash, Jacob buried Rachel on the way to Ephrath near Bethlehem so that she could later pray for her children as they passed by her grave on the way to the Babylonian exile (Gen. 35:19; Jer. 31:15).

This practice was particularly stressed by the Ḥasidim who considered the earth above the final resting places of their rabbis as holy as the Land of Israel. Rooms known as ohalim were constructed above their graves, and Ḥasidim gathered there to pray on the Yahrzeit or whenever they desired the heavenly intervention of the departed rabbis. Those who opposed the Ḥasidim, however, discouraged these practices. It was related that R. *Elijah b. Solomon of Vilna even regretted the one time he visited his mother's grave. R. Ḥayyim *Volozhin reportedly left instructions that his disciples were not to visit his final resting place. Likewise, R. Ḥayyim *Soloveichik of Brest-Litovsk never visited the graves of his parents.

See: *Av the Ninth, *Cemetery, *Hillula, *Holy Places, *Lag ba-Omer, *Mourning Customs.


Aaron Wertheim, Hilkhot va-Halikhot ba-Ḥasidut, 226f.; Harry Rabinowicz, A Guide to Life, 99f.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.