Guide to Visiting a Jewish Cemetery

Information for Visitors

Georgian tombstones at Portsmouth's historic Jewish burial ground, the oldest in the country outside London.        Copyright: English Heritage.  Photo: Michael Hesketh-Roberts.

Georgian tombstones at Portsmouth's historic Jewish burial ground, the oldest in the country outside London. Copyright: English Heritage. Photo: Michael Hesketh-Roberts.

Never visited a Jewish cemetery before?

For general background, see the following two articles, both by Sharman Kadish:

‘ “Bet Hayim”: An Introduction to Jewish Funerary Art and Architecture in Britain’
Transactions of the Ancient Monuments Society
Vol. 49 (2005) pp. 31-58

‘Jewish Funerary Architecture in Britain and Ireland since 1656’
Jewish Historical Studies Vol. 43 (2011) pp. 59-88

 

 

Contents

Access

Conduct at Jewish Cemeteries

 

Access

Jewish burial grounds may often be locked up or difficult to reach. Sadly, vandalism, whether racist or simply malicious in intent, is a fact of life (and of Jewish life in particular, even in Britain). Making Jewish sites better known and attracting more visitors to them may be the best antidote. Neglected sites, about which nobody apparently cares, are the most vulnerable to attack. On the other hand, many Jewish plots are located within the boundaries of municipal cemeteries and are therefore open (or at least the key is available) during general cemetery hours.

The first authoritative national guidebook Jewish Heritage in Britian and Ireland: An Architectural Guide by Sharman Kadish (1st edn. English Heritage, 2006; 2nd edn., Historic England, 2015) provides access telephone numbers wherever possible for Jewish burial grounds dating mainly from before 1939 in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, as well as contact details for some outlying communities. It also features 'Jewish Burial Grounds of the Resettlement' amongst several other heritage trails around the East End of London.

 

Conduct at Jewish Cemeteries

Jewish cemeteries are sacred places in perpetuity and, as such, should be treated with appropriate respect in matters relating to behaviour and dress. Please be kind enough to dress modestly when visiting a Jewish cemetery. Less Orthodox congregations and those belonging to the Reform and Liberal movements may take a more relaxed attitude, but it is always best to err on the side of caution!

Men: Please wear a head covering inside the burial ground; long sleeves and no shorts.
Women: Married women should cover their heads; long sleeves and skirts below the knee. Please note: trousers and jeans are not considered suitable clothing for cemetery visits.

It is forbidden to eat, drink or smoke inside a Jewish burial ground. Please do not bring food or drink inside a cemetery. Always go out for refreshments. However, you may by all means accept the hospitality of the sexton or other official for tea or coffee in the office.


Other points to note

If you wish to take photographs, ask for permission. Photography is forbidden on Shabbat [the Jewish Sabbath].

It is strictly forbidden to walk over or step on any grave.

It is the custom amongst Jews to wash their hands on leaving a cemetery. However, running water is not always available at older burial grounds.


Thank you for your co-operation

 


© Text Sharman Kadish 2005