JewishEpitaphs.org is an online resource for disseminating information about the content and value of the Jewish epitaph and its associated tombstone and cemetery. Since the early 20th century, Polish and German historians have studied and written about the Jewish epitaph, acknowledging its value for Jewish sepulchral art and history while struggling with its often bombastic or cryptic nature. For even longer, the Jewish epitaph has been recognized as a valuable source for writing family history. Yet more recent research, by such scholars as Aviva Ben-Hur and Rachel Frankel (Suriname), Michael Nosonovsky (Ukraine and Soviet Union), Heidi M. Szpek (Poland) and Marcin Wodzinski (Poland), has revealed a much more extensive significance to the Jewish epitaph. Beyond that of writing family history, the epitaph is a valuable source that contributes to our understanding of Hebrew orthography, Jewish sepulchral art and Jewish history, both of the individual and of the community. It is hoped that the information disseminated here can also assist and encourage dialogue among those considering or already engaged in researching epitaphs. Growing interest for the rescue of matzevoth (tombstones) and restoration of Jewish cemeteries in Eastern Europe makes this a propitious time to embark on sharing knowledge of and resources for study of the Jewish epitaph!
On this website, the reader will discover a growing collection of annotated Epitaphs and Tombstones. These annotations comment on unique details of a given epitaph or tombstone related to such topics as: epitaphic components and abbreviations, symbols, orthography, punctuation, cause of death, biographic details and more. Annotations may highlight what is typical or formulaic, knowledge of which assists the reader in understanding more complex and/or extraordinary details, which unexpectedly reveal information about the deceased, the community-at-large, the epitaph composer or the tombstone engraver. In addition, each annotation is provided with Suggested Reading(s) for those wishing to learn more about a given topic or detail referenced in an annotation.
Annotated epitaphs and tombstones featured here derive (mainly) from Bagnowka Jewish cemetery in Bialystok, Poland. Over time, the intent is to expand these annotations to epitaphs and tombstones from other cemeteries in northeastern Poland, which share epigraphic and stylistic features, and potentially beyond this region. This website also features a page for the newest Publications related to Bagnowka. Visitors to this site are also welcome to share thoughts under Contact.
© Heidi M. Szpek, Ph.D. 2014