Gravestones with Hebrew inscriptions are the most common class of Jewish monuments still present in such regions as Ukraine or Belarus. Epitaphs are related to various Biblical, Rabbinical, and liturgical texts. Despite that, the genre of Hebrew epitaphs seldom becomes an object of cultural or literary studies. In this paper, I show that a function of Hebrew epitaphs is to connect the ideal world of Hebrew sacred texts to the world of everyday life of a Jewish community. This is achieved at several levels. First, the necessary elements of an epitaph – name, date, and location marker – place the deceased person into a specific absolute context. Second, the epitaphs quote Biblical verses with the name of the person thus stressing his/her similarity to a Biblical character. Third, there is Hebrew/Yiddish orthography code-switching between the concepts found in the sacred books and those from the everyday world. Fourth, the epitaphs occupy an intermediate position between the professional and folk literature. Fifth, the epitaphs are also in between the canonical and folk religion. I analyze complex hermeneutic mechanisms of indirect quotations in the epitaphs and show that the methods of actualization of the sacred texts are similar to those of the Rabbinical literature. Furthermore, the dichotomy between the sacred and profane in the epitaphs is based upon the Rabbinical concept of the ‘Internal Jewish Bilingualism’ (Hebrew/Aramaic or Hebrew/Yiddish), which is parallel to the juxtaposition of the Written and Oral Torah.
- Hebrew epitaphs
- Jewish bilingualism
- Hebrew gravestone inscriptions
- Judaic hermeneutics
- Hebrew epigraphy