Early Polish Jewish historians described Jewish tombstone epitaphs as “exaggerated clichés that have nothing to do with the dead person”, “a Baroque ornament composed from a wreath of words and phrases”, “pompous”, or “overloaded thus hard to understand.” In defense of the sincerity of the epitaph’s language, Monika Krajewska commented that these words offered “the system of values accepted by the Jewish community” (Tribe of Stones, 1983). More recently Michael Nosonovsky delineated a basic formulaic pattern inherent in the Jewish epitaph (Hebrew Inscriptions from Ukraine and Former Soviet Union, 2006). The current paper explores the significance of three ‘formulaic’ components of the Jewish epitaph related to the deceased’s ancestry: father’s (and infrequently mother’s) name, hereditary titles (cohanim “priests” or lewyim “Levites”), extensive genealogical lineage, as well as additional expressions related to the parent-child relationship. The epitaphs examined are those found in Bialystok’s Bagnowka Jewish Cemetery, the largest Jewish urban cemetery in northeastern Poland, used for burial from 1892 until c. 1950. Comparative religious thought, in particular ancient Chinese thought, allows us to reconsider these epigraphic details, traditionally deemed formulaic, as a Jewish expression of honoring parents and respect for one’s ancestors. Such virtues are more commonly equated with the ancient Chinese concept of xiao ‘filial piety’ as promulgated by Confucius in The Analects and more extensively in the Xiao Jing. Yet drawing parallel with Eastern religious thought provides a unique lens by which to recognize the prominent place of respect for parents and ancestors in the Jewish tradition.
|Keywords:||Judaism, Jewish Epitaphs, Xiao, Confucianism, Poland, Jewish Tombstones|
Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Department of Philosophy & Religious Studies, Central Washington University, Ellensburg, Washington, USA
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