July 31, 2017

ESJF surveyors note interesting features of matzevot at Jewish cemeteries in Belarus

As surveys in Belarus continue, we have noted some interesting distinctions in gravestone design between Belarus and neighbouring Ukraine. This is partly due to the geological differences between the two countries, with Ukraine possessing rich deposits of lime and sandstone which Belarus does not. As such, almost all matzevot in Belarus prior to the second half of the 19th century were constructed from granite.

Belarusian matzevot also differ in their form. Instead of carving rectangular gravestones from the granite, whole boulders were generally installed at the burial sites, with their inscriptions carved on the smoother side, without any additional ornamentation. Moreover, with the limited availability of large granite blocks in Belarus, the majority of the gravestones are around a metre or less in height.

It is also worth noting that old granite millstones often found a second life as matzevot in Belarus, attesting to the scarcity and expense of new granite.

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