July 31, 2017

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

As we continue surveying the Jewish cemeteries of Belarus, it is interesting to note the differences in gravestone design between Belarus and neighboring Ukraine. The geological structure of Belarus differs from that one of Ukraine. The former possesses large deposits of lime and sandstone, whereas in Belarus, there are no such geological deposits. Therefore, almost all matzevot in Belarus before the second half of the 19th century were made of granite.

Apart from the material used for gravestones, Belarussian matzevot are also interesting in their form. Instead of carving out rectangular shape gravestones from the granite, whole boulders were generally installed at the burial sites with the inscription carved out on the smoother side, without any additional ornamentation. Likewise, with the limited availability of large granite blocks, most gravestones in Belarus are small, generally about a meter or less in height.

Also of note is the use of old granite millstones as matzevot in some cases, attesting to the availability and expense of bringing in additional granite.

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