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    Tombstone letters – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Tombstone inscriptions seem to end with the Hebrew letters, tav, nun, tzaddi, bet and hey. Is this a word? What does it mean?

    A. These are the initials of tehi nafsho (nafshah for a woman) tzerurah bitz’ror hachayyim – “May his/her soul be bound up in the bond of life”. The words are from Abigail’s prayer for David in I Kings 25:29. Abigail meant this as a prayer for the living, i.e. “May his soul long be preserved in life”. The Targum, however, applies the words to life after death. In this vein, the Metzudat David paraphrases the prayer: “May the soul of my lord be bound up in the bond of eternal spiritual life after its separation from the body.” The Hebrew letters on a tombstone thus convey our confident hope that the deceased will enjoy immortality.

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