Saturday, April 2, 2011

Deciphering epitaphs

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

I learned from a recent Philologos column in The Forward about Madaleine Isenberg, who makes a career of deciphering insciptions and epitaphs on Jewish gravestones -- and coined the term "stelaeglyphologist" to describe her profession. So far, she has worked on more than 3,200 such inscriptions in 20 different cemeteries in Slovakia.

Her skills are greatly needed, as inscriptions on tombstones can be complex, poetic, and full of biblical references and abbreviations. Some include complicated acrostics and other veiled references. And, of course, many matzevot are weathered and eroded.

Several online resources, such as one of,  provide some of the rudiments -- and which, in fact, have aided me greatly in trying to read inscriptions. But most inscriptions are far too complex.....

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