Any questions?


What we get asked about most often about the burial ground

We do not know of a particular connection. Jewish tradition is that burial space was a top priority for newly established communities, considered more essential than a synagogue. Burial grounds therefore frequently provide the earliest physical evidence for the presence of a Jewish population. Despite the high respect accorded to the deceased, a fundamental belief in the impurity of the dead underlies many of the customs relating to death and burial in Jewish religious law. For this reason Jewish burial grounds were traditionally located beyond town walls.
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In the early 19th century Combe Down's role of supplying stone for the building of Bath would have been greatly diminishing, and land here may have been less expensive to lease. The plot was leased in 1812 by Henry Street, Quarry owner, to four members of the Bath Jewish Community: Jacob Abraham (optician), Henry Moore (Jeweller), Hyam Israel (Fruiterer), Michael Lewis (Clothes Dealer). Jacob Abraham is buried in Cheltenham, but at the moment we know very little about the other three.

We have not been able to find any record of burials. The first tombstone is grave 26. The Hebrew inscription is worn and there is lichen growth. However, we have been able to read that the grave is that of Sarah Moses who departed this life Sabbath ……Kislev 5573 (November 1812). She was the wife (or possibly daughter) of Isaac. We hope that we may eventually be able to raise enough money to use modern photographic and scanning techniques to illuminate more the inscription.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews assumed legal ownership of the burial ground in the early 21st century. The Board have no financial responsibilities for the burial ground and have assigned its management to the Friends of Bath Jewish Burial Ground, who are responsible for its restoration, preservation and maintenance as well as researching, recording and fostering and understanding of the Jewish Heritage of Bath.
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FOBJB is a 'community interest company’ - a company that exists in order to act for the public good. Accounts are submitted to Companies House every year exactly as with a normal corporate body. The creation of the CIC was a pragmatic decision by the Friends given the difficulty of becoming a registered Charity. In March 2006 Historic England designated the Jew’s Cemetery, Walls and Ohel as Grade 2 listed.

Earlier research assumed that the cottage had been used as a prayer house (ohel). We cannot find any evidence to support this and we do not currently think that it was at any time used for religious purposes. We know from the rate books that the building was occupied from 1825 and that many people have lived in it over the years, some of whom have been identified as caretakers. So for the moment we are calling it the 'caretakers cottage'.
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The idea that it was once a prayer house could date from the 1930s when permission was sought from change of use and 1 Greendown Place, Combe Down was registered as 'a Jewish chapel' by the Registrar General.

This is a common inscription on Jewish gravestones which you can find on many here, and means (for a man) 'Rest in Peace'. If it is a woman then for the last (left-most) character a tet repaces the nun, so פייט. Another is תיניציביה, meaning 'May his (or her) soul be bound in the binds of everlasting life'
Early Jewish burial grounds, like the one here, are typically small, reflecting the small Jewish population at the time of their establishment. Most are securely enclosed and hidden behind high boundary walls. Headstones are plain and understated in keeping with the Jewish belief that all should be equal in death. The inscriptions are mainly in Hebrew, though have increasing amounts of English as the centuries progressed, invariably placed below the Hebrew text.
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The layout of the tombstones is simple with straight rows of graves, generally chronological or by family groupings with later burials inserted next to family members. Infants are usually buried in separate areas, often in unmarked graves. Headstones usually face towards the body and the head faces east towards Jerusalem. As the Jewish population increased the small burial grounds struggled to accommodate growing numbers of burials. Graves were packed together tightly and where possible grounds were extended (as was the burial ground here in 1862).

Jewish funerals are not held in synagogues. They may be conducted at the graveside, or in the Ohel, a special prayer hall situated in the cemetery. There may also be a Bet Taharah where bodies where ritually washed and prepared for burial. There may also be a separate caretaker lodge. There is usually a place for washing hands upon leaving the site. Out of respect for those buried, eating, drinking are avoided, modest dress is worn and visitors avoid stepping on the graves.

These are dates in the Hebrew calender, which differs from the Gregorian one that we normally use. It begins in the year 7561 BCE, which the 12th-century Jewish philosopher Maimonides calculated as the biblical date of Creation. Years in the Jewish calendar are designated AM to identify them as part of the Anno Mundi epoch, indicating the age of the world according to the Bible. For example, the beginning of the year 2020 in the Gregorian calendar converts to year AM 5780 in the Jewish calendar.
You can see several tombs bearing the symbol with hands and thumbs joined (like on the top of this page). The ‘Cohen hands’ symbol, depicting a pair of hands raised in priestly blessing, indicates the deceased was a member of the Cohanim.
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The Cohanim (singular: Cohen) are members of a priestly lineage maintained by the mainstream Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jewish communities. Traditionally, they are considered to be the descendents of Aaron, the brother of Moses, who served the Israelites as the first High Priest (Cohen Gadol).

You might also notice a pouring pitcher, traditionally  used on the gravestone of a Levite (heriditary assistant to the Cohamin in religious services).

The tree is a 'goat willow' - also called a pussy-willow, scientific name salix caprea. Why 'goat'? Perhaps because goats like to eat it, perhaps because of its fluffy catkins. Willows were seen as trees of celebration in biblical times, but this changed over the years and willows became more associated with sadness and mourning because of their drooping shape or habit. This species can live for up to 300 years -- we don't know exactly how old ours is, but from photographic evidence we know that it was not there in the late 1960s and is likely to be about 50 years old. So despite the association with mourning we think its presence is an accident, a self-seeded sapling that took root during the period when the burial ground was neglected, grew rapidly and became too big to be easily removed. Our tree grows profuse woolly female catkins in May or June every year, which provide an important early source of pollen and nectar for bees and other insects, and apparently is the main food plant for the purple emperor butterfly. Birds use goat willow to forage for caterpillars and insects. We plan to leave the tree despite its encroachment onto the graves, but we will have it pollarded at intervals to stop it growing too big. The last pollarding was in Autumn 2019.
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tree tree2

2019 - before and after branch reduction.