Peh”nun is a Hebrew acronym for “Po Nikvar/Nikveret” – i.e., “Here lies.” If you are in the process of honoring a relative who has recently passed by erecting a gravestone in his or her memory, you may want to visit the cemetery in which your loved one is buried and take pictures of surrounding gravestone. Then visit a rabbi who will help you read them and discern what inscriptions are customary within that burial society, including traditional Hebrew acronyms, Jewish symbols, specific information, in what languages, etc… Another good resource for reading Jewish gravestones can be found at http://www.jewishgen.org/infofiles/tombstones.html It is also essential that before you sign off on any order you should have the inscription proofread by someone proficient in Hebrew and Jewish burial customs to avoid errors. Jewish gravestones are usually relatively brief and straightforward today in America (as opposed to in Israel), in all liklihood due to paucity of skilled literate Jewish stone cutters and inscribers. Whereas in past centuries gravestones were in many ways extensive historical documents, today they serve more as grave markers and as triggers of memory for those family members who come to visit. At the same time, congregants and friends have shared with me the powerful calming spirit and uplifting of burden that comes with establishing a matzeivah, a Jewish gravestone, easing the sense of dislocation that they had felt during their period of mourning.
Question: What is the meaning of the Hebrew letters "peh nun" (PN) on a tombstone?
These Hebrew letters are an abbreviation, and are often marked as such by the inclusion of diagonal marks between the letters, thus: P"N. They stand for the words "poh nikbar" (masculine) or "poh nikberah" (feminine), meaning "here lies buried".
A poetic and less common variant is P"T, "poh tamun" or "poh temunah", meaning, "here lies hidden".
It is traditionally correct to include one of these designations when a marker is placed on an occupied grave. When putting up a marker, without a body being buried in that grave, the letters are omitted. That is done when there is no body to bury, such as when someone has been lost at sea, or in an all-consuming fire, and there are no available bodily remains to lay to rest.
Other Hebrew information that it is correct to include on a gravestone include the name of the deceased, including the parents' names, for example: "Ploni ben Almoni", "x, son of y"-- "bat" for "daughter", instead of "ben", when a woman is buried. It is also proper to include the Hebrew date of death, known as the "yahrzeit" date. Finally, on the bottom of the gravestone, it is customary to write five letters, an abbreviation of a five-word prayer: T' N' TS' B' H', standing for "tehi nishmato (nishmatah, for a woman) tserurah bitsror ha-chayyim, "let his/her soul be bound up in the bundle of life eternal."
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