The death of any close relative plunges one into deep sadness, makes a person wonder how it will be possible to go on, and serves as a stark reminder of our own human fragility and mortality. The loss of a child for whom parents had envisioned so many hopes and dreams over the course of a long life, is without question one of the most devastating experiences to endure and overcome. Due to the inevitable confusion and difficulty to make decisions experienced by someone who has just suffered the loss of a loved one, Jewish tradition offers a structure of rituals and regulations, including a funeral service, that help a mourner first deal with the immediate situation in which s/he finds himself, and then slowly and sensitively reintegrate him/her into the activities of everyday life.
While the emotional trauma that parents who devastatingly experience a miscarriage, a still-born birth or the death of a new-born soon after birth is stark and deeply wrenching, Jewish law, in this, as in so many other areas, strives to delineate at what point do standard, traditional rituals or mourning apply, and conversely when do they not, leading to the necessity of considering alternative approaches and remedies for the situation at hand. One such delineating standard is the demarcation line which determines when full-scale human person-hood has been achieved. This point in human development is reflected in the age requirement applied to the earliest moment when the Pidyon HaBen ritual (redemption of a first-born male) can take place. Numbers 18:16 states “…From a month old shalt thou redeem them…” which in turn is codified in Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 305:11 “The first born is not susceptible to redemption until thirty days pass (from the moment of his birth)…” From this specific ritual detail is extrapolated that the long-term viability of any new-born is established only once a month passes from the time of his/her birth.
Although the specific ritual aspects of comforting a mourner that a funeral among other practices are intended to effect, may not apply to situations falling outside the standard established in the bible and the codes cited above, this does not mean that those suffering such a loss are not in need of and should not be afforded the benefits of other kindnesses. As Joel Wolowelsky has recently written (The Mind of the Mourner, OU Press, NY, 2010, p. 60), “They (the parents who have suffered this type of loss) have not forfeited their right to the hesed (kindness) that is due a suffering person. They are entitled to the same attention and support, albeit under the rubric of bikkur holim (visiting the sick) and not nihum avelim (comforting the mourners.)
In the Reform movement it is left to the rabbi’s discretion to suggest whether regular burial services and mourning rites would benefit the family in the case of a still-born or a baby which dies within 30 days.I would not question whether or not to have a funeral.I would suggest that the family choose a simple burial, with close family and friends (perhaps some of the medical professionals who supported the family through such a tragedy). A funeral and tradition mourning rituals provide an opportunity for the family to grieve.
If they would like to have a shiva minyan, fine.If they want the baby’s name read during the period of sheloshim, fine.My responsibility as a rabbi (family and friends) is to comfort the family and reassure them that the many emotions they are experiencing are valid.If they do not want something done formally, this is their choice and I would never force the issue.Perhaps, it may be more than they are ready to grasp at the moment.In this case, I would talk with the parents of the child and determine what might be done to help begin the healing process.
The death of a child, no matter what the age, is heart retching.Healing will come; however, memory will not die.It is also important to not pass judgment on the decision the parents make.This is not a time to be critical.It is not the time to hold fast to tradition or to quote text.
Traditionally, there is not a service (your understanding is correct).According to Jewish law and traditional beliefs, mourning rites were not observed for infants who died within 30 days after birth for they were considered abortive (J. Yev. 11:7; Shab. 135b)” Then, little was made of infant deaths or abortions. They occurred frequently and the communities would have been in a constant state of mourning if rites had been required.
In any case, he/she is buried, and not disposed of like a miscarried or aborted fetus. A miscarriage may, however, be disposed of by the hospital or clinic in accordance with its usual procedures. According to Reform Jewish Responsa literature, "No burial is necessary but it is also not prohibited; we would suggest it for infants and possibly for still-births."So, while this is a decision ultimately of the parents, others should be supportive and the rabbi should listen and really hear the emotions, concerns, thoughts, pain and fears.
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