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My Baby Passed Away: What Now?

Medical:

Early neo-natal death can occur for many reasons, or for no known reason. For the most up-to-date information regarding cot death (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS), click here for the website of the FSID.

Religious:

  • Call your local rabbi and/or your local burial sociecty, who will liaise with the chevra kadisha (the Jewish organisation in charge of preparing bodies & organising burial). For phone numbers, click here.
  • Autopsies (also known as a post-mortem), are, with very rare exceptions, forbidden under Jewish law. A coroner will not usually order an autopsy on a very early neonatal death (under 1 month), but he usually would for a baby over two months. Some coroners also routinely order an autopsy if a baby died in A&E, or within 24 hours of being admitted to hospital. 

If an autopsy is ordered, you should contact the chevra kadisha immediately, as they have experience and proven success in dealing with such an order.

  • After the soul leaves the body, the body is never left alone until burial (unless it is in an official mortuary fridge). Your rabbi or the chevra kadisha can organise a rota of people to sit with your baby until burial.
  • The chevra kadisha will carry out the same compassionate tahara (washing and purifying) process as for any other individual.
  • A baby boy who has not yet had a brit milah (circumcision) will be given one by the chevra kadisha, so that he can be buried as a full member of the Nation of Israel, despite being lost from it so early. A baby boy or girl should be named; if the parents do not wish to name the baby, the chevra kadisha will do so before burial. 
  • A baby who passes away before he/she is thirty days old does not require any of the rituals of burial and mourning that accompany other bereavements. No funeral service is recited; neither a rabbi nor a minyan of ten men need to be present. Kaddish is not said for him, and his close relatives do not observe any form of mourning (for more, please see Grief and Mourning). Family are not required to attend the burial, but if it would be helpful to you, please tell your chevra kadisha.
  • You should also ask the chevra kadisha to note the location of the baby’s grave so that you can visit it in the future. Many cemetaries now have a special children’s section; this can be saddening, but some find it comforting to reflect that their baby is not alone.
  • If a baby older than thirty days passes away, all the laws of burial and mourning apply as they would for an adult. If a baby younger than thirty days passes away, but it is certain that he/she was born after seven or nine full Jewish months¹ from conception², then as long as he/she took breath in this world, all the laws of burial and mourning apply³. For fuller details about the Jewish laws of burial and mourning, please see Grief and Mourning, ask your local rabbi, or read one of the books or articles listed here.

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¹The ‘Jewish age’ of a baby is calculated according to the date of the Jewish month. Eg. A baby conceived on 27th Nissan will be 7 months on 27th Cheshvan, and 9 months on 27th Tevet. A baby born at younger than 7 months gestation, or during his/her 8th month (eg. between 27th Kislev & 27th Tevet) is considered by Jewish law to be a non-viable life &, should he/she pass away before he/she is over thirty days old, none of the laws of burial & mourning apply.

²In the UK, doctors date a baby’s gestation from the first day of the last menstrual period, which would usually be about 2 weeks earlier than the date of conception. To calculate the ‘Jewish age’ of a baby, a woman must work out the likeliest hebrew date of conception, & calculate accordingly.

³This is the ruling of Dayan Chanoch Ehrentreu, head of the London Beit Din. Other dayanim rule differently, so please consult your own halachic authority.

Posted in Infant death.

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