How the burial society can help at a time of trauma

October 6, 2011

According to stillbirth charity Sands there were 4,124 stillbirths in Britain in 2009, which equates to 11 babies stillborn every day. Stillbirth rates in 1970 were around 20 per cent higher than they are today.

But Jewish law took into account the extremely high infant mortality well before the 20th century. In the 1890s, there were around 150 deaths per 1,000 births in England and Wales.

Rabbi Daniel Roselaar, of Alei Tzion Synagogue, the rabbinic adviser to the US Burial Society, said: "There are no formal rituals or laws of mourning for babies who die under 30 days. But we recognise that this is a traumatic time for the parents and we try to be as sensitive as possible to their sense of loss. Often the family will contact their local rabbi who will comfort them, attend the burial and recite appropriate prayers.

"The baby is always treated with great respect and in a dignified manner. "Many burial societies do still bury in unmarked graves but that's not the practice in the United Synagogue. We recognise that, in times of old, stillborns were a common occurrence and people simply could not sit shivah or mark shloshim (the 30 days since the death) every time. That would have been an enormous imposition on families.

"A child is still always given a Hebrew name before burial or at the burial. If it's a baby boy, it is circumcised. Sometimes parents don't feel they are able to give a name, and then the chevra kadisha (burial society) gives a Hebrew name."

In Israel such children are buried in a collective grave, parents do not attend the interment and there is no marker for the baby.

In the last five years, there has been a small-scale change - about 30 burial ceremonies have taken place with the approval of the rabbis.

Last updated: 2:04pm, October 6 2011