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Post-mortem Naming and Circumcision for a Stillbirth

Post-mortem Naming and Circumcision for a Stillbirth

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There are a number of traditional practices in the tragic event of a stillbirth or the passing of a baby in his first week of life. These practices stem from the cardinal Jewish belief that the soul is eternal. When people pass away, their souls continue on in the afterlife, and eventually, in the Messianic era, the dead will be resurrected and reunited with their loved ones.

Due to this belief, even these babies who are stillborn are named, and in the case of a boy who did notThe soul is eternal make it to his circumcision, circumcised as well. The naming and circumcision are important for a number of reasons:

Leaving the foreskin on is “disgraceful and shameful for the child,”1 so we don’t want the child to suffer the shame of being buried uncircumcised.2

The Talmud tells us that those who are circumcised do not enter Gehinnom (Purgatory).3

The Midrash4 relates that Abraham sits at the gates of Gehinnomand does not permit any Jew who is circumcised to enter. However, with regard to those who were wicked but are nevertheless circumcised, G‑d “removes the foreskin of the uncircumcised babies and places it on the sinners in order that they be able to enter Gehinnom.” We mercifully save these sinners by removing the foreskin of these babies.5

There is an opinion in the Talmud6 that only males who have been circumcised will be resurrected at the time of the final redemption.7

When the child will be resurrected at the time of the redemption, he will realize that he is a Jewish child.8

We name the child so that at the time of the resurrection, the parents will remember their child and the child will feel that he belongs to his parents.9

Since this circumcision is not an obligation, it is done without the traditional blessing.10Kaddish is not recited When naming the child, the prevailing custom is to give the child an uncommon Jewish name (such as Metushalach or Mahalallel). One reason is that many are particular to not give a baby the same name as his deceased sibling. Using an uncommon name ensures that this is not likely to happen.11

Although the child is circumcised and named, the laws of mourning don’t apply12 and Kaddish is not recited13 for a baby that did not live for 30 days.

Some communities have slightly different customs, so if, G‑d forbid, this is of practical concern, please make sure to consult the rabbi and burial society of your community.

See Stillborn Birth.

Footnotes
2.
Beit Yosef, Yoreh Deiah 263, citing the Kol Bo 73, Abudraham laws of Milah and the Gaonim.
3.
Rabeinu Bachaye on Genesis 17:17.
4.
Bereishit Rabbah 48. The Midrash is quoted here as it appears in the Hagohot Maimoni. In the standard text of the Midrash, Abraham himself replaces the foreskin on the sinners.
5.
Hagohot Maimoni, Hilchot Milah 1:11, cited by the Beit Yosef.
6.
Talmud Sanhedrin 110b.
7.
See Be’er Sheva on Talmud Sanhedrin 110b and Gra on Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deiah 263:5.
8.
See Korban Netanel on Rosh Talmud, Moed Katan 3:88; see Tur, Yoreh Deiah 263, quoting Rabbi Nachshon Gaon (9th century) and Beit Yosef.
9.
See sources in previous footnote.
10.
Shulchun Aruch, Yoreh Deiah 263:5.
11.
See Nishmat Adam on Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deiah 263:5, citing Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Aurbach.
12.
Shulchan Aruch, Yoraeh Deiah 378:8.
13.
Ibid. 354:4.
Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
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Circumcision is the first commandment given by G-d to Abraham, the first Jew, and is central to Judaism.
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