Losing a child of any age is heart-wrenching, and I would encourage anyone who unfortunately is experiencing this to explore some of our articles on the topic. While the following is meant to focus on the specific question asked, I hope that it offers some perspective as well.

It is important to note that although the term “stillborn” is usually defined as a child who was born without life, from a halachic perspective, it would also include a baby who was born prematurely and then died. The Hebrew term for both of these is nofel. Or Nefel. Practically, since it is usually hard to know whether a child is considered to have been born “prematurely” from a halachic perspective, this includes any baby who, G‑d forbid, passes away within the first 30 days of life.

In general, a baby who dies within 30 days needs to be buried,1 albeit without the usual funeral and mourning rituals. None of the liturgies of the burial service, including Kaddish, are recited.

There are, however, specific laws that pertain to the burial of this child, which are taken care of by the chevra kadisha (Jewish burial society). This includes giving the baby a name, as well as circumcising the baby if need be. The baby is buried privately, usually with just three people from the burial society present. Generally, even the family is not in attendance.2

One of the reasons for this is that until quite recently, the rate of neonatal death was quite high. In the Middle Ages, parents anticipated many pregnancies, fully aware that a high percentage of the babies would not survive. As sad as miscarriages and stillbirths were, the family and the community knew of the risks and expected a certain amount of loss.

The rabbis were aware of this as well. Thus, the predominant position of Jewish law was that if a baby did not survive for 30 days, it was as if the baby had not lived.3

Although the child was buried, there was no funeral per se, the grave was left unmarked, and the parents might never know where the grave was located. It was considered an act of kindness to the parents and the community, for without the restriction, families would have been in mourning almost continuously.

(Note: Since times have changed and stillbirths have, thank G‑d, become a somewhat rarer occurrence, there are some communities in which the parents attend the burial. One should consult with one’s rabbi and/or the local burial society.)

The Resurrection of the Dead

Although, as mentioned, there is no funeral or mourning, we are still careful to bury the child. One reason for this stems from the cardinal Jewish belief that the soul is eternal.4 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.

This applies even to a stillborn baby. It is for this reason that a stillborn is named by the chevra kadisha and is even circumcised post-mortem (for more on this, see Post-mortem Naming and Circumcision for a Stillbirth).

The Zohar explains that proper burial in the ground is conducive to the resurrection process and a reflection of belief in the resurrection of the dead.5

Why Were These Souls Born?

There are esoteric reasons why a soul must briefly enter this world in such a fashion, usually related to the loftiness of the soul.6

This soul was not here long enough to be mourned or even to come into contact with (and perhaps be tainted by) the physicality of this world. So Kaddish and anything else to “elevate” the soul aren't needed. At the same time, this is a lofty soul that will eventually be resurrected together with all the other souls, and as such we make sure to bury the child.

Furthermore, the Talmud7 states that Moshiach and the ultimate redemption will not come until there are no more souls in the heavenly storage house, and all the souls that are destined to come into this world have done so. This is accomplished even by souls such as these, which never fully lived.

Thus, we can take comfort in knowing that these souls took part in hastening the ultimate redemption and the coming of Moshiach.

May we merit the day when the words of the prophet Isaiah will finally be fulfilled: “Death shall be swallowed up forever, and G‑d shall wipe the tears from every face.”8