Saturday, March 3, 2007

On Rosh Hashanah it is written....

One thing that I've lost in this whole debacle is, if not exactly my faith, my connection with organized religion. I've belonged to a synagogue for many years, and, on the whole, have asked little or nothing from it, while faithfully making my annual contributions. When, finally, I needed their help, there was no-one there for me.

Last Rosh Hashahnah (the Jewish new year), still pregnant, I went to services and listened as the cantor recited the traditional formula -- that G-d is deciding, for the year to come:

who will pass away and who will be born,
who will live and who will die;
who will perish by fire and who by water;
who by sword and who by wild animals;
who by hunger and who by thirst;
who by earthquake and who by plague;
who by strangling and who by stoning;
who will have rest and who will doomed to wander;
who will be at peace and who will be tormented;
who will be at ease and who will be bothered;
who will become poor and who will become rich;
who will be brought low and who will be raised up.

And, hearing this mournful list, I knew, even as I felt her kick, that my baby and I would not be recorded in the Book of Life for a good year. That, instead, she would die and I would suffer, and that no prayers of mine could change what had already been written.

After the baby died, while I was still in the hospital, I called the synagogue, hoping for some kind of spiritual guidance. Somehow misunderstanding my plea, the rabbi and cantor believed that I was telling them that I wanted no further contact with them because I wanted to protect my privacy.

A month or so later, having heard nothing further from the synagogue, I again called the Rabbi, who told me (without, I think, any particular malice), that my daughter, having lived for such a short time, could not be counted under the traditional rules as a person, and that none of the rituals for mourning or naming applied. The Rabbi said the naming blessing would be inappropriate, since my daughter was already dead, and that I was not entitled to the normal period of mourning, since my baby had lived less than a month.

When we talked about the burial service, and I told him that I didn't want any of my family members there, he began to argue with me. He told me that, unfortunately, he had had to preside over many, much worse cases, where the dead child was five or ten years old. I thought, but didn't say, that if someone had given me the option of my child living for five or ten years, rather than dying after few hours, it wouldn't even have been a close question which choice I would have picked

Subsequently, the rabbi mailed me a pamphlet about mourning a miscarriage. It was as though he hadn't listened to a word I had said. Without minimizing in any way the pain of a miscarriage (after all, I suffered one -- or perhaps a stillbirth-- depending how you count these things, with my daugther's twin), I know that losing a child who has lived, however briefly, was not the same thing.

Later, the rabbi sent me a note, saying that he had sent me the brochure so as "not to be intrusive." It's hard to understand his point of view, no matter how hard I've tried. I'd been begging for some kind of spritual guidance and comfort ever since my child had died. I would have welcomed any "intrusion," which would have shown, at least, that someone cared and was trying to help me deal with my loss.

Perhaps, Judaism simply isn't prepared to deal with the death of a newborn baby. Maybe it's a kind of gap within its otherwise extensive mourning rituals. But, at least right now, it seems impossible, to embrace a religion that, seemingly, has no room to acknowledge my loss. Even assuming that, yes, my child didn't "count," surely I "count" and surely there is some responsbility to "comfort the bereaved" (the mitzvah of Nichum Aveilim)

I don't understand. And, yes, I feel even more alone and lost. Is there anyone, perhaps from a more traditional background, who could help me with what I can't help seeing as a betrayal?


Bronwyn said...

Hi Niobe,

I saw your comment on my blog and just spent some time reading through your posts. I am so terribly sorry for the loss of your twins. Giving birth to a child who dies so soon afterwards or is already dead (or tragically both, in your case) is a trial that no one should have to endure. It is doubly hard because the world at large seems to lack the compassion to even try to understand the depth of grief that surrounds such an event.

I am also sorry that the rules of your faith do not allow you to give a holy name to your children. I imagine this might be down to the much higher stillbirth and neonatal death rate in ancient times, but it still seems somewhat cruel.

There is a very supportive and understanding community of "loss survivors" here in blogland and I hope that we can be of some comfort to you as you navigate through this difficult first year (and beyond) of grief.

vixanne wigg said...

I'm Jewish. Also lost a baby late but did not give birth therefore no baby to bury. I was pretty horrified when I started reading about how Judaism handles stillbirth and infant loss. I suppose it was all fine and good when it happened so often, but it seems like now--when it's such an unusual thing--Judaism needs to rethink the customs. They are downright offensive IMO.

LawMommy said...


I cannot begin to imagine your loss. I've just read your whole blog, from the beginning to this point. I am crying for you now.

And I am sad and angry at the lack of compassion of this rabbi. Niobe, please, find a different rabbi, to give your daughter a holy name, it is beyond cruelty to refuse this to you.



I am not Jewish, but I 100% agree with GW. Find a new rabbi, but most importantly you have to give your children names.
Prayers & Blessings

Miz Hatbox said...

Hi, I found you through Cecily's blog. My heart breaks for you and what you've been through. I wish I could offer

and that's including the treatment you got from your rabbi. I can't imagine receiving so little comfort from someone whose responsibility it is to offer comfort.

If you would be interested in talking to a rabbi who is not part of your congregation, I can refer you to a rabbi who would be much more sympathetic with your situation. She (yes, she) is Reform, if that's ok.

Miz Hatbox said...

...Okay, I posted that without previewing it.

I meant to say... I wish I could offer something, anything that could help.

JuliaKB said...


I am so sorry about the way your synagogue treated you. Our rabbis have been one of the strongest sources of support for us when my son died and was stillborn. One of them came to the hospital while I was induced, and also helped arrange for and officiated at the funeral. We were also encouraged to sit shiva and say kaddish. Conservative Judaism has a tshuva about this, so perhaps you are from a different denomination, or perhaps your rabbi is just a heartless person. Please write to me if you feel up to it and want to-- I would be honored to talk to you and to put you in contact with my rabbis, if you want to talk to people of God who will not discount your loss.

Sara said...

Oh, Niobe, I am so so sorry the rabbi at your shul treated you this way. I hope you don't accept his as a legitimate interpretation of your loss. I'm absolutely shocked and heartbroken. Please, if you're in a big enough community, find a new congregation. Our rabbi and cantor have been one of our greatest sources of support, love and guidance so they are out there.

Sara Esther Crispe said...

Hi, my name is Sara Esther Crispe and I am the editor of the website A reader posted a comment that made reference to your site and that is how I landed here. It pains me so much to read of how you were treated and I hope that perhaps the article that I am linking will provide some sort of comfort and support. The article was written by a close friend of mine who lost her baby at birth (exactly a year ago.) The link is: and you will see that there are a number of articles in the Fertility Problems and Loss section on our site that offer support. May you be blessed with the strength to deal with this most difficult time and only joyous occasions from this point onward. SE

Monica said...

I know this comment is a little late, and you may or may not have resolved this issue. Would it help to write him a letter to let him know how this affected you? Perhaps "rules are rules", but that does not mean he cannot be compassionate to you. You are not the only person to suffer like this and perhaps by letting him know the depths of your saddness as a result of his treatment, it might make you feel better and help other women who may have the same issue in the future.

Adrienne said...

I think Judaism is prepared to deal with it, but your rabbi was not. I am so sorry that he failed in his most important duty, and thereby failed you.

lildb said...

I'm not religious.

But I care.

I care.