For over two thousand years, rabbis came in only one variety: male. As a result of this narrow representation, certain questions were never asked. For example, should there be a formal Jewish ritual response to miscarriage—for both a woman and her partner?
Recently, three women rabbis— Amy Eilberg, Debra Reed Blank and Stephanie Dickstein—have addressed this precise issue (of real importance to one in five of us). So far the Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards has endorsed Rabbi Blank’s paper discussing the need for a communal response to women’s miscarriages.
Blank’s paper sets forth that—should a woman desire attention after a miscarriage— it is obligatory on the community to visit the couple, acknowledge their loss and help attend to their needs. Immediately after the miscarriage, while the woman is recuperating, her partner may wish to say or arrange for a “Mi She-berakh” (a prayer asking for healing) to be said at the synagogue on the woman’s behalf. The rabbi and the community might announce the loss and visit the “holim” (this technical designation— “being a sick person”— includes the partner, who may suffer mental distress). After recovery. Blank continues, the woman might consider going to the mikveh to provide a sense of closure and she might say the “birkat ha-gomel” the prayer recited when one has survived physical danger.
Blank argued to the committee that Judaism’s lack of a ritual response to miscarriage was a “glaring gap.”
An earlier paper, by Rabbi Amy Eilberg, ran awry when it suggested a potential confusion of fetuses and people. Proffering a ritual response to miscarriage that was similar to that of mourning a death, it challenged Judaism unintentionally with the loss of its careful “distinction between a fetus and a person, which holds that ‘personhood’ comes only with birth.” Obliterating this distinction might have affected Judaism’s relatively tolerant attitude toward abortion.
Stephanie Dickstein’s paper on mourning for neonatal loss (stillbirth) is still in committee.