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It used to be that a person who committed suicide was buried in a separate part of the cemetery and the relatives did not sit shiva (see Shulchan Aruch YD 345). We no longer do these things and we treat a suicide as a regular death. On what basis is this done?

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I don't remember the precise sources he cited, but R' Rakeffet discussed this issue in his shiurim, I think during his series on the Besamim Rosh (which would then be one of the sources). The general idea is that based on contemporary understanding of mental illness, we assume that anyone who would, God forbid, take such a step must have been metally ill at the time and was therefore not culpable to the point that we'd apply such posthumous sanctions. –  Isaac Moses May 14 '12 at 14:30
    
hasn't that always been the case? –  Identitytheft-Dave May 14 '12 at 14:34
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I think understanding mental illness as an illness, rather than just bad behavior, is a relatively modern idea. –  Monica Cellio May 14 '12 at 14:35
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"We no longer do these things": I don't think that is entirely correct. Some communities still do depending on circumstances. –  Double AA May 14 '12 at 14:38
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@DoubleAA can you cite sources/examples? –  Identitytheft-Dave May 14 '12 at 14:41
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First of all, I am not aware of any actual halachic source that states that a suicide is to be buried separately from the main Jewish cemetery. If anyone knows of a source for this, please let me know.

In any event, while many of the halachos of mourning do not apply in the case of suicide (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 345), this is only true if the person committed suicide in a psychologically stable state of mind. In the absence of strong evidence to the contrary, the assumption of the poskim is that a suicide was not psychologically stable (see Aruch HaShulchan there).

This might sound as if it was effectively nullifying the law, because of course no one commits suicide when they are in a psychologically stable state of mind. However, while that is basically true of our own society, there have been many societies in the past where suicide was considered an "honorable" act under certain circumstances (e.g. the samurai practice of seppuku). While the assumption that suicide is the result of a state of instability is valid in our culture, it would not necessarily be valid in others.

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Are you claiming it has always been this way, or was this the AH's innovation? –  Double AA May 14 '12 at 16:04
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Possible source for burying suicides separately: "Ein kovrin rasha eitzel tzaddik, afilu rasha chamur eitzel rasha kal." (Shulchan Aruch, YD 362:5; see also Sanhedrin 47a) –  Fred May 15 '12 at 0:31
    
@Double AA - Certainly not an innovation of the Aruch HaShulchan, who is simply presenting the consensus of most poskim. Moreover, it seems clear that the underlying reasoning - that tiruf hadaas is mitigating factor regarding a me'aved atzmo l'daas - is not a chiddush. If there is a chiddush, it would be in the assumption that a suicide was probably in a state of tiruf hadaas, which in some cultures (including some Jewish subcultures, such as the Baryonim that Josephus dealt with or the ones at Masada) would not be as self-evident. –  LazerA May 15 '12 at 1:23
    
@LazerA But these 'most poskim', is that in the last 200 years or the last 2000 years? –  Double AA May 15 '12 at 2:19
    
Other examples of psychologically-stable suicide involve someone involved in a failed coup against a biblical monarch (execution: monarch gets their estate. Suicide -- family inherits the estate). Such a case occurs in II Samuel Ch. 17. (The monarch was good and the coup was bad). This was mirror-imaged for Erwin Rommel (suicide: Hitler leaves his family alone. Execution: Hitler tortures his family.) –  Shalom Oct 25 '13 at 18:18
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