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I have, unfortunately, heard about quite a few stories of fathers/husbands who were in kolel full time and then suddenly passed away leaving the family at best with very little savings and at worst with many debts. This prompted my question which is: is there an obligation for someone to purchase life insurance?

Some of the factors that might be involved here are what the financial state of the family is. If the family can afford the insurance. In addition the level of bitachon they are operating on could possibly affect the halacha.

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That's the question it prompted? תופש העיקר ומניח הטפל – Double AA Nov 26 '13 at 21:05
@DoubleAA, that was my initial reaction as well, but I can see this question arising for all kinds of family-economic situations, including ones in which the family is indeed adequately provided for, as long as the breadwinner is alive. The kolel aspect of this question seems to me to be a red herring that drags in needless baggage. – Isaac Moses Nov 26 '13 at 21:10
@IsaacMoses I didn't say the question was invalid. Just in context it's like putting a band-aid on a broken back. – Double AA Nov 26 '13 at 21:11
@DoubleAA Why should it matter what prompted the question? Is there only ever one valid question to ask about any given situation? – Gavriel Nov 27 '13 at 16:48
@Gabi Did you read my above comment? "I didn't say the question was invalid." So I agree with you that there is not always only one valid question to ask about a given situation, though I don't know why you had to ask me again. – Double AA Nov 27 '13 at 16:50

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein writes (OC2:111, "to a certain scholar") that it is entirely permissible to purchase life insurance and it indicates no shortage of faith, even for an exceedingly righteous person. (Faith, he writes, is "I will work hard and I believe that G-d will provide me with enough to pay the premiums.") He writes that is, in fact, davar tov ve-ra'ui -- "something good and appropriate."

The story about the prosecuting angels is clever and nice, but forgets about the prosecuting angel: "he's leaving his wife and kids one heartbeat away from crushing poverty, he's a terrible husband/father!", vs. the defending angel: "but he's a good man, he does everything he can to make sure they're taken care of!"

Due to exactly the sort of story you describe, the Rabbinical Council of America references Rav Moshe's psak and calls on everyone to purchase life insurance (recommended $500k for non-breadwinners and $1M for breadwinners) and for rabbis to educate their congregations on the matter.

So is it obligated? Ask your local rabbi. But it's the right thing to do.

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Source for R' Moshe's psak? – Shmuel Brin Dec 2 '13 at 19:51
@ShmuelBrin thanks, I've added it. – Shalom Dec 2 '13 at 21:01
For everyone? What if somebody is actually wealthy - say he has savings, successful investments, or a large inheritance, but lives modestly (doesn't have large, ongoing expenses that will deplete his resources if he dies or is unable to continue to work)? Doesn't paying premiums amount to flushing money down the toilet? – Seth J Dec 2 '13 at 23:30
@SethJ מילתא דלא שכיחא לא גזרו ביה רבנן! A person can have that conversation with their financial planner. I think the RCA is saying that as a matter of public policy, the default should be for people to have life insurance, and the rabbi should promote it from the pulpit. I would also recommend a great deal of caution before saying "oh I'm special because I'm so rich." – Shalom Dec 3 '13 at 1:06
Wait, I thought it wasn't required. You're passing judgment that it's the right thing to do, even though it's not required, but without qualifying it. – Seth J Dec 3 '13 at 3:02

there's a story in "A Tzadik in Our Time" (forgot the page) where Rabbi Aryeh Levine was offered life insurance. He answered with a story describing how the heavenly court wanted to take him away but an angel was speaking on his behalf saying what about his wife and children who will be left orphans, etc. and afterwards the prosecutor said "wait! he has life insurance!"

So Rabbi Aryeh did not take it.

Not to bring any halacha from this, but if the story is true, then it does show that it is not obligatory, especially since he lived in tough times.

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Is the implication of that story that it's advisable to make sure that one's family will be destitute when one reaches one's end? That sounds uncomfortably like taking hostages. – Isaac Moses Dec 2 '13 at 18:54
@IsaacMoses keep in mind, that he was a huge talmid chacham. maybe his basis was that ultimately it is God's decrees which control everything not our actions as brought down in the shaar bitachon. not to say that this applies to everyone, but the point is that it is not obligatory for everyone. – Gizbar Dec 2 '13 at 18:58

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