Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Suicide & teshuva: Shevus Yaakov II

Shevus Yaakov(2:111): Question: Someone who has committed adultery and as an act of repentance to comply with the capital punishment he deserves, drowns himself in a river which is equivalent to the punishment of strangulation – is he considered as if he committed suicide or is it considered a positive act of repentance and thus he has the status of one who died a natural death? Answer: … a proof can be brought from Kiddushin (81b) which describes R’ Chiya bar Ashi putting himself in an oven as an act of repentance… Thus we see clearly that it is permitted to repent a sin by suicide… Another proof is found in Bereishis Rabbah (65:22) in which a man died by subjecting himself to punishment which involved the equivalent of all 4 death sentences and it was declared that this allowed him to merit the World to Come… He did this as an act of repentance and thus it was not considered as a forbidden act of suicide… We similarly see the case of the washer man in Kesubos (113b) who jumped off the roof when Rebbe Yehuda HaNasi died and a heavenly voice praised him. Thus it was considered a proper action. The Maharit in his commentary to Kesubos said that he killed himself as an act of repentance…We see then from these sources that if a person kills himself for the sake of repentance it is not considered as suicide and he merits the World to Come. That is because in the place where a baal teshuva stands, a complete tzadik is not able to stand.

I received the following comment:

Maybe it's because I'm an American, but for some reason, I find this teshuvah extremely troubling. I also wonder how many Rabbanei Kehillos in the US, if one of their mispallelim confesses to something like this, would have the courage (or perhaps the insensitivity) to counsel this course.

Having once or twice been boel my wife b'niddah b'ratzon, I wonder whether I'm mechuyav to follow this course myself.

G'mar chasima tovah and God help us all.

The Shevus Yaakov, and also the gemora in Kiddushin 40a, Kesubos (113a) as well as the Iyun Yaakov (Kiddushin 81b) and the Yaavetz (1:43) as well as Rav Ovadiya Yosef (Y.O. 2:24.8)- are not recommending suicide. What these sources are saying is that if a person afflicts himself, including death - it can in fact bring about atonement. Without this we would say that a suicide is either a wicked or crazy person. These sources  legitimize our saying that he is a baal teshuva.

Nevertheless the positive view that the above sources express is in disagreement with the view of Rav Moshe Feinstein (C.M. II 69.4) who strongly rejects this view which he saw in the Yaavetz. I am posting it because it gives a person a deeper understanding of the seriousness of sin and correspondingly the importance of repentance. Thus to answer the above comment - it is clearly not required for a sinner to commit suicide or for a rabbi to recommend such a course and in fact the sinner should be advised not to take such a course of action and all means should be used to stop a person from doing so. It is however the basis for viewing a suicide victim as not being evil or mentally ill but at least a baal tshuva. So l'chatchila it is definitely prohibited but if someone did it for the sake of teshuva it is understandable and a minority would say it is even a legitimate action.


  1. Notwithstanding the fact that the commentator's crime is not punished by the earthly court -- being intimate with a niddah is punishable by kares and nothing else.

    ISTM from a casual reading of your translation of the teshuva that in order for the suicide to be an acceptable repentance, it must be in a manner similar to the prescribed death penalty. Since a person cannot self-inflict kares, ISTM that his only recourse is the standard method of teshuva (viduy, charata, azivas hachet...).

    The Wolf

  2. Why don't you instead quote the teshuva that outlines the circumstances under whom suicide is indeed halachically permissible? Hint for the other readers: it was written in Europe in the 40s.


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