Suicide in Judaism with a special emphasis on modern Israel Academic Article uri icon

abstract

  • Judaism considers the duty of preserving life as a paramount injunction. Specific injunctions against suicide appear in the Bible, Talmud, and thereafter. Nevertheless, Jewish tradition emphasizes that one should let himself be killed rather than violate cardinal rules of Jewish law. Mitigating circumstances are found for the six deaths by suicide mentioned in the Bible, for example to account for one's sins, or avoid shameful death. Heroic suicide is praised throughout the Jewish history, from the suicide of Samson and the collective suicide in Masada, to the collective readiness of Jews in Medieval times and during the Holocaust to kill themselves rather than succumb to their enemies. Suicide rates for Jews are lower than those of Protestants and Catholics. Similarly, suicide rates in Israel are lower in comparison to Europe and North America, although being higher than those in most Moslem Asian and North African countries. This low rate of suicide is found in Jewish Israelis of all ages, including in adolescents. Elevated suicidal risk may be found in specific sub-populations, including male Israeli soldiers, immigrants from the former USSR and Ethiopia, in particular adolescent immigrants from the former USSR, elderly Holocaust survivors, and young Israel-Arab women. The meaning of these findings is discussed according to different socio-cultural perspectives.

publication date

  • January 1, 2012