Are suicides buried at the edge of the cemetery?…ask the rabbi

August 13, 2018 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Rabbi Raymond Apple answers this and other questions.

Rabbi Raymond Apple

BURYING SUICIDES

Q. Are suicides still buried at the edge of the cemetery?

A. As life is a gift from God it must be cherished and preserved. Taking one’s own life was therefore regarded by Judaism as the ultimate act of defiance of the Divine will.

Hence the communal disapproval of what the suicide had done led to the ruling that relatives do not sit shivah for him or her, and it was the practice of many communities to bury a suicide away from the main part of the cemetery.

The long-accepted approach has, however, been to say that a person who suicides does so under extreme pressure and cannot be considered as consciously and deliberately acting to spite and defy God, and normal burial is therefore accorded them.

WHY STUDY TORAH IF NOT TO BE A RABBI?

Q. Why do so many people study in yeshivot if they don’t want to be rabbis?

A. The highest ideal is knowledge for its own sake. Or rather, knowledge in order to understand and knowledge in order to come closer to God.

Of course there is a benefit in learning whatever your motive, and studying in order to pass exams should not be discounted.

But even when you study for an ulterior motive, the sages were confident that mitoch “shello lish’mah ba lish’mah” – “From doing something which is not for its own sake one comes to doing it for its own sake” (Pes. 50b). This applies not just to learning but to everything.

Some rabbinic sources speak of helping the poor because one day you might be poor and would need help from others (they say there is a wheel that constantly turns and who knows how it will turn for you) – but the best motive is to do the right thing simply because it is the right thing.

OVERCOME WITH AN ACHE

Every weekday morning during the month of Ellul the shofar is sounded at the end of the service. It is one of the means of preparation for the imminent coming of Rosh HaShanah.

Having not heard the shofar for many months the eerie cry of Teki’ah, Shevarim, Teru’ah, Teki’ah, sends shivers through us. Only weeks are left before the Days of Awe.

All of a sudden we are overcome with an ache: the shofar says (if there is such a phrase), “Ache up!” Teki’ah says, “Wake up!” Shevarim says, “Break up (into remorse).” Teru’ah says, “Take up (your tears).” Teki’ah says, “Make up (with God).”

Comments

3 Responses to “Are suicides buried at the edge of the cemetery?…ask the rabbi”
  1. Liat Kirby says:

    Is the ruling still that family do not sit shivah for those who commit suicide? If so, it is a barbaric rule. Great care should be taken with ‘communal disapproval’. Crowd mentality can be cruel and lacking in humanity, as well as self-righteously judgemental, as we have seen in cases of some religious communities turning against outspoken family members whose children have been sexually abused. Communal disapproval should not be the harbinger of laws that need higher and more complex evaluation to become fitting rather than populist.

  2. Lynne Newngton says:

    The long-accepted approach has, however, been to say that a person who suicides does so under extreme pressure and cannot be considered as consciously and deliberately acting to spite and defy God, and normal burial is therefore accorded them.

    Imagine the heart ache of mothers to see her chldren separated from the community in death…..

    It was as such for Catholic mothers too for centuries, buried in unconsecrated ground.

    This is going to a sticking point…..Catholics who have recourse to physician-assisted suicide may justly be denied a public funeral and/or burial in consecrated ground since they sin gravely and cause scandal and potentially great harm to others.

    According to the theology of the Catholic Church, death by suicide is considered a grave matter, one of the elements required for mortal sin.

  3. Adrian Jackson says:

    Spelling mistake in title.

    Personally I will be cremated when I die or another option I am considering is to donate my body to science or medicine.

    However I still have about 30 year left at 66 year old. My father is 95 and his father before him was 96 when he died too.

    In my opinion people who suicide should be buried as other are buried when a burial is opted for.

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