Oz Torah: Suicide or murder – Ask the Rabbi

LAW OF THE LAND.

Q. Since there is a rule in the Talmud, “The law of the land is the law”, how come that rabbis sometimes criticise the government?

A. The rule, “Dina D’Malchuta Dina” – “the Law of the Kingdom is the Law” is probably limited to matters such as taxes in which the government has a direct interest.

If, therefore, I evade paying my tax, I have transgressed my Jewish and not merely my civil duty.

On the other hand, I am not obliged to go along with government policies on, say, class sizes or climate change, but in opposing such policies I must not act like a gangster but morally and rationally.

The Vilna Gaon makes a further distinction, between the law of the king and the law of the kingdom (on Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 369:31).

If the king takes a dislike to and discriminates against a particular person or group, I am not obliged to follow his dictates because they are not “the law of the kingdom” but “the law of the king”.

The implication is that the law of the kingdom is based on sound principles and can be trusted, though modern experience might question this assumption.

SUICIDE OR MURDER.

Q. In Jewish law, is suicide as bad as murder?

A. Maimonides thinks so (Hilchot Rotze’ach 2:2), as does Rashi on Gen. 9:5. They say that the verse, “I require a reckoning for the blood of your lives” indicates that a person who commits suicide is a shedder of blood.

The Romans regarded suicide as a crime against the state; the Jews said it was a crime against God.

It is a bad sign when someone despises the good things of this world. But the rabbis noted that Job asked,

“Why is light given to the person who is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul who longs for death but it comes not?”

In Talmudic times there were people who were stricken with guilt for some real or imaginary sin and there were people who were so distraught that suicide could not be regarded as deliberate defiance of God. Rabbi Akiva stated that many of the usual burial procedures should not be carried out.

Rabbinic decisors understand that extreme distress has clouded the suicide’s thinking and the feelings of the family should be considered.

DREI VOCHEN.

Between the fasts of 17 Tammuz and 9 Av come the “Drei Vochen”, three weeks of national mourning in which weddings and celebrations do not take place.

There is another period of mourning during the Counting of the Omer.

The difference between them is that mourning in the Omer has the status of “minhag” (custom) and in the Three Weeks it is “din” (law).

Both periods have to do with the destruction of the two Temples.

In regard to the Three Weeks the link is perfectly obvious, for we suffered a horrific disaster when the enemy desecrated our sanctuary and set it alight. But what about the Omer period?

The popular explanation quotes the death of Rabbi Akiva’s large numbers of students without whom the struggle against the Romans was compromised, yet large numbers of Jews died as martyrs throughout our history and no prolonged periods of mourning were inserted in the calendar in their memory.

The difference is that the commemoration probably entered Jewish life no earlier than the Crusader era and the students of Rabbi Akiva became symbolic of pious, learned Jews who lost their lives because they would not abandon God and His Torah.

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Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem. Rabbi Apple blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

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