The Tragedy of Suicide
by Rabbi Aron Moss
I have a question about suicide and Judaism. I have heard conflicting things about whether there is Kaddish and mourning for a suicide. It seems in previous generations suicide was viewed as sinful and they were not mourned, but nowadays we see it differently. Has Jewish law changed on this?
Taking a life is murder. This includes taking one's own life. We did not choose to be born and it is not our choice when to die. For this reason, suicide is considered a crime against G-d, oneself and those around us.
It has therefore been the practice to bury a suicide in a separate section of the cemetery, not mourn or say Kaddish for them, and not eulogise or honour them.
However, this only applies when we are absolutely certain that the person was mentally clear and emotionally stable when they chose to take their own life, and they did not regret doing so, right up until their last moment.
Is that even possible? Is it fathomable that someone in their right mind would kill themselves? It certainly was in the past. There were periods in history when suicide was considered an honourable act. In some societies, personal honour was valued above life itself, and people would rather lose their life than lose their pride. In these cultures, killing oneself to be spared from disgrace was a rational choice, and couldn't be assumed to have been done under psychological duress.
This cannot be said about current Western society. The overwhelming majority of suicides today are precipitated by mental instability. We can assume that anyone who actually kills themselves does so under unbearable psychological strain, and may have regretted it when it was too late. They cannot be held fully accountable for their tragic decision to end their life.
And so, although they did wrong, they deserve not our scorn but rather our sympathy. And they deserve to be mourned and honoured like anyone else. Their souls need us to say Kaddish for them, and pray that in the next world they finally find peace.
Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 345:1