Internalize the attitude that regardless of how many things you do not have, you can still be happy if you keep your focus on what you do have. Make a list of possessions, talents, and good qualities you have and whenever you catch yourself becoming obsessed with something you lack, review your list.
Among the things that I can list that make me proud are the two Grandfathers I had that were both learned and important Rabbis. My Mother's Father and Grandfather, I never knew but I leaned about them and saw their graves when I went to Germany this last February. My Father's Father, who I knew and was the biggest Rabinic influence in my life, today was his birthday and we also celebrated joyously to him, so here is a shout out to my Grandfather Samuel Lave, who I still miss and love
The Jerusalem Municipality is preparing for Lag Ba'omer and its traditional bonfires and will be marking areas permitting public bonfires around the city. These places will be specifically chosen for their low-risk chances of spreading the fires. In addition to this, the municipality is selecting areas that people with disabilities and special needs can take part and access the festivities without being endangered.
As part of the preparations for the holiday, select municipal offices have begun to patrol the city in order to mark down high risk areas to prevent damage to public spaces such as trees, benches, parks etc.
The municipality, alongside the fire department, is reminding the public that the location of the bonfire must be in a clear area, away from thorns and weeds that is within reasonable distance from buildings and infrastructure. The fire must be surrounded by stones, and flammable objects and materials must be removed from the area.
The following are the regulated areas for lighting bonfires:
Shlomo Doga Street (in the open area of the synagogue)
Margalit Street (near the dog park)
Baruchi Street (the open area next to the synagogue)
Sigalit Street (in an open area)
Shmuel Meir Boulevard (behind the police station)
Shmuel Meir Ave opposite the police in the open area
The bus terminal behind Rabbi Hasdai Street and the soccer field in the open area
Baba Sali Street (in front of Beitams' 17 near the square in the open area)
Salz Street (near the park to the right of the path)
Rav Kalfon Street (in the open area)
Moshe Hacohen Street
Meir Feinstein Street along the entire street
Between Avshalom Haviv St. and Al-R Street (in the open area)
Eliyahu Hakim Street and Anusi Mashhad Street (at the intersection of the streets)
Eliyahu Lenkin Street (in the open area)
Important Safety Rules and Guidelines for Extinguishing Fires and Safety Regulations for Lighting Bonfires in Public Spaces:
The fire must be surrounded by stones to prevent children from approaching the fire.
All combustible materials and flammable liquid must be removed from the area, and it is strictly forbidden to hold gas or fuel tanks near the fire.
It is recommended to wear closed shoes and long trousers to protect your body from sparks and coal from the fire. The burning of the bonfire can only be done by a young adult, who can responsibly follow the safety regulations.
Do not spill / splash gasoline on the burning fire. This action is dangerous and may cause serious injury. It is absolutely forbidden to throw spray cans, firecrackers, or weapon shells that can explode and injure those around the you into the fire.
Do not throw objects that emit substances that are hazardous to health into the flames, such as: plastic, polystyrene, etc.
It is absolutely forbidden to start a fire under electricity or telephone lines, near bushes, fuel and gas facilities, etc.
Do not leave a burning fire without supervision.
At the end of the celebrations, the fire must be completely extinguished with sand or water.
The municipality asks that the public contact the fire department in any case of concern regarding the fire. (Dial 102).
The firefighting and rescue services will be on standby all night. Before the fires are lit, the firefighters will go on early patrols with police representatives to ensure further protection.
For details: Dasi Tenenbaum p. Spokesperson, Community Administrative Spokesperson and Operations at
This article discusses the general topic of suicide from the perspective of Jewish law, not mental health. If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please get help; call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 and/or speak to a mental health professional. More resources can be found on their website.
The prevalence of suicide in our society has been gradually rising.1 In fact, according to recent data, suicide is one of the leading causes of death among the ages of 10 and 34, second only to unintentional injury.2 From the perspective of halachah, some of the fundamental questions we need to answer are: What is the halachic/philosophical objection to suicide? What are the halachic ramifications of one who commits suicide? What are the halachic criteria for a death to be considered a suicide? How do we address the many instances of suicide, individual and communal, that occurred throughout our long, tragic history of persecution?
Nature of the Halachic Prohibition
The prohibition of suicide is based on a verse in Genesis: "And surely your blood of your souls I will demand."3 The Talmud quotes Rabbi Eliezer, one of the great Tannaic sages, who interprets this verse as meaning, "And surely from your souls ('from yourselves') I will demand your blood ('I will hold you liable for taking your own life')."4 So we know that suicide is prohibited, but what is the rationale?
At its heart, the rationale stems from the basic concept in Jewish thought that one's body is not his own property but a loan from G‑d; one has no autonomy over his own body or the bodies of others.5 Based on this concept, just as one may not murder his fellow, one is similarly forbidden from "murdering" himself. Indeed, Maimonides rules that one who commits suicide is guilty of murder and will be held accountable in the Heavenly Court.6
On a more philosophical level, there are several other rationales that make suicide a distinctly reprehensible act.7
To begin with, one who commits suicide has by definition committed a sin without any option for repentance. Furthermore, one's death, in and of itself, can achieve atonement, in some instances achieving atonement when Yom Kippur cannot.8 By killing oneself, one's death becomes a sinful act9 rather than an atonement, and in a sense, one has "squandered" this opportunity.
In addition, the act of suicide implies that one is declaring autonomy and "playing G‑d," so to speak, and is, therefore, an implicit rejection of G‑d's sovereignty. The act of suicide also intimates that one is denying that the soul in fact lives on and will face judgment before the Heavenly court, thereby implicitly repudiating the immortality of the soul.
Given that suicide is considered such a reprehensible act, what are the halachic ramifications for one who commits suicide? (Please note, we are referring to one who has unequivocally committed suicide; as we'll see later, there are a number of criteria that must be met in order to characterize one as such.)
Maimonides writes that when one commits suicide, we withhold all traditional rites and rituals from him, such as mourning him or eulogizing him, but any rite or ritual that is performed as an honor for the living is not withheld .10 Maimonides further implies that one who commits suicide has no share in the World to Come.11
Burial in a Jewish Cemetery
With respect to burial, the Jewish community does nevertheless ensure that the suicide receives a burial.12 However, the question often arises as to whether the suicide victim can be buried in a Jewish cemetery. The classic halachic works do not mention this restriction when discussing the laws of suicide.13
However, there is a more general ruling mentioned in the Talmud that one does not bury a "wicked" person near a "righteous" person.14 There are halachic experts who have applied this general ruling to suicides, stating that insofar as this person's death itself was an act of sin, we have no choice but to consider him wicked and to apply this restriction.15 It should be noted, though, that applying this restriction does not preclude a suicide from being buried in the Jewish cemetery, it just mandates that he be buried at a distance from others.16
Kaddish for Suicide
With respect to saying the Kaddish prayer, Rabbi Moshe Sofer, a great 18th-century European rabbi and halachic authority known as the Chatam Sofer, writes that insofar as the Kaddish prayer elevates the soul of the departed, why would we not say it for one who commits suicide? In his words, "Because he did not behave as a Jew, should we not save him from the abyss? If he fell, should we not raise him back up?"17 Rabbi Sofer further writes that even though there is the opinion that we do not mourn for a suicide, if the lack of mourning will result in unbearable shame for the family, then the family may go through the traditional rites of mourning to be spared the embarrassment.18
As we'll soon see, given the strict definition of suicide in halachah, it is quite rare for these harsh ramifications to be implemented.
Halachic Definition of Suicide
How does halachah define a suicide? Maimonides writes that "one who [explicitly] states that he is ascending to the roof [to jump], and then is seen immediately ascending to the roof in anger and falling to his death, is assumed to have committed suicide."19 A similar phraseology is used in the Code of Jewish Law.20
Rabbi Yechiel Epstein, one of the renowned halachic experts ( poskim) of the 19th century, elaborates on this definition of suicide in his classic work Aruch HaShulchan. Rabbi Epstein writes that essentially only one who kills himself while being of clear and sound mind, free from internal or external coercion, is considered to have committed suicide. If, however, it's possible that there is another factor at play, such as extremes of fear, pain, distress or mental illness, then it's almost as though this person were "coerced" into suicide, and it's not considered a suicide of clear and sound mind. This does not mean that misery is a valid excuse for suicide, only that, post facto, we do not treat the deceased as a suicide.21
Additional examples of extenuating circumstances in which the person is considered "coerced" to commit suicide, as it were, are the fear that he would otherwise be tempted to sin22 or a misguided attempt to achieve atonement.23
What arises from the writings of Rabbi Epstein and others is that essentially we latch onto any rationale we can to avoid considering it a deliberate suicide in the halachic sense. In other words, it is not considered a true halachic suicide as far as mourning and burial are concerned unless there is no other theoretical alternative.
Based on the circumstances of the death, there are three basic types of rationales we can attempt to apply when considering whether it was, in fact, a suicide:
1) Maybe this person didn't, in fact, kill himself.24
2) We know for sure that this person killed himself, but there was some time lag between his actions and his death, and therefore it's possible he regretted his actions before he died.25
3) We know for sure that this person killed himself with immediacy; however, it's possible there was some compelling factor, such as extreme distress or a misconception, "coercing" him to commit suicide.2627
Given the extremely limited halachic definition of suicide, it is rare to find a situation where we cannot apply some rationale or another to preclude it from being considered a suicide, and it is therefore rare to actually apply the halachic ramifications discussed above. (Of course, the above discussion in no way legitimizes or minimizes the fact that one may not take his own life. Rather, we are determining how the action is to be perceived after the fact.)
Precedents in Jewish History
Armed with these qualifying factors, we can better explore and understand the multiple tragic accounts of suicide throughout our long history.
The only explicit suicide mentioned in the Bible is that of the great King Saul, the first Jewish king. While in battle with the Philistines and realizing that capture was imminent, King Saul asks his arms-bearer to kill him. When the arms-bearer refuses, King Saul grasps his sword and falls on it, killing himself.28 According to many opinions, his behavior is not condemned,29 and several explanations are given as to why this is not considered a suicide. According to one explanation, King Saul feared that if he were captured, the ensuing attempt to liberate him would come at the cost of many lives.30
There are multiple other stories in the Talmud of suicide; of those that are not condemned, one of the extreme extenuating circumstances of either internal or external coercion can often be applied. One example is the famous story of Chana and her seven sons, which takes place during the Greek persecution during the Second Temple period.31 After her sons are killed one after another when they refuse to abandon Torah, we are told that she ascends to the roof and throws herself to her death. There, too, the mental distress caused by the enormity of her grief would exclude this from being considered a suicide in the halachic sense.32 Another example is the tragic saga of hundreds of Jewish children who are being taken captive to Rome for purposes of prostitution. All commit suicide en route.33 The early Talmudic commentators suggest that their suicide was driven by their fear that they would be tortured into sinning,34 and therefore it was not considered a suicide.
From a different angle, there is the interesting anecdote related about a known sinner in the Second Temple period who has a change of heart. To gain atonement for his past ways, he creates an elaborate scheme to punish himself with all four methods of capital punishment simultaneously35; upon his death, his actions are implicitly condoned.36 What he did was forbidden. However, as discussed above, since his actions were based on the misguided attempt to achieve atonement, this, too, would not be considered a post-facto suicide in the halachic sense.37
During the tragic years of the Crusades, Jews were often forced to convert to Christianity under threat of torture or death. Many Jews chose to take their own lives rather than face the prospect of succumbing and undergoing baptism; indeed, there were even those who preemptively killed their loved ones as well to prevent this outcome. With respect to those that took their own lives in this setting, one of the most prominent Talmudists from that era, Rabbenu Yakov ben Meir Tam, known as Rabbeinu Tam, ruled that if one suspects that he will be tortured into apostasy, then it may indeed be a mitzvah to take one's life.3839
In summary, then, we have seen how halachah considers suicide to be a most serious and reprehensible act, and how there are several serious halachic ramifications for one who does commit suicide.
On the other hand, after the fact, it is rare for one who kills himself to truly be considered a suicide due to the extensive factors discussed above, and it is therefore rare that those ramifications are carried out.
As above, suicide is never the right choice and categorically forbidden by Jewish law. If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please get help; call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 and/or speak to a mental health professional.
May G‑d bless us all with complete physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, "Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be discouraged, for I am your G‑d. I will encourage you, I will also help you, and I will support you with my righteous hand."40
Thank you to Rabbi Avrohom Altein, Mrs. Bronya Shaffer, Rabbi Dr. Yosef Shagalow, and Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin for their assistance with this article.
Michael Wardian got into running by chance. Luckily for him, he found he's incredibly good at it.
"I played lacrosse when I was young and I stopped playing lacrosse in college and picked up running just to stay fit," the 45-year-old Virginia native tells ISRAEL21c. "And then I got hooked with running."
Wardian raced 53 times last year, and already competed 15 times in 2019.
Michael Wardian on the Israel Trail. Photo by iancorless.comproject #fktisrael
His latest adventure took him to Israel, where he traversed the entire Israel National Trail, a hiking route that runs 1,100 kilometers, or 683 miles, from Eilat in the south to Kibbutz Dan in the north.
"It was something that was manageable in terms of distance. It's not as far as running across the US, for example," Wardian notes. "It turned out it was a perfect trail for the length of what I wanted to do."
Michael Wardian displays the American and Israeli flags after completing his run of the Israel Trail, March 22, 2019. Photo by iancorless.com project #fktisrael
Since completing the Boston Marathon in 1997, Wardian has become a professional marathon and ultra-marathon runner, in addition to being a fulltime international shipbroker.
"I think I might be one of the only people to win a marathon on all seven continents and the North Pole," he says.
Ultra-marathons, for any lay people out there, can range from 30 to 100 miles (a standard marathon is 26.2 miles).
Wardian ran his first ultra-marathon "just because I thought it wasn't possible. And of course it is true, you can run that far and you can actually run that far pretty fast," he says. "It's just crazy how your definition of what's possible changes once you have more information."
Michael Wardian running the Israel Trail. Photo by iancorless.comproject #fktisrael
Like Forrest Gump
Wardian arrived in Israel at the invitation of Zoli Bihari of Canaan Running Adventures, an initiative that promotes outdoor adventures and cross-country running in Israel.
Bihari accompanied Wardian (although not by foot!), as did photographer Ian Corless, who documented the experience.
"We started on March 12 and ended on March 22," Wardian says, breaking the previous record of 15 days to run the trail.
Michael Wardian and companions running as the sun sets in Israel. Photo by iancorless.com project #fktisrael
"Each day we had a goal for the day. The idea was to run about 100 kilometers a day; we were pretty close to that," he says. "We would run anywhere from 10 to maybe 20 kilometers and then there could be a chance to stop and refuel."
When Wardian says "we," he refers to members of the local running community who joined him on some days for parts of his journey. Sometimes he was accompanied by one or two runners, and sometimes by 20. "It was like Forrest Gump," he chuckles.
"That was actually my favorite thing about the adventure, getting to share that with people," he adds.
Cap 4: Michael Wardian was joined by Israelis on his running trek along the Israel Trail. Photo by iancorless.com project #fktisrael
Wardian was also excited by the diverse terrain he discovered along the way.
"I really enjoyed the desert. That to me was beautiful. The part around Timna, the park down there, and Mitzpeh Ramon," he says.
Going from that to the snow-capped peaks of Mount Hermon at his journey's end was a surprise for him. "I didn't even think that was a thing," he says.
Michael Wardian navigating rocky parts of the Israel Trail. Photo by iancorless.com project #fktisrael
Another favorite of his was running across the park in Tel Aviv and having the sea open up in front of him. "I got teary-eyed there; it was super special."
The whole experience, he notes, left its mark on him.
"For me it was one of the most life-changing experiences I ever had. It gave me an unbelievable amount of confidence but also belief in humanity," he says. "People of all different backgrounds, religions and cultures would help a random stranger achieve something, just because.
"One of the coolest parts was that people would come back day after day. The opportunity to get to share experiences with people and learn about them and the culture of Israel was life-altering," he adds.
Michael Wardian ran the length of the Israel Trail in March 2019. Photo by iancorless.com project #fktisrael
Would he come back to visit?
"Oh yeah. I so want to come back and bring my family," he says, referring to wife Jennifer and sons Pierce and Grant.
"I've been twice to Israel now and I've never seen the tourist sites, so I need to come back and see the Jerusalem market and the historical stuff," he says, before quickly adding he might try out the Jerusalem Marathon.
Speaking of which, does he have any tips for the beginner runner?
"The thing that served me the most was just to try and be consistent," he says. "It definitely takes a couple of weeks to get into it, but once you do you'll start seeing improvement."
"Just stay consistent and stay injury-free and you'll see great things happen."
See you tomorrow. Enjoy Lag B'omer tonight and tomorrow. Love Yehuda Lave