American Reform Responsa
90. A Eulogy for a Suicide
(1980)QUESTION: May a eulogy be delivered for an individual who has committed suicide?ANSWER: An answer has already been provided by my honored predecessor. We might add that tradition has always considered depression, mental derangement, or other illness as removing some of the taint of suicide. Under these circumstances, it would certainly be permissible to provide a eulogy and to treat the death as any other in regard to the funeral ritual. Our tradition saw the death of King Saul (I Samuel 31:4; San. 74a; Git. 57b) as suicide which occurred under mental duress and, anyhow, realized that Saul had suffered from depressions. King Saul saw himself falling into the hands of the Philistines, which meant a cruel death, so he sought to end his life. Solomon Kluger, in the last century (Ha-elef Lecha Shelomo, Yoreh De-a 301), dealt with an individual who committed suicide because of great indebtedness. He insisted that the man had been depressed and under mental stress. Similarly, others dealt with Jewish criminals who had been sentenced to death and committed suicide while awaiting the sentence (Mordecai Benet, Parashat Mordechai, Yoreh De-a 25). All of these unfortunate individuals were to be given a normal funeral. This also was the point of view adopted by Epstein in his code (Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh De-a 345) It is possible to trace the development of the law regarding suicide from the Talmudic tractate Semachot through Maimonides to modern times. We then see that a greater understanding of mental derangement slowly evolved. Semachot and Maimonides insisted that no mourning be observed (Yad, Hil. Evel). A little later, Solomon ben Adret (Responsum #763) stated that we should provide shrouds and a normal burial, while Moses Sofer (Responsum, Yoreh De-a 326) added the permission to recite Kaddish. Many modern Orthodox authorities would still hesitate about a eulogy, but in the eighteenth century Ezekiel Katzenellenbogen (Keneset Yechezkel, #37) felt that a eulogy was also permissible. We would follow that more liberal statement and provide a eulogy (of course, adapted to the specific circumstances).Walter Jacob, ChairmanLeonard S. KravitzW. Gunther PlautHarry A. RothRav A. SoloffBernard Zlotowitz
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