My best friend’s brother just committed suicide. My friend is quite inconsolable, both because of his brother’s death and also the tragic circumstances. He is angry at his brother for doing this. Can help put this into perspective for me?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
The first thing to know is that we don’t “own” our bodies. Our body – and our very life – is a gift, on loan from the Creator. We are entrusted to care for it and nurture it, and do nothing to shorten its lifespan.
Someone who commits suicide is considered a murderer. It matters not whether he kills someone else or himself. His soul is not his to extinguish.
Judaism's opposition to suicide is found in the story of Noah's Ark. After the flood, God says to Noah: “Your blood which belongs to your souls I will demand; from the hand of every beast will I demand it. From the hand of every man; from the hand of every man who is his brother will I demand the life of man” (Genesis 9:5).
The Talmud (Baba Kama 90b) learns from the first part of the verse, "And surely the blood of your lives I will demand," that one may not wound his own body. All the more so, he may not take his own life.
Committing suicide intentionally is a great sin, which causes the person to be cut off from the afterworld. When a person commits suicide, the soul has nowhere to go. It cannot return to the body, because the body is destroyed. And it is not given entrance to the soul world, because its time has not come. This state of limbo is very painful. A person may commit suicide because he wants to escape, but in reality he is getting a far worse situation.
When a Jew commits suicide, he is not permitted a full Jewish burial, and there is even a debate whether shiva (the seven-day mourning period) is observed and whether the Kaddish prayer is said.
In practice today, however, suicide is usually treated as a normal death, since it is assumed that the person was not of sound mind, and cannot be held responsible for his action. But we still see the gravity by which Judaism views suicide.
(sources: Minor Tractate S'machot II; Chatam Sofer - Y.D. 326; “HaElef Lecha Shlomo" by Rabbi Shlomo Kluger - Y.D. 321)