Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet answers readers’ questions in his weekly column, Ask the Rabbi.

Ask the Rabbi

Can suicide be a solution?

Dear Rabbi,

What’s your view on suicide if quality of life is going to become unbearable? What’s the Jewish position? I note some rabbis support suicide in certain situations.

Rexam

Dear Rexam,

Who determines when life is hardly worth living? StepASK THE RABBI 2hen Hawking could have decided at 21, when he was struck with the tragic ALS, that life wasn’t worth living – yet look what he has gone on to accomplish and contribute to society.

Conversely, there are others who may be in emotional turmoil and want to end their lives. Would you consider it acceptable for them to do so, even as society would more readily have them sectioned for mental illness? Why do you get to distinguish between physical and emotional challenge when both are illnesses and involve people suffering? Life, it would seem, is purely subjective for some, as indeed is religion. These so-called rabbis who might sanction terminating life would probably be just as quick to sanction abortion and whatever else besides.

You see, life only has absolute value when you believe in God. Thus He who gives life is the One who chooses how and when it should end. It follows that when man decides that he gets to choose when life should end, well, you have to call into question the extent of his belief in God as well. And, to be frank, those “rabbis” who say it is OK – to what extent do they believe?

According to some reports a reasonable number of heterodox Rabbis in the States are agnostic if not outright atheistic. I suspect the same can be said for the UK and that you will find a parallel between that and those who regard the value of human life entirely subjectively. No coincidence.

Two types of ‘orthodox’

Dear Rabbi

What’s the difference between modern-Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox? Do they differ in their beliefs in the Torah? Why does the latter always seem to delegitimise the former?

Aiden

Dear Aiden,

Every so often it’s claimed the Orthodox are divided into old-fashioned ultra-Orthodox and modern Orthodox. The implied suggestion is that the latter are not as strict or rigid in matters of doctrine and practise. In truth, this claim is false and misleading.

The term “modern Orthodox” has nothing to do with belief in fundamental principles of the Jewish faith or the approach to the authority of Halacha.

They may differ in their dress, the language used to community with congregants or students, and perhaps in terms of personal background and education.

They will not differ, however, in affirming fully and literally the principles of the faith formulated by Maimonides and the concomitant authority of Code of Jewish Law.

For that alone is the exclusive touchstone – sine que non – to define and apply any use of the term ‘orthodox,’ and is the exclusive standard which distinguishes Orthodox from non-Orthodox.

It is wrong to generalise and say that the ultra-Orthodox delegitimise the modern Orthodox even as there are indeed those that do.

It does, however, follow that when new innovations are introduced that may not conform to the code of Jewish law (even if, by the stretch of some imagination, one finds a presumed loophole which has effectively been refuted by almost everyone else – partnership services come to mind) then the Orthodox credentials of those involved will invariably be called into question. That’s where divisions ensue.

It’s legs 11 for a bright future

Dear Rabbi
A little piece at the end of last week’s column said you will be running, tied to 11 other rabbis, to raise money for US Futures. What on earth is that? It sounds like the American stock exchange! And why would you be tied to each other?

Greg

Dear Greg,

US Futures is in reference to the United Synagogue and the future generations. There is the interminable question – will we have Jewish grandchildren? I think more and more people are starting to appreciate the reality of this question.

The US is looking to invest in the future to make Judaism attractive and appealing for the next generation to inculcate them with a strong sense of Jewish identity.

It is a very worthwhile cause so, at Sunday’s Maccabbi Fun Run, 11 of us rabbis will tie ourselves at the feet and run the 1K.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so intimate with other rabbis before – I usually try to stay far away from them. At simchas I always insist on being placed on any table bar the rabbi table. So for me it’s an added challenge. But your support and that of other readers is most welcome. See below…