Are there halachic or hashkafic concerns about purchasing life insurance or annuities? Should this practice be encouraged or discouraged from a Torah perspective?
Poskim who discuss this shaylah raise the following considerations:
- “Al yiftach adam piv l’satan.” One should not say something that might cause evil to occur. Is buying life insurance included under this concern?
- Bitachon. Does the purchase of life insurance demonstrate a lack of trust that Hashem will provide for one’s needs?
- Zechuyos. Does a person jeopardize himself by buying insurance since his family will no longer be totally dependent on his support?
- Ribbis. Does life insurance or an annuity involve prohibitions of charging interest?
In this article, we will discuss what the poskim have written about the above issues.
DO NOT GIVE THE SATAN AN OPPORTUNITY
The concept of “Al yiftach adam piv l’satan” literally translates as, “A person should not open his mouth for Satan.” This means that one should be careful not to say something that might provide Satan with ammunition to attack him in the Heavenly tribunal. (For further discussion on this point, see Derech Hashem by Rav Moshe Chayim Luzzatto, Part II, Section 6. An English translation is available.)
The Gemara provides the following example of this principle. A person should not say, “I sinned a lot, but Hashem has not punished me” (Gemara Berachos 19a). This admission that one is guilty and deserves punishment gives the Satan a chance to prosecute one in the Heavenly tribunal. (This statement is very different from viduy, one of the steps of Tshuvah, which accomplishes atonement and cannot be used by the Satan.)
Some poskim investigate whether acquiring life insurance provides the Satan with an opportunity to mount a prosecution, since it becomes payable upon someone’s demise? (Kochavei Yitzchak 1:22)
Opposing this supposition are Talmudic sources that discuss posthumous arrangements, implying that there is nothing wrong with making such plans. For example, the Gemara discusses whether someone who prepares four-cornered shrouds (tachrichim) for himself is required to put tzitzis on them (Menachos 41a).
The previous case is quoted to resolve the following shaylah. A man is lying on his deathbed Erev Shabbos afternoon and there is concern that if he dies before Shabbos, his corpse will begin to decompose before it can be buried. Is it permitted to dig a grave while the person is still alive, so that he can be buried before Shabbos if he dies? Most poskim rule that this is permitted (Beis Yosef, Bach and Gr”a to Yoreh Deah 339; Mishneh L’Melech, Hilchos Aveil 4:4).
A disputing opinion prohibits digging the grave until the person dies, out of concern that the sick person might hear that they have dug his grave and become emotionally distressed (Shu”t Rivash #114 as explained by Bach, Yoreh Deah 339).
However, none of the Gedolei HaPoskim who discuss this shaylah is concerned about al yiftach piv l’satan. Some explicitly state that it is perfectly acceptable for a healthy person to dig his own grave and prepare his own shrouds. The Rivash expressively approves the practice of purchasing adjacent burial plots for a couple.
Thus we see that it is not considered al yiftach piv l’satan when a healthy person makes funeral arrangements for himself, because even though he is mentioning a potential evil, he is not mentioning his sins and giving the Satan any reason to prosecute him. Therefore, purchasing life insurance is also not a violation of al yiftach piv l’satan (Shu”t Yechaveh Daas 3:85).
However, two places where the Gemara mentions Al yiftach adam piv l’satan are not resolved with this approach: In Kesubos 8b, the Gemara states that a person should not say “many will drink the cup of mourning” for this because of al yiftach adam piv l’satan, and similarly, the Gemara in Berachos 60a states that upon entering the bathhouse (which involved a moderate amount of safety concerns), one should not say “if something goes wrong, my death should atone for my sins” because of al yiftach adam piv l’satan. Thus, it appears that since the poskim do not refer to these concerns either in reference to making one’s shrouds, opening a grave, preparing a gravestone, or purchasing life insurance, that the concern is only that one should not express the possibility of one’s passing, which fits the words of the Chazal. Thus, in conclusion, although one may purchase life insurance, one should be careful not to mention specifically the possibility of death of the purchaser.
A Jew is obligated to believe that although he makes efforts to earn his livelihood, Hashem provides his parnasah.
Is it prohibited to purchase life insurance because such an act implies lack of confidence that Hashem will provide for his family?
To answer this question, we must first examine the halachic relationship between parnasah and bitachon.
IS THERE A DISPUTE IN THE MISHNAH?
The Mishnah quotes two ostensibly dissenting opinions: “Rabbi Meir said, ‘A person should teach his son a livelihood that is easy (to learn) and free of potential sin. (At the same time, he should) pray to He who is the source of all wealth and property. (Always realize that) there is no profession that does not have its vicissitudes. Poverty and wealth are dependent on his merit.’” We see that Rabbi Meir advocates teaching one’s child a livelihood, while simultaneously acknowledging that livelihood comes from Hashem and not from our efforts (Kiddushin 82a).
On the other hand, the very same mishnah quotes Rabbi Nehora’i as saying,
“I abandon all means of livelihood and teach my son only Torah.”
Thus, we appear to have a dispute between two Tannayim as to whether one should take time from teaching one’s son Torah in order to provide him with vocational training. However, this analysis cannot be accurate for the following reason:
The Gemara (Eruvin 13b) teaches that Rabbi Meir was a substitute name for Rabbi Nehora’i because his teaching of Torah produced so much light. (Meir means “He who gives light.”) How could Rabbi Nehora’i disagree with himself?
RESOLVING THE DISPUTE
One answer to this problem is that Rabbi Nehora’i’s statement that he would teach his son nothing but Torah was personal – Rabbi Nehora’i himself had no worldly concerns because he placed complete trust in Hashem. Someone at this level should indeed not teach his son any worldly occupation. However, most people do not have this level of trust and must provide their son with a livelihood while emphasizing that parnasah is from Hashem (Sefer HaMikneh, Kiddushin 82a). (See Kochavei Ohr of Rav Yisrael Salanter, Chapter 11, for a description of the difference between these two types of people.)
Rav Moshe Feinstein presents an alternative answer to the contradictory statements of Rabbi Meir. The two statements are discussing different stages of life, one before the son must begin supporting his family, and the other when he has to support his family. Rabbi Nehora’i’s statement that “I teach my son only Torah” applies before the son needs parnasah. Until then, he should only learn Torah. The other statement refers to a son who has to earn a living. At that point, his father should teach him a livelihood that involves few halacha difficulties and is easy to learn, while at the same time teaching him that his vocation is only hishtadlus and that parnasah comes only from Hashem (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:111).
There is a halachic difference between the two approaches. According to the first approach, someone with total trust that Hashem will provide for him even if he makes no hishtadlus should not make any efforts to make parnasah and rely totally on Hashem. According to Rav Moshe’s approach, even a person with total trust in Hashem is required to have a livelihood. Rav Moshe brings evidence from several sources that it is inappropriate to rely on miracles for one’s parnasah. Furthermore, he considers having no livelihood as equivalent to relying on miracles.
On the other hand, Rav Vozner rules like the first approach that a pure baal bitachon is permitted to rely totally on Hashem for parnasah (Shu”t Shevet HaLevi 4:1:2). However, he agrees that this only applies only to rare individuals. There are stories about Gedolim such as Rav Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld who made no normal hishtadlus to achieve his parnasah. These Gedolim too must have held like Rav Vozner. According to Rav Moshe’s approach, one may not deliberately adopt such a lifestyle.
Both Rav Moshe and Rav Vozner rule that regular people are required to have some type of parnasah, and that it is not a lack of bitachon to do so. Unless he is a great tzaddik, no one should assume that he has sufficient zechuyos to expect Hashem to provide his parnasah with no hishtadlus on his part. (Receiving a kollel stipend is also a method of hishtadlus.)
PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE
Is there a difference between working for one’s daily needs, and working to save money for future expenses? Is it a shortcoming in bitachon to save for the future?
The poskim bring evidence from Tosafos (Kiddushin 41a s.v. Asur #II) that it is not a shortcoming in halacha to make arrangements that take care of one’s future. The Gemara there rules that although a father has the halachic ability to marry off his daughter while she is a minor, he is prohibited to do so out of concern that when she grows up she may not like her husband. In Tosafos’ time however, underage daughters were married off in ostensible violation of this halacha. Why were they lenient?
Tosafos explains that in his turbulent times (the Baalei Tosafos lived during the period of the Crusades), a man who had sufficient means to provide his daughter with a dowry and thereby provide her with a husband, he was too marry her off immediately. If he delayed, he risked losing his money and could have become unable to marry her off. Tosafos does not contend that a person should have bitachon that he will be able to marry her off later.
Similarly, someone who has the means to purchase life insurance, an annuity, or other items that will make his life or the lives of his dependents more secure, should purchase them (Shu”t Yechaveh Daas 3:85; Shu”t Kochavei Yitzchak 1:22, both quoting several other poskim). Bitachon does not require someone to ignore future needs. Bitachon does require someone to realize that everything that happens is under Hashem’s supervision and control.
WHAT WILL I EAT TOMORROW?
But doesn’t this psak violate the statement that “Someone who has (today’s) bread in his basket, and asks, ‘What will I eat tomorrow?’ lacks faith” (Gemara Sotah 48b). Doesn’t this mean that someone who plans for tomorrow’s livelihood lacks bitachon?
The answer is no. This Gemara is discussing people’s emotions. Everyone must believe that Hashem provides for him and that whatever happens in under His control. Therefore the Gemara in Sotah objects to someone asking, “What will I eat tomorrow?” and ignoring Hashem’s supervision. However, this does not mean that making practical plans for the future is a violation of bitachon.
Another problematic Gemara is the following:
“Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai’s disciples asked him, ‘why did the Manna not fall for the Bnei Yisroel once a year (for the entire year)?’ He answered them, ‘I will give you a parable. A human king once provided his son with support on an annual basis. The son visited his father once a year to receive his allowance. Wanting to see his son more often, the father altered the system and began providing his son with support on a daily basis. Thereafter, his son visited his father every day. Similarly, the head of a large household worried that no Manna would fall on the morrow; thus he would pray daily for sustenance” (Gemara Yoma 76a). Doesn’t this Gemara imply that it is better for one’s parnasah to arrive one day at a time than to plan for the future?
Poskim give two answers to this question that are dependent on the dispute between Rav Vozner and Rav Moshe mentioned earlier. According to Rav Vozner, this Gemara reflects the ideal. A great tzaddik should indeed receive his parnasah one day at a time. However, most people are not at this madreiga and may plan for the future. According to Rav Moshe’s approach, the Gemara means that a person should mentally acknowledge every day that Hashem provides for all his needs. However, he is permitted and required to make hishtadlus, which includes planning for future needs. It should be noted that all the poskim that I have seen discussing this issue rule that purchasing life insurance qualifies as normal hishtadlus.
In this context, it is worthwhile to quote a midrash that demonstrates the obligation to make hishtadlus. Quoting the posuk, “L’ma’an Yevorechecha Hashem Elokecha b’chol maasecha asher taaseh,” “So that Hashem Your G-d will bless you in all your deeds that you will perform” (Devorim 14:29), the Midrash points out that the last two words of the posuk, “asher taaseh,” “that you will perform” are seemingly superfluous, because theTorah already stated, “b’chol maasecha,” “in all your deeds.” What is added with the words, “that you will perform?”
In answer to this question the Midrash explains, “The Torah states, ‘Keep the mitzvos.’ I might think that he should do nothing and expect his parnasah to come? Therefore the Torah repeats, ‘that you will perform.’ If you work you will receive blessing, and if you do not work you will not receive blessing,” (Midrash Shocher Tov). This Midrash proves that one has a responsibility to earn parnasah (cited by Shu”t Yechaveh Daas 3:85).
3. Loss of zechus
I have heard people give yet another reason why someone should not purchase life insurance. What happens if a husband does not have the personal zechuyos or mazel for longevity, while his wife and children do have the zechuyos or mazal to live financially secure lives? In a case like this, the husband would live a long productive life as their provider. By purchasing life insurance which guarantees their sustenance b’derech hateva even without his presence, he jeopardizes his life, since his dependents now have a source of financial support should something happen to him.
I saw this concern mentioned in one sefer (Shu”t Kochavei Yitzchak 1:22). In response to this argument, the author, Rav Yitzchok Sternhell, quoted the exact opposite approach in the name of the Shinaver Rav (Rav Yechezkel Shraga Halberstam, author of Divrei Yechezkel), who was one of the greatest poskim of his day in Galicia. The Shinaver contended that buying life insurance is a segulah for longevity. He argues that since the mazal of the people who own insurance companies is to become wealthy, their mazal will prevent them from losing money by having to pay out life insurance policies. Thus by purchasing a policy, one is actually rallying mazal to one’s side and not jeopardizing one’s life.
Another counter-argument runs as follows. If loss of zechus is a concern, there is a valid reason to refrain from accumulating any wealth. The wife and children of a man who ekes out a daily existence are far more dependent on him for their daily bread than the wife and children of a wealthy man; since he will leave them with a substantive inheritance should something happen to him. Thus, one could argue that accumulating wealth is not in one’s best interest.
I have never seen anyone refrain from accumulating wealth because of this concern, and have never seen any posek or sefer suggest this as a reason to avoid affluence. Therefore, I conclude that this is not a factor in the question of purchasing life insurance.
Rav Meir Shapiro, the founder of the Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin, had a very large life insurance policy even though he unfortunately had no children. His reason for this was that fundraising for the yeshiva was completely on his shoulders and he was concerned that in the event of his premature death, the yeshiva would be forced to close. We see that he was not concerned with the possibility that his zechuyos in raising money for the yeshiva would grant him longevity and felt that purchasing insurance was the correct course.
Ribbis issues. The acquisition of a typical life insurance policy should not involve any prohibition of Ribbis since it a risk venture, not an investment or loan. However, some annuities are structured so that they are loans according to halacha and might potentially involved questions of Ribbis. Someone who purchases an annuity should check this question with a Rav. Problematic cases can easily be alleviated with the use of a heter iska, which converts the loan to a form of investment.
In conclusion, this author is aware of about ten written teshuvos about the purchase of life insurance or annuities, from Poskim representing Litvishe, Chassidishe and Sefardic approaches. All ten of these teshuvos permit purchasing life insurance, and some encourage the practice strongly.
Of course, there are many other issues that come up in terms of bitachon, such as what profession or livelihood one pursues, whether to change careers or jobs that might jeopardize how much time one has to learn Torah, and how much time one should devote towards training for parnasah. These questions should be discussed with one’s Rav.
May we all be blessed with long years and good health.
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