Life Insurance: To Buy or Not to Buy?

In parshas Va’Yishlach, Yaakov needed to make very important and practical life decisions with major long-term ramifications, when he heard that Esav was approaching with his army of 400 men; these decisions were made based on his halachic and hashkafic background. We also have similar decisions to make. With this introduction, I bring you:

Question #1:

Chaim knows that, as the head of the family, he has the responsibility to care for his wife, Fruma, and their children. He feels that this responsibility obligates him to acquire an adequate amount of life insurance should something chas veshalom happen to him. Fruma’s upbringing was that even discussing this matter can cause bad things to happen. Who is right – Chaim or Fruma?

Question #2:

Miriam calls her rav with a shaylah. “My husband and I would like to buy life insurance, but we’re concerned that it might show a lack of bitachon that Hashem always does what is best for us. Is that correct?”

Question #3:

Tzadok is one of the city’s biggest tzaddikim. He teaches, voluntarily oversees some local tzedakah projects, not to mention his incredibly solid kevi’us itim.  He is a talmid chacham and is raising his own large family. One of the ba’alei batim has offered to purchase a life insurance policy on his behalf, but Tzadok questions whether doing so might jeopardize him, since his family would no longer be dependent on his support. Is his fear founded?

Answer:

At times we have heard someone opposing life insurance –claiming that it reflects a lack of bitachon, or that its acquisition could actually be to one’s detriment. Let us understand what the halachic authorities say about this subject. Indeed, are there halachic or hashkafic concerns about purchasing life insurance? From a Torah perspective, should this practice be encouraged or discouraged ?

The three situations I presented above demonstrate three different issues that poskim discuss when analyzing whether there is a halachic problem in purchasing life insurance. They are:

I. Creating a Devil’s Advocate

The Gemara[1] states that one should not say something that might cause evil to occur. Al yiftach adam piv l’satan – Do not create an opportunity for Satan to mix in! Is purchasing life insurance not considered encouraging the evil Satan to do something nefarious?

II. In G-d We Trust

If we really believe that Hashem provides for all of our needs, doesn’t purchasing life insurance demonstrate that we are worried about the future and lack trust in Hashem?

III. Succeeding in Divine Judgment

As opposed to a human court, Hashem’s judgment and decisions are perfect, and take all ramifications into consideration. The Heavenly Tribunal will not recall someone unless all the consequences of his disappearance are calculated. Based on this, perhaps purchasing life insurance jeopardizes the insured, since his family is no longer as dependent on his support, thus minimizing the merits he has when judged by the Heavenly Tribunal?

Let’s analyze each one of these issues individually, in order to determine whether or not purchasing life insurance should be allowed or even encouraged.

Issue #1 — Creating a Devil’s Advocate

Al yiftach adam piv l’satan literally translates as, “A person should not open his mouth for Satan.” One should be careful not to say something that might provide Satan with ammunition. The Gemara[2] applies this rule to forbid a person from saying, “I sinned a lot, but Hashem has not punished me.” The admission that one is guilty and deserves punishment gives Satan a chance to prosecute one in the Heavenly Tribunal. According to the Magen Avraham,[3] the main concern here is that the words “Hashem has not punished me” imply that one anticipates the punishment, although this is clearly not what the speaker intends. However, when Satan prosecutes, he might take the speaker’s words out of context.

The question is whether purchasing life insurance provides Satan with such an opportunity to prosecute.

A different Talmudic discussion implies that it is absolutely permissible to make arrangements for oneself in the event of one’s demise, and that doing so is not considered opening one’s mouth to Satan. The Gemara[4] discusses whether someone who prepares for himself shrouds (tachrichim) that are four-cornered is required to attach tzitzis to their corners, implying that it is, indeed, permitted to prepare shrouds for oneself. In other words, planning for one’s death does not constitute violating the warning al yiftach adam piv l’satan and does not provide the Satan with any ammunition.

Indeed, this Gemara’s discussion is rallied as a source in the following situation. Maury Bond is lying on his deathbed on a hot Friday afternoon. There is concern that if he dies before Shabbos, his corpse will begin to decompose and smell unpleasant before it can be buried after Shabbos, which would not be a kavod for the departed. (Remember that earlier generations did not have ready access to refrigeration.) The authorities debate whether it is permitted to dig Maury’s grave while he is still breathing, so that, should he die on Friday, he could be buried quickly before Shabbos. Most authorities[5] permit digging the grave while Maury is still living; the dissenting opinion prohibits this out of concern that Maury might find out that his grave is already dug, which will distress him, and this itself could lead to his premature demise.[6] However, none of the authorities debating this case is concerned that the efficacy of digging Maury’s grave while he is still alive violates al yiftach adam piv l’satan and provides Satan with the opportunity to clamor for Maury’s swift departure. Some of the authorities who discuss this question explicitly state that it is perfectly acceptable for a healthy person to arrange the digging of his own grave and to prepare his own shrouds, as we see from the above-quoted passage in the Gemara. One highly respected authority expressly approves the practice of purchasing adjacent burial plots for a couple, the fact that at least one member is still alive notwithstanding.[7]

Thus, we see that it is not considered al yiftach adam piv l’satan when a healthy person makes funeral arrangements for himself, since he is not mentioning his sins and giving Satan any reason to prosecute him. Based on this, several authorities rule that purchasing life insurance is also not a violation of al yiftach adam piv l’satan.[8]

However, I would like to note that there are two sources from which it seems that al yiftach adam piv l’satan applies in some other cases. In Kesubos 8b, the Gemara states that a person should not make the following declaration, “Many will drink the cup of mourning” because of the concern of al yiftach adam piv l’satan. This source implies that there is concern of al yiftach adam piv l’satan even when one’s statement does not imply that one has sinned and deserves punishment. Similarly, a different Gemara passage states that upon entering the bathhouse (which in those days involved a moderate degree of danger), one should not say “if something goes wrong, my death should atone for my sins” because of al yiftach adam piv l’satan.[9]

Thus, we need to resolve why the halachic authorities who discuss making shrouds, digging a grave, or purchasing a burial plot for a living person do not prohibit these actions because of the principle of al yiftach adam piv l’satan, even though the statements “many will drink the cup of mourning” and “if something goes wrong, my death should atone for my sins” are prohibited for this reason.

The answer appears to be that these last two cases are a concern only because one is expressing the possibility of one’s passing, which fits the words of Chazal: a person should not say, “I sinned a lot, but Hashem has not punished me.” Assuming our solution is correct, arranging plans for one’s demise, including writing one’s will and purchasing life insurance do not violate al yiftach adam piv l’satan, provided that one does not express verbally the possibility of one’s death.

Issue #2: — In G-d We Trust – Exclusively

A Jew is obligated to believe that although he makes an effort to earn his livelihood, parnasah, it is ultimately Hashem alone Who provides it. The question is whether there is 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? Does purchasing life insurance imply lack of confidence that Hashem will provide for his family?

To answer these questions, 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 is quoted first as saying: “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 Him 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.[10]

On the other hand, the very same mishnah quotes Rabbi Nehorai as saying, “I abandon all means of livelihood and teach my son only Torah.”

Thus, we appear to have a dispute between two tanna’im 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[11] teaches that Rabbi Meir was an alternate name for Rabbi Nehorai, because his teaching of Torah produced so much light. (Meir means “He who gives light,” and the word Nehorai also means “light”.) How could Rabbi Nehorai disagree with himself?

Resolving the Dispute

One answer to this problem is that Rabbi Nehorai’s statement that he would teach his son nothing but Torah was personal – Rabbi Nehorai 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 reach this level of trust and must provide their son with a livelihood, while emphasizing that parnasah is from Hashem.[12]

Rav Moshe Feinstein[13] 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 Nehorai’s statement that “I teach my son only Torah” applies before the son needs parnasah. Until then, he should learn only 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 halachic challenges and is easy to learn, while at the same time teaching him that his vocation is only hishtadlus, one’s feeble apparent attempt, and that parnasah comes only from Hashem.

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 effort toward parnasah. 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.[14]

On the other hand, Rav Vozner rules,[15] similarly to the first approach, that a pure baal bitachon is permitted to rely totally on Hashem for parnasah; however, he agrees that this applies only to rare individuals. There are stories about Gedolim, such as Rav Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld, who made no conventional hishtadlus to attain parnasah. These Gedolim, too, must have had the same opinion as Rav Vozner. According to Rav Moshe’s approach, one may not deliberately adopt such a lifestyle.

Both Rav Moshe and Rav Vozner rule that, generally speaking, 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 (merits) to expect Hashem to provide his parnasah with no hishtadlus whatsoever on his part.

The poskim bring evidence from Tosafos that it is not a shortcoming to make arrangements to take care of one’s financial future. The Gemara[16] 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, which appeared to be a violation of this halacha. Upon what basis was there a practice contrary to the Gemara’s ruling?

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, should arrange her marriage to someone appropriate. If the father delayed, he risked losing his money, which could have been tantamount to his becoming unable to marry off his daughter. Tosafos does not contend that a person should have bitachon that he will have the means to be able to marry her off later.

Similarly, someone who can purchase life insurance, an annuity, or other means for making his life or the lives of his dependents more secure, may do so.[17] Bitachon does not require someone to ignore future needs. Bitachon does require that a person realize that everything that happens is under Hashem’s supervision and control.[18]

What will I eat tomorrow?

But doesn’t this approach violate the statement that “Someone who has (today’s) bread in his basket, and asks, ‘What will I eat tomorrow?’ lacks faith”?[19] Aren’t Chazal teaching us that someone who plans for tomorrow’s livelihood lacks proper trust in Hashem?

The answer is no. This last passage is discussing people’s beliefs. Everyone must believe that Hashem provides for him and that whatever happens is under His control. One may not say, “What will I eat tomorrow?” thereby ignoring Hashem’s supervision. However, this does not mean that making practical plans for the future is a violation of bitachon, provided one fully realizes that everything comes from Hashem and is dependent on Him.

The Manna

However, there is another passage of Gemara[20] that may indicate otherwise:

“Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai’s disciples asked him, ‘Why did the manna not fall for the B’nei Yisrael 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.” 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?

The halachic authorities provide 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 level of faith 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 pasuk,[21]L’ma’an yevorechecha Hashem Elokecha b’chol ma’asecha asher ta’aseh,” “So that Hashem Your G-d will bless you in all your deeds that you will perform,” the Midrash points out that the last two words of the posuk, “asher taaseh,” “that you will perform” are seemingly superfluous, because the Torah already stated, “b’chol ma’asecha,” “in all your deeds.” What is added with the words, “that you will perform?”

The Midrash[22] explains, “The Torah states, ‘Keep the mitzvos.’ I might think that he should do nothing and expect his parnasah to come automatically? 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.” This Midrash proves that one has a responsibility to earn parnasah.

Issue #3  — Succeeding in Divine Judgment

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 merit to guarantee longevity, while his wife and children do have the merit or the mazel (fortune) 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 even without his presence, he jeopardizes his life, since his dependents are now provided for should something bad happen to him.

In the one halachic source that I saw mention this concern, the author, Rav Yitzchok Sternhell zt”l, quoted the exact opposite approach in the name of the Shinaver Rav (Rav Yechezkel Shraga Halberstam zt”l, author of Divrei Yechezkel), who was one of the greatest halachic authorities of his day in Galicia. The Shinaver contended that buying life insurance should provide longevity. He argues that since the mazel of the people who own insurance companies is to become wealthy, their mazel will prevail and prevent them from losing money by having to pay out life insurance policies. Thus, purchasing a policy actually rallies mazel to one’s side and does not jeopardize one’s life.[23]

Another counter-argument runs as follows: If loss of merit is a concern, then there is valid reason to refrain from accumulating any wealth. The family members of a man who ekes out a daily existence are far more dependent on their breadwinner than are the wife and children of a wealthy man, since he will leave them with an appreciable inheritance should something happen to him. Thus, one could argue that accumulating wealth is not in one’s best interest, an approach that does not have too many advocates. I have never seen anyone refrain from accumulating wealth because of this concern, and neither have I seen any halachic authority suggest this as a reason to avoid affluence. Therefore, I conclude that this is not a factor in the question of purchasing life insurance.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I am aware of thirteen written teshuvos[24] (responsa) on the purchase of life insurance or annuities, written by authorities representing Litvishe, Chassidishe and Sefardic approaches. All thirteen teshuvos permit purchasing life insurance, and some encourage the practice strongly.

Rav Meir Shapiro, the Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin, had a very large life insurance policy, even though he unfortunately had no children. His reason was that since fundraising for the yeshiva was completely on his shoulders, 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 any of the above issues and felt that purchasing insurance was an appropriate course of action.

May we all be blessed with long years and good health.


[1] Kesubos 8b

[2] Berachos 19a

[3] 239:7

[4] Menachos 41a

[5] Beis Yosef, Bach and Gr’a to Yoreh Deah 339; Mishneh LaMelech, Hilchos Aveil 4:5

[6] Shu’t Rivash #114 as explained by Bach, Yoreh Deah 339

[7] Shu’t Rivash #114

[8] Shu’t Be’er Moshe 8:118, quoting Shu’t Lechem Shelomoh by Rav Shelomoh Zalman Ehrenreich, #68; Shu’t Yechaveh Daas 3:85

[9] Berachos 60a

[10] Kiddushin 82a

[11] Eruvin 13b

[12] Sefer HaMikneh, Kiddushin 82a. See Kochavei Ohr of Rav Yitzchak Blazer (colloquially called Rav Itzele Peterburger, because he once served as the Rav of St. Petersburg), the disciple of Rav Yisrael Salanter, Chapter 11, for a description of the difference between these two types of people.

[13] Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:111; see also Orach Chayim 4:48).

[14] We should note that Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch also follows this approach numerous times in his commentary on the Torah.

[15] Shu’t Shevet HaLevi 4:1:2

[16] Kiddushin 41a

[17] Shu’t Yechaveh Daas 3:85; Shu’t Kochavei Yitzchak 1:22, both quoting several other authorities.

[18] Both Shu’t Be’er Moshe 8:118 and Shu’t Teshuvos VeHanhagos 4:325 also reach the same conclusion and bring support to this conclusion from several other Talmudic passages and concepts. To keep this chapter reasonably small I have omitted his proofs. In addition, Shu’t Teshuvos VeHanhagos provides sources that a person cannot selectively apply bitachon to say medical issues. One should be consistent in how he bases his decisions on bitachon. The reader is encouraged to read their responsa on the subject.

[19] Sotah 48b

[20] Yoma 76a

[21] Devarim 14:29

[22] Midrash Shocher Tov, cited by Shu’t Yechaveh Daas 3:85

[23] Shu’t Kochavei Yitzchak 1:22

[24] In addition to the above quoted sources and sources that they quote, see Koveitz Teshuvos 1:19 a letter from Rav Elyashiv to Rav Elya Svei and Rav Malkiel Kotler encouraging Torah institutions to provide their educators with life insurance policies.

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