Life Insurance

There is much discussion in contemporary halachic literature whether it is permissible to purchase life insurance. There are those who have suggested that buying life insurance shows a lack of faith in God. However, this approach seems to contradict the fact that it is permitted, and even encouraged, for one to prepare one's burial spot,[1] tombstone,[2] and shrouds[3] -- all in one's lifetime. Most authorities even permit digging one’s grave during one’s lifetime.[4] Hence, we see that it is permitted to contemplate and prepare for one’s death, and life insurance should be no different.[5] Some suggest that taking out a life insurance policy invites the ayin hara and might actually trigger misfortune.[6]

There is a theory among “halachic philosophers” that if one is meant to die, God might actually delay the decree in consideration of the surviving family members’ welfare, should they lose their primary breadwinner. One who has life insurance might forfeit the benefits of such a consideration, as one’s family would be financially taken care of with the insurance proceeds. Rav Moshe Shternbuch argues that such considerations do not justify leaving one's family members without any means of support. Hence, he rules that one should indeed take out life insurance.[7]

Rav Moshe Feinstein calls the advent of life insurance a Divine blessing and that even “the righteous and God fearing” should take out life insurance (among the other types of insurance that one should acquire). He also explains that it is forbidden for one to assume that God will provide for one's needs without putting in any effort oneself. In fact, he writes that not only is it forbidden to rely on miracles, one mustn't even pray for them. He also says that life insurance is essentially like any other business venture or investment that eventually yields a profit or other beneficial outcome. It does not demonstrate any lack of faith in God.[8] This is also the view of Rav Ovadia Yosef.[9]

The halachic authorities cite a Talmudic precedent, derived from a passage regarding marriage, which seems to justify purchasing life insurance. The Talmud rules that a father may not marry off his minor daughter unless the girl is mature enough to express her consent to marry the potential partner.[10] Nevertheless, Tosfot notes that in his locale it was common to marry off girls even younger than this age, seemingly in opposition to the Talmudic directive. Tosfot justifies the practice by explaining that they were living in troublesome times. People had to seize the opportunity to marry off their daughters whenever they could since no one knew if they would have the financial means to do so when the girl was older and more mature. While one might think that such an attitude displays a lack of faith in God, none of the commentators or halachic authorities made any such comments or voiced any opposition to the practice.

Furthermore, we find a precedent in the Talmud in which individuals actually made a life insurance agreement among themselves.[11] The Talmud cites an arrangement in which boatmen made an agreement among themselves that if any misfortune should come to their ship, animals, or to any of them personally, the entire group would contribute to repay the loss. A similar arrangement was made by the members of a caravan in order to "insure" each other's animals. There are other such precedents that seem to support taking out life insurance, as well.[12]

It is the consensus of contemporary halachic authorities that purchasing all forms of insurance -- especially life insurance -- is a good and even obligatory thing to do.[13] It is even suggested that one should purchase life insurance for one’s employees.[14] Some say that purchasing life insurance is a segula for a long life![15]

[1]Yaskil Avdi, YD 8:32.

[2]B'tzel Hachachma 4:31; Sheilat Yitzchak 3:96.

[3]Menachot 41a; Aruch Hashulchan, YD 339:5.

[4]Rivash 114; Beit Yosef, YD 339; Mishne L’melech, Hilchot Avel 4:5. But see Bach, YD 339 for a dissenting opinion.

[5]Lechem Shlomo, YD 2:67; Kav Chaim 26.

[6]Berachot 19a.

[7]Teshuvot V'hanhagot 4:325.

[8] Igrot Moshe, OC 2:111.

[9] Yechave Daat 3:85.

[10] Kiddushin 41a.

[11] Bava Kama 116b.

[12] See: Yechave Daat 3:85.

[13]Igrot Moshe, OC 2:111, 4:48; Be'er Moshe 8:118, Shevet Halevi, YD 23:4; V'yan David 2:268; Pri Hasadeh 2:44; Yechave Daat 3:85. See also Shach, YD 159:2; Teshuvot V’hanhagot 4:325.

[14]Kovetz Teshuvot 1:19.

[15]Mishne Halachot 1:129; Kochavei Yitzchak 1:22.