Resolution on Suicide and Mental Illness

Posted on: Tuesday March 26, 2019

Whereas our Torah clearly beseeches us: “Do not oppress your fellow (Leviticus 19:13),” “Do not stand on the blood of your friend (Leviticus 19:16)” and therefore our communal response, as Jews committed to cultivating holiness, necessitates us to actively reach out and respond to hurt and hopelessness with holy conversation, and

Whereas for too long, individuals suffering with mental illness have felt shamed and struggled along in silence cutting off necessary support and consequently, loved ones feel equally silenced and shamed with the result of devastating ripple effects, and

Whereas we can speak about mental illness without speaking about suicide, we cannot speak about suicide without speaking about mental illness and,

Whereas in 2016, suicide was the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States (claiming nearly 45,000 lives) and the second leading cause of death for children and young adults ages 10 to 34, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and despite an increase in education and preventative measures, the percentage of individuals who lose their lives to suicide continues to rise, and

Whereas for years our tradition forbade burial in a Jewish cemetery for those who died by suicide and parents were discouraged from observing traditional Jewish mourning practices, and moreover, the community was not held responsible for offering comfort to such families, and

Whereas today most segments of the Jewish community understand suicide as mental illness and as such, rabbis do not hesitate before embracing a family and guiding the family through every step of the mourning process—from the cemetery through kaddish and beyond, the message has not fully reached our congregants.

Now therefore be it resolved, that the Rabbinical Assembly call on governments to research and fund mental health resources as well as new initiatives to curtail this growing epidemic, and on its members, to offer resources and support to those at risk, those who suffer from mental illness, along with the family members who suffer alongside of their loved ones, and

Be it further resolved that the Rabbinical Assembly will help its members access Mental Health First Aid training and services,

Be it further resolved that Rabbinical Assembly members seek out opportunities to teach and preach about both mental illness and suicide prevention to help remove stigma and shame,

Be it further resolved that the Rabbinical Assembly create opportunities to share both resources from our rich tradition as well as current scientific and cultural studies and trends, so that we all clearly show in word and deed how Jewish tradition has evolved in its attitude towards suicide and assure that a full host of Jewish rituals is available to those tragically affected.