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I don't think that one needs to be Jewish or Christian or have any type of religion to view suicide as a tragedy.

Still I do not judge those who have taken their lives -- perhaps there are circumstances where suicide is hard to condemn (e.g., the many Jews in Poland and elsewhere who committed suicide after being ordered to assemble for transport to death camps.)

The standard reasoning for the commandment against suicide is that one's body belong to God, not the individual. This same reasoning is often used to condemn abortion.

But for me, here is a paradox: a logical parallel to commandment against suicide is the commandment against tattoos in Leviticus 19:28. If one's body belongs to God, one cannot damage it or mark it without good reason. Even if some think that this commandment lacks the gravity of the commandment against suicide, it is hard to see a logical chain of reasoning which says that voluntary tattoos are permissible among those who hold that one's body belongs to God.

But it seems that the prohibition against tattoos is not taken seriously by many Christians. For example, I am not aware of any serious effort to ban tattoo parlors in the way that religious leaders inveigh against doctor-assisted suicide. I am not aware of any widespread effort to picket tattoo parlors and give patrons literature warning them about the consequences of using tattoo parlors.

This leads me to believe that for at least some Christians, the prohibitions against suicide and abortion are derived from socio-cultural factors rather than rigorous theology or examination of Biblical ethics.

Gary Simmons

Well, to what extent is tattooing mutilation, Theophrastus? Is it comparable with, say, wearing an earring or nose ring? I would say that logically that would be worse, since it involves creating a wound in your skin and then adorning the wound with jewelry.

The difference is that tattooing is a permanent effect with a temporary wound, whereas wearing earrings/nose rings is a consistent wound.

One could say that the skin is made to handle tattoos, or that the nose or ear lobe are made for adornment, given their general lack of sensitivity or cartilage.

But the body is not made for death.


Very interesting topic, Theophrastus. Here's my take on the question.

Christians tend to use a variety of syllogisms to uphold, subvert, or radicalize Torah prohibitions. My own sense is that the syllogisms have analogies in Judaism; in particular, Reform Judaism.

When I say this, I do not mean to suggest that the process of innovation is always for the better.

I have argued at length that Judaism and Christianity, for most of their history, took two steps back from Leviticus 25 before taking one step forward very recently, on the question of slavery.

Go here for links to the series:

Lines of halakhic reasoning in both Judaism and Christianity tend to consolidate long-standing cultural identities and innovate at the same time.

More lenient-minded branches of Judaism, such as the Reformed and Reconstructionist movements, are less insistent about mitzvot having to do with tattoos and shellfish than with those that deal with suicide and abortion.

It's a no-brainer, isn't it? Suicide and abortion tend to be considered, in modern ethical-speak, "tragedies," whereas shellfish and tattoos are not.

Here are excerpts from a comment by a Reformed rabbi:

As I said, in general, tattoos are a fairly mild form of offense to the Jewish prohibition against maiming one's body, based on the verse: "You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead, or incise any marks on yourselves: I am the Lord" (Leviticus 19:28).

Modern tattoos are nothing more than a small amount of ink just under the surface of the skin -- not much of a gash.


Although I do talk to young people about these concerns, it is my belief that tattooing is a fairly minor violation of the sanctity that Judaism ascribes to the body. I am more concerned about the habits of young people that present real danger to the sanctity of the body -- smoking, excessive drinking and illegal drugs.

For Rabbi Jeffrey Wolfson Goldwasser's full comments, go here:

In the part of his comment I do not reproduce, Goldwasser, as I do as a pastor and for similar reasons, discourages tattoos.

It is also possible to argue that taboos (and I don't use the word pejoratively; the entertainment industry, perhaps by definition, is the one institution that does not understand the importance of taboos) against tattoos and shellfish no longer apply since tattoos and shellfish "signify" something very different from what they did in ancient Israel.

In the context of mourning rituals, not allowing people to gash themselves (but still allowing them to pull out their hair, etc.) can be understood to be the product of ethical genius and, I would say as a believer, divine inspiration.

The same can be said about kashrut rules of diet, which set Israel apart and sanctify it in wondrous ways.

Once Judaism is divorced from the task of sanctification of one particular bloodline over against another, rules like these tend to fall by the wayside. By definition Christianity is a movement originating in Judaism which sought to make said divorce work. But, as my wife says to couples in marriage prep, if marriage is forever, divorce is forever and ever. The complications remain.

On closer examination, I think you will find that disapproval of abortion, homosexuality, and taking one's own life are commonplace among Catholic, Orthodox, and evangelical Christians precisely because, as you put it, one's body belongs to God.

Let's be honest: even something as innocuous as masturbation is unconscionable if you believe that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. At the very least, it is another (though relatively minor) tragedy.


Davar akher, Gary. {Another take.)

I treat bodily wounds more casuistically than you do perhaps (casuistry, like taboo, is a word unfairly considered to refer to something we should denounce per se).

I will purposely make a waitress feel uncomfortable if I have to put up with her talking to me with a tongue-ring in her mouth, or a nose-ring. The same goes for a waiter.

I may also embarrass someone with gaudy tattoos, especially if they say offensive things.

I do these things *after* having established that I respect them as human beings in other ways, for their sense of humor, their shyness that hides genius, etc.

But I don't do the same if someone is wearing earrings or whose tattoos are unobtrusive and inoffensive in wording.

That makes me a casuist. Long live casuism.


Gary, I note your opinion. But your reasoning here is purely secular, with no reference to Scripture (which is the point of my last paragraph).

Truman 1

Truman 1,

Suicide is seen in the Bible however it is not looked at an acceptable choice to be made. I look at Judges and see how God did allow Samson to become strong and powerful one last time to kill the Philistines that were inside this house. Samson knew that he was to die with the Philistines, but he knew that he was killing many more of them in the process. So I don’t know if God was saying it was okay in this case for Samson to commit suicide because he granted him this last wish but I do know that the Lord was listening and allowed it to happen. It may have been that the death of Samson was for the greater good because so many Philistines would be killed in the process as well. I am not sure why the Lord felt it was fit to grant him this wish knowing what he was about to do.

Truman 1

Truman 1

In the Book of Jonah God takes a different approach when asked about suicide. Jonah asks God if he could die because it was better then living when he was angry. God does not offer this to Jonah but does give him a bush for shade from the sun. This pleased Jonah and then God had a worm destroy the bush and Jonah is again angry. God in this case does not think that it is okay for Jonah to die. I think that a possible reason that God does not help Jonah is because he does not think that Jonah has just reason for wanting to die. In the case for Samson I feel that he had the idea of a greater good coming from his death. Jonah was feeling sorry for himself for how everything was going and Samson just wanted to honor God by eliminating the Philistines who were dangerous and killed many people.

Devon Hudak

I also feel that you don’t need to be either Christian or Jewish in order to view suicide as a tragedy. That actually has nothing to do with it. Suicide in general is a tragedy and we as human beings realize that, not based on what religion we are. I also think that people aren’t compassionate enough towards suicide. They always say, “Nothing is that bad, they shouldn’t have done that”, we should be upset about this suicide because maybe there was something that we could have done in return in order to help these people. Maybe their situation was just too bad and they couldn’t deal with it anymore. Overall it is there decision.

Shawshank Redemption 4

I also feel that you don’t need to be either Christian or Jewish in order to view suicide as a tragedy. That actually has nothing to do with it. Suicide in general is a tragedy and we as human beings realize that, not based on what religion we are. I also think that people aren’t compassionate enough towards suicide. They always say, “Nothing is that bad, they shouldn’t have done that”, we should be upset about this suicide because maybe there was something that we could have done in return in order to help these people. Maybe their situation was just too bad and they couldn’t deal with it anymore. Overall it is there decision.

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