An act of self immolation captured on video has been making headline news in Israel for the past couple of days.
Moshe Silman set himself on fire during a protest rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, after handing out copies of a letter in which he blames the government for his economic hardships. Media coverage of this event has mostly been supportive, glorifying Mr. Silman’s act and turning the man into a symbol of the social protest movement.
I wish Mr. Silman a speedy recovery from his wounds. I cannot presume to understand the depths of despair that drove him to this extreme act. Based on media reports I can definitely empathise with him on a personal level.
However, I totally reject the glorification of this act of self immolation.
Judaism is strictly against suicide. Life is sacred and humans have no right to “play God” by taking life away – other’s lives or their own. Suicide is limited to extreme cases and to avoid committing three cardinal sins: worshipping another God, incest and murder. Personal hardships or even ideological beliefs – as in the case of Yelena Bosinova, who died in 2005 after setting herself on fire to protest the withdrawal of Israel from the Gaza strip – are certainly not acceptable reasons for taking one’s own life. Technically, a person who commits suicide is buried “outside the fence” of the cemetery and his family does not sit Shiva in mourning (practically, these rules are seldom followed).
Let’s leave self immolation to Tibetan protestors and Tunisian street vendors. It has no place in Jewish culture and society. Rather than glorifying this act we should condemn it. No matter how harsh the circumstances, suicide cannot be an acceptable form of protest.