Introduction to Jewish Law about Suicide
Jewish jurisprudence differentiates between biblical commandments, which are those deemed to have been directly transmitted by the Creator to Moses, and non-biblical rules.8 Interestingly, Jewish law does not recognize the literal meaning of a verse in the bible, the Torah, as an authoritative statement of law. Indeed, some verses, taken literally, are incomprehensible.9 Instead, Jewish law maintains that an oral tradition transmitted to Moses both amplified and interpreted the written Torah.10 This oral tradition not only contained specific laws and information but also hermeneutical rules to be used to elucidate the Torah.11 According to Jewish tradition, there were a variety of purposes, unrelated to our present subject, for the creation of complementary written and oral traditions.12
Religious persecution of Jews, including orders banning the teaching of Jewish law, threatened preservation of the oral law. In response, a concession was made by ancient rabbinic leaders such that a succinct, incomplete form of the oral tradition, the Mishnah, was put into writing around the year 188 of the common era.13 The discussions and debates of early scholars in academies in Babylon and Jerusalem were separately recorded, forming, respectively, the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds. The Babylonian Talmud was completed later than the Jerusalem Talmud,14 and, because the Babylonian discussions benefitted from knowledge of the Jerusalem Talmud, the Babylonian Talmud is the more influential.
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