Torah Perspectives on Insurance by Rabbi Chaim Jachter

(2006/5766) Introduction
Insurance is a fundamental aspect of almost every
individual and family financial plan. If one is young and has a large
family, adequate insurance to protect the family is essential. In
addition to discussing Torah perspectives on insurance for
individuals and families in this issue, we will also present and
expand upon a proposal made by Rav J. David Bleich concerning
the purchase of insurance as a community.  We will begin by
discussing the permissibility of acquiring insurance and the
possibility that in certain cases insurance may be required.
The Permissibility of Purchasing Insurance – Rav Moshe Feinstein
and Rav Ovadiah Yosef

Both Rav Moshe Feinstein (Teshuvot Igrot
Moshe Orach Chaim 2:111) and Rav Ovadiah Yosef
(Teshuvot Yechaveh Daat 3:85) were asked whether or
not Halacha permits acquiring insurance, because
perhaps insurance indicates a lack of trust in Hashem. 
Both of these authorities wholeheartedly permit one to
acquire insurance.  They state that insurance is a
legitimate business venture and does not demonstrate a
lack of faith in Hashem.  Rav Moshe points out that
Hashem endowed humanity in recent generations with the
idea of establishing insurance.  Moreover, Hashem
provides the individual with the intelligent idea to purchase
insurance.  As long as we grasp that Hashem deserves
the credit for giving us these ideas, Hashem credits us
with having complete faith in Him.  This idea is expressed
in Targum Onkelos to Devarim 8:18, where the Torah
states, “And you shall remember Hashem, your God,
because He is the One Who gave you strength to make
wealth.”  Onkelos translates this Pasuk as commanding us
to recall that Hashem presented us with the idea to
acquire property.  Rav Moshe notes that we should have
faith that Hashem will provide us with the means to pay
the insurance premiums each payment period.  Rav
Moshe extends this Heteir to life, fire, theft, and car
insurance.
Rav Ovadiah Yosef (among other authorities)
cites Tosafot (Kiddushin 41a s.v. Assur LeAdam) as a
precedent to permit the purchase of insurance.  The
Gemara (ad. loc.) states that it is forbidden for a father to
marry off his daughter when she is a minor (Kiddushei
Ketanah) unless the girl is old enough to express her wish
to marry a specific individual.  Tosafot, in turn, record that
the practice among Jews in his time and area (twelfth-
thirteen century France-Germany) was to marry off their                                                             very young daughters, against the Gemara’s
recommendation.  Tosafot explain that since they live in time
of distress (apparently referring to the Crusades), they must
seize an opportunity to marry off a daughter because if one
had sufficient funds to provide a dowry, he did not know if he
would have those funds when the girl would come of age. 
Tosafot do not condemn such behavior as lacking Bitachon
(trust in Hashem); rather, they sanction this practice as a
prudent financial precaution.  Rav Ovadiah argues that
purchasing an insurance policy may be evaluated in a similar
manner.
Similarly, Rav Ovadiah cites Tosafot (Bava Metiza
70b s.v. Tashich) who adopt a lenient approach regarding
another matter due to the socioeconomic pressures of the
time.  The Gemara (ad. loc.) records that some say there is a
rabbinic prohibition to charge interest even when lending to
Nochrim under certain circumstances.  Tosafot, however, cite
Rabbeinu Tam who defends the practice of that time to lend
money to Nochrim with interest in all situations.  He argues
that since it is impossible for us to survive in business unless
we charge interest to Nochrim, we may rely on the lenient
opinions that permit such lending.  Once again, Tosafot do
not advocate simply relying on miraculous intervention to
earn an adequate living, or exhort us to bolster our faith in
God’s ability to deliver us from economic distress.  Rather,
they condone relying on lenient opinions when necessary.
Interestingly, Islamic Law, LeHavdil, forbids the
institution of life insurance.  Life insurance is illegal in Libya
and Iran.  Furthermore, an editorial appeared in the New
York Times February 23, 1853 condemning the use of life
insurance as leading to laziness.  Many Christian theologians
in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries condemned it for
similar reasons.  Rav J. David Bleich (Tradition 31:3, page
61) notes that these non-Jewish objections to life insurance
are not reflected in the rabbinic literature from the time of the
Rishonim until today.  Indeed, both Rav Moshe and Rav
Ovadiah note that common practice even among the most
pious of individuals is to purchase insurance, a further
indication of the permissibility of this venture.  He cautions,
however, that the policy should be in harmony with Halacha
and not violate the prohibition to charge interest or require an
autopsy in case of death.
Hashkafic Lessons Gleaned from Rav Moshe’s Teshuvah
We should take note of Rav Moshe Feinstein’s
assertion that Hashem has endowed mankind with the idea
of establishing insurance.  This expresses a major idea in
Torah thought – that divine revelation continues until this very
day (albeit in a subtle manner).  Indeed, on Shabbat and
Yom Tov we specifically request from Hashem such
revelation, beseeching Him to “enlighten our eyes in [His]
Torah.”  This may be understood as asking HaKadosh
Baruch Hu to provide us with novel insights (Chiddushim) in
Torah.
Moreover, Rav Moshe’s statement teaches that
such revelation is not limited to Torah matters, but also
applies to non-spiritual matters.  We seem to daven for such
revelation in the fourth Berachah of the weekday Shemoneh
Esrei in which we ask Hashem for intelligence.  Based on the
Targum Onkelos that Rav Moshe cites, we may also say that
when we pray for Parnassah (sustenance), we are not only
asking Hashem to create opportunities for us to earn money,
but also requesting an endowment of intelligence to make
the appropriate business choices.

In addition, I once cited this Teshuvah in a response to a
Talmid who asked what spiritual value lies in the study of history. 
At first, I responded that in studying Jewish History one is presented
with an opportunity to perceive the hand of Hashem preserving Am
Yisrael in its struggles throughout the millennia (see Aruch
HaShulchan (O.C. 1:10).  Subsequently I added that Rav Moshe’s
assertion about continuing divine revelation teaches that the study
of history actually is the study of the ongoing divine revelation in all
areas of life.  This is especially true according to the Ramban
(Devarim 17:15) and the Zohar (in “Berich Shemei,” which we recite
when we open the Aron HaKoshesh to remove a Sefer Torah), who
teach that Hashem controls both the appointment and actions of
leaders.
We should note, in fairness, that although the ideas
expressed in this Teshuvah may be marshaled to encourage
secular education, Rav Moshe in this Teshuvah writes that one
should prepare to earn a living only when the need presents itself.
Requirements to Purchase Insurance
Rabbinic authorities not only permit acquiring insurance,
but even require it in some cases.  For example, Teshuvot Beit
Shlomo (Choshen Mishpat 48) rules that since it is customary to
acquire insurance, one partner who pays the premium for fire
insurance may recover half the cost from the second partner.  He
cites as precedent the Mishnah (Bava Batra 7b) which states that
all residents of a town are required to contribute to the construction
of a protective wall around the town.  He reasons that insurance
costs fall under the same category as expenditures for protecting a
city. (See Rav Bleich’s essay for further sources regarding
authorities who seem to either support or disagree with the Beit
Shlomo’s ruling.)  Rav Bleich notes that “Beit Shlomo’s analogy of
insurance to the erection of fortifications for the defense of a city
certainly indicates that seeking protection against financial loss is
ideologically no different from seeking protection against
marauders.”
Communal Insurance
Rav Bleich (in the aforementioned article, pp. 62-66)
writes that the Jewish community should purchase medical and life
insurance as a group.  He cites as precedent the aforementioned
Mishnah in Bava Batra that requires all residents of a town to
contribute to the erection of a protective wall.  Rav Bleich notes that
the Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 163:1) rules that even a
minority of the residents may insist that a levy be imposed upon all
townspeople in order to raise funds for such purposes.  The Rama
comments that this rule applies to any communal need.  In addition,
he rules that townspeople may compel one another to contribute to
a fund to provide for the needs of strangers in their midst and to
provide charity for the poor.

Rav Bleich states the well-known fact that people who lack
adequate medical insurance often are denied access to first-class
medical care.  He cites studies that demonstrate that people without
proper insurance have a much higher mortality rate than those who                                       have medical insurance.  He therefore concludes, “The
community clearly has an obligation to provide for the
medical needs of the indigent.  This establishment of a fund
to defray medical expenses represents both a needed social
amenity as well as a charitable obligation, and the
community is fully empowered to levy a tax for either
purpose.”
Rav Bleich continues:
“A quite similar argument might be made for a
communal policy requiring mandatory life insurance
coverage.  Sadly, there have been cases in which a young
breadwinner has died at an early age leaving a widow and
minor children destitute.  The support of the widow and
orphans then becomes a communal burden.  The community
certainly has a charitable obligation with regard to their
support.  It also has the authority to impose a tax in order to
establish a charitable fund in anticipation of such needs.  It
would appear that the community would also have the right
to use those funds to defray the cost of a group life insurance
policy for each of its members, if for no other reason than on
the grounds that such an arrangement is cheaper, more
efficient, and more dignified than simple charity.”
It also seems that communities in which most
members are homeowners should establish communal
mortgage insurance policies.  This can avoid foreclosures in
the wake of tragic deaths of young breadwinners.
 Another consideration in favor of establishing such
policies is the extraordinary high cost of Orthodox living
outside of Israel.  Yeshiva tuition and other costs are
spiraling out of control, and the need to find innovative
solutions to the growing financial pressures is great.  Jewish
schools should purchase insurance, security, and many other
items as an organized group in order to benefit from volume
discounts.  Jewish organizations must explore ways to
purchase communal insurance policies as well as other items
in a vitally necessary effort to reduce the high costs of Jewish
living.
Conclusion
Rav Bleich writes that even if the community fails to
organize as a group to establish such insurance policies,
smaller communal groups should establish such policies. 
Synagogues and Jewish organizations must do their best to
implement these essential plans.

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