Yud Zayin Cheshvan, 5776
A Jewish man once committed an offense against the king and was sentenced to death. During the days leading up to his execution, he was left to languish in prison, where thoughts of his fate gave him no rest. The image of the embarrassment he would suffer and the chilul Hashem that would be caused was too much for him to bear.
The next time his son paid him a visit, he asked him to bring him some poison so he could end his life in peace rather than be killed so brutally in public. Was the son allowed to bring his father poison, thus enabling him to end his life earlier? What does the mitzvah of kibbud av entail in such an unfortunate situation?
This halachic question was publicized in a contemporary Italian Jewish newspaper, and it reached the attention of R. Matisyahu Avraham Sormani, rov of the Sephardic community in Bucharest, Romania. In a lengthy teshuvah, he concludes that the son may fulfill his father's wishes.
Among the points he brings up are as follows:
- The son is not actually feeding him the poison. All he is doing is bringing it; the decision to actually eat it is the father's. The father's subsequent death has absolutely nothing to do with his actions.
- There is also no problem of lifnei iver-causing someone else to do an issur, because in this case, the father himself is allowed to take his life. Although it is forbidden to commit suicide, to the extent that the laws of mourning do not apply to a person who does so (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Dei'ah, 345:1), a person may take his life if he is forced to do so, for example, if he will otherwise be killed in a brutal fashion (ibid., 345:3). This can be compared to Shaul Hamelech, who instructed his weapon-bearer to kill him before he would suffer a painful death in the hands of the Pelishtim (I Shmuel 31:4. See Shulchan Aruch, ibid., and Shach ad loc.). Since the father is allowed to take his life, there is no problem for the son to assist him, and in fact, he should do so to carry out his father's wishes and fulfill the mitzvah of kibud av.
R. Matisyahu ventures to say that if there is no other option (for example, if the son will not be allowed to visit again), the son may even take his father's life directly. However, he should preferably do it in a way that will not cause bleeding, to avoid the issur of bruising a parent.
Understandably, R. Matisyahu was hesitant to issue such a psak on his own. He therefore sent the teshuvah he had written to his brother-in-law, R. Rachamim Chaim Yehuda Yisrael ("Yisrael" is the family name), rov of the ancient Jewish community in the Greek island of Rhodes, and ask him for his opinion.
To be continued
Shu"t Ben Yamin, §30