Category Archives: Margolioth, Ephraim Zalman


from Bet Efrayim


Ephraim Zalman Margolioth, a Galician rabbi, was the author of many commentaries esteemed as authoritative within the Jewish tradition. He was born in Brody, Poland, Dec. 19, 1762, and began to distinguish himself as a Talmudic scholar at a young age. Before the age of 20, Margolioth was corresponding with the foremost scholars of Talmudic thought; in 1785, he was a appointed a rabbi of Brody. He eventually became head of his own yeshivah, or Talmudic academy, and mentored many pupils to their appointment as rabbis.

Among Margolioth’s many works is his collected responsa, Bet Efrayim (2 vols., 1809–10), including a commentary on the Yoreh De’ah. In its short passage concerning suicide, Margolioth makes several important points. First, in a discussion of the rites associated with suicides, he maintains that self-killing may constitute an act of repentance, in which case suicide is permitted. Second, he argues that Saul’s suicide [q.v., under Hebrew Bible] was licit because Saul, by killing himself, avoided a mocking death by torture at the hands of the Philistines and because it was prophesied that Saul would soon die. Margolioth also cites other sources that excuse suicides which result from indigence or grief and do not subject them to the law of suicides described in the Talmud [q.v. under Babylonian Talmud]. He appears to second the view that he cites from the Besamim Rosh that a “suicide is [only] someone who despises God’s good like the philosophers” and not someone with a good reason to despair.

Ephraim Zalman Margolioth, Bet Efrayim YD, 76, tr. Baruch Brody.


Since he did not say first, how do we know that he did it from spite. Perhaps he did it as an act of repentance, and all who commit suicide as an act of repentance have done a permissible act… We also find in Besamim Rosh, that was recently printed, that a suicide is someone who despises God’s good like the philosophers, but someone who says that my life is a burden on me because of my poverty is not a suicide. It is true that his proof from Saul is no proof, as Nachmanides and the other commentators explain. Saul knew that he was going to die because of the prophecy of Samuel, who told him that he and his sons would die. For a short period of time alone, it [killing oneself] is permitted, so that he would not be mocked. Nevertheless, he may be right… We certainly find in the Talmud many who committed suicide out of anguish. As in the case of the woman with her seven sons… It is implausible to say about her that she was afraid that she would be forced to sin, as Tosafot says about the children who jumped into the sea.

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