Traditional law presumes that the husband is the head of the household and is, therefore, responsible for the support and maintenance of his wife and children. The laws regarding a husband’s obligations to his wife and hers to him are far more detailed than laws regarding child support. Generally, the husband retained control over the use and income from any property the wife had inherited from her father, but it did not belong to him. If, however, a wife had income of her own, she could stipulate that her husband was not responsible for her maintenance, as he otherwise would be, and she could then keep the income and use it as she wished. There is also considerable Jewish legislation in the areas of inheritance and divorce law, and it is quite multifaceted, given the changing economic and cultural situations in which Jews found themselves over the centuries. Excellent summaries of these and other related areas of Jewish law can be found in M. Elon, Jewish Law – History, Sources, Principles. (See, for example, listings for family law, child support, inheritance, divorce, etc. in the index in Volume 4.)
Today, however, in many Jewish homes, where both spouses work, own property and/or other income producing instruments, have pension or retirement funds or simply have experience and knowledge in regard to finance, that responsibility is shared, and each spouse, as an equal partner in the running of the household and/or “bread-winner,” has a say regarding income disposition and long-term investment. Similarly, in many instances Jewish spouses have pre-nuptial agreements through which they maintain control of property or equities that are sources of income for the owner spouse which that spouse can use as he/she sees fit and over which the other spouse has no control. Many families, even those with limited incomes, have money invested in a wide variety of investments. In addition, many parents make regular purchases of CDs or bonds to provide funds for the education of their children and/or support for them when they marry.
Given the wide range of financial arrangements that are available today, life insurance is not always considered to be a necessity. That reality notwithstanding, many heads of households do carry life insurance because, unlike other investments, the payout is not taxable and, when necessary, insurance policies can be relatively inexpensive and readily accessible sources of loans. In spite of the recent failures of a number of insurance companies (as well as banks, investment banks, brokerage firms and funds) many people feel that conservatively run insurance companies are more stable than other financial institutions and, therefore, prefer them for long-term family security. The common wisdom one hears from financial advisors is “diversify,” and many families view life insurance as one element in such diversification.
Taking all of the above into consideration, it would be difficult to assert that a head of household or heads of a household are obligated to carry life insurance. In this age of democracy, in which each spouse has an equal say in managing the family finances, the decisions that are made regarding how they will best secure their financial future is subject to serious study and negotiation involving both partners. If one of the spouses chooses to defer to the opinion of the other because the latter has more knowledge of finance and financial management, then that spouse is empowered to make such decisions. In either case, Jewish ethics (and common sense) would mandate that, however household financial decisions are made, heads of household are obligated to do so with the utmost care and on the basis of the best information available. The ultimate responsibility upon heads of a household is to ensure that they manage their money in such a fashion that both the short-term and long-term financial needs of the family can be met in the most secure, legal, ethical and responsible way possible.
On one hand, there is no law in the Oral Law canon that mandates life insurance. Its purchase reflects a desire for financial protection. mEduyyot 2:2 teaches that unless an act is explicitly forbidden, the act is implicitly permitted. R. Moses Feinstein regards life insurance as protection and is not a statement of a lack of faith or confidence.
The head of the household viewed children as old age insurance; children were expected to care for the mother in old age. Life insurance fills this social need. The marriage document is at its core a life insurance policy which the wife collects at her husband’s demise or at her divorce, i.e., the demise of the marriage.
For Hebrew culture, love requires tangible expression. This expression includes giving financial and emotional security for those who depend upon us.
Life insurance being a modern concept, Jewish tradition does not really have anything to say about it. However, there are laws regarding obligations of a husband toward a wife, and a parent toward his children. The ketubah, or marriage contract, was created to provide protection for a wife in case her husband dies or divorces her. It guarantees her a certain sum that she will receive in either of these eventualities. The traditional amount was 200 zuzim for a wife who was a virgin before her marriage, and 100 zuzim for a woman who had been married before. One could look upon this as a type of insurance for the wife, so that she would not be left in penury if widowed or divorced. Parents similarly have certain obligations toward their children, including circumcising sons, teaching a child Torah, seeing that the child is married, and teaching a child a trade so that the child will have economic security in adulthood. Some also add teaching a child to swim. No where is it explicitly stated that a parent must provide financial support for his children, but one can infer that this responsibility did not need to be stated, it was assumed. One could further extrapolate from this that a parent is obligated to provide for his children in the case he dies before the children are grown, which would argue for an obligation to carry life insurance. In short, while there is no explicit requirement, it certainly can be seen to fall under the general category of spousal and parental responsibilities to carry life insurance, for as long as necessary to ensure the economic stability of the family.
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