Michael Feldstein

Insurance Talk

Chances are you’ve probably received some of the same emails that I regularly receive each week … the heartbreaking story of a yeshiva student or a young working man or woman who suddenly passed away, and a bereaved family who is trying to make ends meet because the family unfortunately had no life insurance.

The email directs you to a chessed website page, in which you can donate money to help the family.

Thank God, we live in a community where we take care of one another in times of trouble – and in most cases, the family can often raise as much as $1,000,000 from others to help support themselves.

However, it really bothers me that for about $300 a year, a 25-year-old individual could have insured his or her family from suffering such a hardship by taking out a $1,000,000 term life insurance policy.  And received the same benefit without asking thousands of people to contribute to a charity fund to assist them.

In the Modern Orthodox community, almost everyone I know signs up for a term life insurance policy when they get married. However, I have discovered that in Haredi communities, a sizable number of families are sadly uninsured.

There are two reasons for this – the first reason is related to hashkafa and the second reason is related to human nature.

The first reason (which fortunately is the reason for only a small number of people) is based on the belief that taking out life insurance casts doubt on Hashem’s power to keep us healthy, places into question our faith in God, and is an ayin harah.  I have no response to this, except to say that it contradicts every rational understanding that I have of Jewish theology – and has been debunked by every respected halachic decisor.

The second and more common reason is based on people thinking that life insurance is not an important expense.  Why should I spend money on a life insurance premium when I have so many other more immediate expenses?

The truth is that life insurance might be the least important expense you have … unless you need it, at which point it becomes the most important expense you have.  And the time you can get it easily an inexpensively is the time that you don’t need it.

Given that there are still a lot of young families in the Haredi community who are uninsured, and that it’s very difficult to change human nature, I’d like to propose a solution that would provide life insurance to thousands of young Haredi families when they get married – and avoid the need for the community to raise millions of dollars when an unexpected tragedy strikes a family.

Once a couple decides to get married, the community would gift a $1,000,000 term life insurance policy to the individual in the family earning the highest wage – and pay for the first year’s premium.

The couple would provide the insurance company with their checking account number, so that all of the premiums for future years would automatically be pulled from the account.

The idea recognizes the fact that the biggest obstacle in purchasing life insurance is the initial decision to sign up for a policy.  Gifting a couple an insurance policy means that the couple doesn’t have to think about the decision to obtain a policy.  Once a couple has the policy, the chances of them cancelling it is small.

How would the money to give these gifts be raised?  A fund could be set up in each community, in which all members of the community, regardless of age, contribute a very small amount to underwrite the project.  This fund can be supplemented by a few major donors, who might feel that it is a worthwhile project to financially protect thousands of families who otherwise might not take out a life insurance policy.

For $3 million, approximately 10,000 families can be insured for the first year against an unexpected tragedy.  And instead of the community having to shell out tzedakah money to help a dozen uninsured families who lose a loved one each year, they can put that tzedakah money to other more important projects, such as feeding the poor, healing the sick, and providing our youngsters with a Jewish education.

Wouldn’t it be nice if newly married couples do not have to think about getting an insurance policy – and would continue to be insured simply by paying a small premium each year.

Rabbi J. David Bleich, a well-respected halachic authority, is in favor of a communal fund to fund life insurance.  He said: “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.”

Granted, it’s not an easy sell to convince community members to help pay for life insurance premiums for healthy individuals.  However, if it can help avoid the need for the community to contribute towards the expenses of uninsured families who lose a loved one, I think the argument becomes more convincing.

And maybe … just maybe … we won’t be receiving those  heartbreaking emails about destitute families who have lost their breadwinner and didn’t have life insurance.

About the Author
Michael Feldstein, who lives in Stamford, CT, is the author of "Meet Me in the Middle," a collection of essays on contemporary Jewish life. His articles and letters have appeared in The Jewish Link, The Jewish Week, The Forward, and The Jewish Press. He can be reached at
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