Lighting up that smoke may not be halachic

  • Smoking1
Those Batei Din that have ruled, say it is not halachic to smoke (it used to be but now that we now it ruins out bodies it is not). Many Batei Din, like our own in SA, do not rule on it but prefer to take the politically correct route and simply make no ruling. Why? Probably as so many rabbonim and congregants smoke. Rabbi Aharon Rose, previously of the Waverley shul in Joburg, says however that “smoking tobacco cigarettes is forbidden by every halachic authority I have ever heard of”. Read who, how and why this has been decided as being so…
by ANT KATZ | Jan 27, 2016

The question of whether the smoking of cigarettes is halachically allowed is a minefield and Batei Din worldwide find it difficult to issue a hetter (prohibition) to engage in this socially acceptable but self-destructive behaviour.

Rabbi Anton Klein, director of the Beth Din of Johannesburg, told Jewish Report that the Beth Din (ecumenical court) “does not have a policy” regarding smoking cigarettes.

Smoking16But Rabbi Aharon Rose, previously of the Waverley shul in Johannesburg, says that “smoking tobacco cigarettes is forbidden by every halachic authority I have ever heard of”.

RIGHT: In her youth, the archetypal Jew Barbara Streisand would not have been halachically incorrect to smoke, but today she would not...

There seem to be no issues relating to kashrut, but rather to the halacha. The Torah says, ‘you must CAREFULLY guard your soul’,” says Rabbi Rose. “Perhaps decades ago there was some confusion about how dangerous it is, but today, it is clear.”

The conventional wisdom followed the Igres Moshe (Rabbi Moses Feinstein) who, in a responsum, stated it was permitted, but inadvisable.

Feinstein wrote that since the risk of illness due to smoking is very small and it is a widespread practice, it is therefore permitted under the rabbinical principle: "The Lord protects the simple."

But that was 50 years ago, before the link between smoking and health was still doubted. Rabbi Feinstein did, however, muddy the waters as he went on to state that starting to smoke would be prohibited because of the transgression of v'lo sasuru.

Smoking16Rabbi Yehuda Spitz of Ohr Somayach says that this is not a new issue. In fact, he says, “there is abundant halachic literature dating back to seventeenth century related to the permissibility of smoking.”

LEFT: sorry, sir, while your rabbi may not say it to you, you may not smoke. He'll understand if you are an addict, even try to help you to stop, but the fact is it is against halacha...

And, he says, much of the literature relates to whether one can smoke on fasting days; whether non-kosher ingredients contained in a cigarette are of halachic concern; whether or not smoking requires a bracha (blessing) beforehand; and “debating whether smoking on Yomtov is permitted, prohibited, or actually fulfilling a mitzvah.”

Rabbi Spitz serves as the Sho’el U' Meishiv and Rosh Chabura of the Ohr Lagolah Halacha Kollel at Yeshivas Ohr Somayach in Yerushalayim.

Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan (1838–1933), known as the Chofetz Chaim ("Desirer of Life"), also sought to dissuade practitioners from smoking. He considered it a waste of time.

smoking162On June 30, 2006, however, the Vaad Halacha (Jewish law committee), sponsored by the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), ruled that the use of tobacco is forbidden to Jews, and the committee specifically cited and reversed precedents (largely the Igres Moshe) that permitted smoking.

The RCA’s eleven-page ruling (SEE PDF BELOW) said that it “should be noted that despite the numerous advances in our medical knowledge of the hazards of smoking, there remain some Orthodox communities that have even a higher rate of smoking than the general population.

“This is most disturbing in light of the fact that we are a people whose concept of the value of life is based on the words וחי בהם and who subscribe to the principle that our concern for health goes so far that even certain activities whose risks are far from obvious, are prohibited by halacha.”

The RCA said that one of the primary goals of their ruling, was “to show that given the medical knowledge of today, there is no basis in halacha to permit smoking”.

They did concede that “in the 1960s and 1970s most of the leading  פוסקים did not issue prohibitive rulings is most likely a reflection of the fact that medical knowledge was continuing to develop and its public acceptance was a gradual process”. Rav J David Bleich noted strikingly that, while given the information available in his day, Rav Moshe Feinstein certainly ruled correctly. “It must be noted, however, that there is little question that Igres Moshe’s responsum, written in 1964, accurately reflects the societal reality of that time… However, it is more than likely that, at present, that condition no longer obtains.”

The RCA ruling of 2006 concludes as follows: “Accordingly, this analysis must lead to the unambiguous conclusion that smoking is clearly and unquestionably forbidden by halacha and that this should be made known to all who care about the Torah and their health.”

The RCA felt the need for a “final note” which read: “People who smoke are not doing so in an attempt to flout halacha. In fact, most would dearly wish to quit, but shedding an addiction is no simple matter. While it is important to make clear that halacha prohibits smoking, it is also important not to condemn those who struggle with this issue. Rather we must offer our full help and support to aid them in their quest for physical and spiritual health.”


Related content on SAJR Online:

PDF COPY OF THE RCA RULING OF 2006 – download 11-page document of change in official policy in the US in PDF format for Shabbos reading, printing or sending to friends and family. This was the

BROUHAHA OVER WHETHER MARIJUANA IS KOSHER – SAJR’s story last week investigated whether smoking pot was kosher, opinions differ and the OU in the US this month issued its first hechsher


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