Friday, April 07, 2006

Smoking in Jewish Law

According to the Torah, it is absolutely forbidden for one to do that which harms oneself. How much more so is it forbidden to do something which often leads to an early death. Smoking is one of those actions that causes harm to people, as scientific studies consistently show. No wonder it says on cigarette packs, "Smoking Kills".

The source for (one of) the Torah prohibitions against smoking: "ונשמרתם מאד לנפשותיכם" - "Guard your souls exceedingly" (Devarim: 4; 15)

Smoking is forbidden and those who smoke must do all that is in their power to stop. Doing an action that runs contrary to HaShem's Law (the Torah) seems to show that they view that action as supreme over the Torah. If one refuses to stop smoking (or decides to start smoking), they are, in effect worshipping the cigarette as their master. Even if they act as if HaShem is their Master in all (or almost all) other areas, they make the cigarette their master if they decide to continue smoking. Eliyahu HaNavi said (Melachim I: 18; 21) to the people that they should not "sit on the fence" but, rather, should decide if they would like to worship Ba'al (lit. master) or HaShem. The MaLBi"M explains that the people would worship Ba'al in general, and, when they were desperate for Heavenly Help, would cry out to HaShem. If one decides to worship two masters, it is a great desecration of HaShem's Holy Name.

To see another site with a lengthier discussion of smoking in Jewish law, click here. To see Rabbi Brody's page on smoking (and health), click here. Also, for a recent post about smoking and assimilation, click here.


(Note: The following quotes were translated and compiled in 'Smoking and Damage to Health in the Halachah - by Rabbi Menachem Slae.)

The following contains a sampling of Torah leaders throughout the generations who explain that one who smokes is violating the Torah.

Chofetz Chaim: "...How well do I know that people will rationalize: 'We are powerless; we are unable to break the habit!' The question is - Who caused this situation in the first place? You yourselves! Had you not gotten yourselves used to it, it would be easy for you to stop. Only you are responsible for what you have done to yourselves." (Zechor L'Miriam) "My question is: Who ever allowed you to begin smoking?... [The Rabbis in the Talmud] have ruled that one is not permitted to injure himself. This is first of all because of the mitzva, 'and be diligent in the care of your soul'. Second, the whole world belongs to the Creator, and He has created us to honor Him. In His mercy, He grants each person the strength he needs to study the Torah and achieve his goals in this world. How then can we, His servants, take the liberty of doing whatever we want to our bodies, which belong to the Creator? If a man diminishes his physical strength through smoking, he will be called to judgment for this on Judgment Day, for this was done of his own free will, and not by duress...

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein,
zt"l, in a 5741 (1981) ruling on smoking (Chosehn Mishpat 2: 18): "Those who cannot tolerate cigarette smoke are not being petty and particular; it causes them real physical discomfort and is also downright dangerous to their health. Therefore smoking is not permitted if it may cause others discomfort or damage. Even worse, those who smoke are performing an act of orally-caused tort in the damage they cause to the non-smokers by their cigarette smoke... It seems obvious that if we could take such cases to a rabbinic court (Bet Din), and if the Bet Din today were qualified to award tort payments for damages (such as those found in the Mishna), smokers would have to pay compensation for the discomfort (tza'ar) incurred, as well as for the damage to health (ripui), even if the damage were not reflected by days taken off from work."

There are some who believe that they have a
halachic (Jewish legal) right to smoke based on a 5741 ruling by Rabbi Feinstein in which he quoted the verse "G-D watches over the simple" (Psalms: 116; 6). Though on the surface, many people who justify smoking often "appear knowledgeable" about Jewish law, they, in reality, display their crude lack of knowledge of Jewish law (at least in the area of smoking) when they attempt to defend smoking. Those who use Rabbi Feinstein's 1981 legal ruling to justify smoking are taking Rabbi Feinstein's ruling out of context, failing to explain the reasons behind the ruling that allows (though discourages) smoking. Furthermore, by taking Rabbi Feinstein's ruling out of context, they transgress the great sin of bizui talmidei chachamim (shaming Torah scholars).

So, why did Rabbi Feinstein rule that smoking was permitted?

Rabbi Feinstein, in 1981, (see Choshen Mishpat: 2; 76) believed that only a small minority of people actually became sick from smoking, and "the chances of contracting cancer or other dangerous diseases is even smaller".

Since that statement, scientific studies have consistently concluded the great and widespread health-dangers directly related to smoking. Therefore, Rabbi Feinstein's reasoning behind his ruling allowing (though discouraging) smoking does not apply.

Rabbi M. Halperin: "Today, when it has been indisputably proven that smoking always causes some physical damage, and the only question is how much, Rabbi Feinstein would probably rule differently, particularly in the light of the shocking number of deaths directly attributable to smoking."

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein's son-in-law, Rabbi Moshe Tendler (not a direct quote): Rabbi Feinstein today would rule that smoking is forbidden in light of the known widespread dangers of smoking. Furthermore, in light of the campaigns opposed to smoking, smoking is no longer considered something that is "common". Therefore, the two reasons for Rabbi Feinstein's ruling permitting smoking - 1) It is not so dangerous, and 2) it is common, no longer apply. Therefore, it is dishonest, at best, for one to rely on the decision by Rabbi Feinstein to justify their smoking.

Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg: The principle, G-D watches over the simple does not apply, "for it only applies in those cases where the danger is not obvious and there is no empirical evidence of a dangerous situation. On the contrary, it applies to cases in which the majority do not suffer injury... but in this case... in the last decades, smoking has been found to cause major and serious damage in an alarmingly high proportion of smokers... Furthermore, the Rambam's ruling (in Hilchos Rotzeach 11: 5) clearly applies here: 'Many things have been prohibited by our Sages on the grounds of danger, and anyone who allows himself to transgress, saying, 'What does it matter to anyone else if I endanger myself'?', or 'I don't care what happens to me', is liable to the punishment of Makkas Mardus (lashes for rebelliously transgressing the words of the Sages).

Levush: Smoking is forbidden according to the Torah.

RaMCHa"L (Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto) who lived in the 1700's: In his discussion of the dangers of unhealthy eating and smoking said as follows: "...If one considers the many sicknesses that are able to come upon him because of his eating, and, at the very least, the heaviness that he feels after eating and the SMOKING THAT CONFUSES HIS MIND. Behold, a person would definitely not desire these things (eating unhealthily and smoking), since its "good [benefits]" are truly not good, and its bad [effects] are truly bad. And all of the pleasures in this world are similar. If one were to contemplate regarding them, he will see that even the apparent "good" one derives from them only lasts for a short time, and the bad that can come about as a result of these "pleasures" is harsh and lengthy, to the point that no one who is in control of his mental faculties would place himself [at the "mercy"] of these evil dangers [in exchange] for that little good that is profited [from the pleasure]. This is obvious. Once one accustoms himself, and constantly investigates this truth, behold, he will, little by little, free [himself] from the prison of foolishness, which the darkness of the material imprisons him, and he will not be tempted at all by the temptations of these false pleasures. Then he will be disgusted by them and he will know to only take from the world that which is necessary..." (Mesillas Yesharim - Chapter 15)

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, shilt"a: One who sells cigarettes is like a rodef (one who pursues someone with the intent to murder).


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