Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Smoking Cigarette: Be Careful With Halacha

The following is from Pirkei Avos פרקי אבות (translation courtesy of torah.org):

Chapter 1, Mishna 11:

"Avtalyon said: Sages, be careful with your words lest you deserve to be exiled and are exiled to a place of bad waters. The students who come after you will drink of these waters and die, and G-d's Name will be desecrated."

This teaching advises one who teaches Torah to be exceedingly careful to avoid any ambiguities in their teaching of Torah. One should be exceptionally careful not to mislead those he/she teaches. We see from the above mishna in Pirkei Avot that one who mis-teaches can have disastrous consequences on those he/she teaches that last into future generations, chas v'shalom (Heaven Forbid).

Mis-teaching a halacha, at times, can lead to physical harm, in addition to spiritual harm, chas v'shalom.

In particular, in the case of smoking we can see the following misinformation. What is particularly disconcerting about the following is that it currently (June 13, 2006) shows up as number 1 on a Google search for 'smoking Torah' out of 486,000:

On the Google search for '
smoking Torah', the following shows up on the Google page:

"Does the Torah prohibit smoking?
smoking is unhealthy and inadvisable but not forbidden."

Does the Torah prohibit smoking?
R' Moshe Feinstein contends (Igrot Moshe, Choshen Mishpat vol.2, Responsa 76) that smoking can be compared to many other unhealthy practices (such as a high cholesterol diet) that are inadvisable, but not strictly forbidden.

To their credit, the website posted my response below their answer:

Smoking in Halacha
Posted by: Anonymous on Apr 09, 2006

There are some who believe that they have a halachic (Jewish legal) right to smoke based on a 5741 ruling by Rabbi Feinstein. 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. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein's son-in-law, Rabbi Moshe Tendler said that in light of scientific evidence known today, smoking constitutes a great threat to the health of virtually all smokers. In addition, in light of the recent campaigns against smoking, the percentage of smokers continues to dwindle. Therefore, the two reasons Rabbi Feinstein provided for his ruling, 1) a small minority of smokers become sick from smoking, and 2) smoking is very common both no longer apply today. To compare smoking to unhealthy eating somewhat negates the great adverse effects of smoking. One must be careful how they answer halachic questions so as not to lead many to sin.

It is incumbent upon everyone to investigate the Jewish law based on the information present and to come to an educated conclusion based on the Torah they have seen. Often, it is recommended for one to consult a rabbi when he/she has a halachic question.


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