Monday, 3 March 2014

Is Tobacco Smoking Kosher?

In 1976, in light of Medical findings that cigarette smoking cause harm, the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, Rabbi Hayim David Halevy, declared tobacco smoking to be a violation of Jewish law. His prohibition on smoking was widely publicized in newspapers in Israel and the United States. He then wrote a formal responsum on the topic in his Aseh lecha Rav (vol. 2 pp9-13).

In short his reasons for forbidding smoking are:

  • The Torah mentions (Devarim 4:9 and 4:15) "Just beware and watch yourself very well" and "you shall watch yourselves very well". Which the gemara (Berachot 32b) learns that we have a responsibility to look after our physical health.
  • The Rambam writes (Hilchot Rotzeach 11:4) "It is a positive mitzvah to remove any obstacle that could pose a danger to life, and to be very careful regarding these matters, as Devarim 4:9 states: "Beware for yourself; and guard your soul." If a person leaves a dangerous obstacle and does not remove it, he negates the observance of a positive commandment, and violates the negative commandment: "Do not cause blood to be spilled."
  • The Rambam also adds (Hilchot De'ot 4:1) "Since maintaining a healthy and sound body is among the ways of God - for one cannot understand or have any knowledge of the Creator, if he is ill - therefore, he must avoid that which harms the body and accustom himself to that which is healthful and helps the body become stronger."
Rabbi Halevy then concludes based on the medical knowledge at hand and the words of the Torah and Rambam (who was a doctor himself) it is clear that it is forbidden to smoke and it is an obligation of every person to guard their physical health in order to serve his God with all his abilities and therefore everyone must withhold from smoking.

It should be noted that at the time of Rabbi Halevy's writing his responsum other rabbis permitted smoking included among these were Rav Moshe Feinstein although he did write it was                                                           not recommended! 

The Hafetz Haim (1838-1933) sought to dissuade smokers for another reason. He considered it a waste of time, and saw the practice of people borrowing cigarettes from each other as morally questionable!

Today, all of the great rabbis have come to a consensus that universally smoking is bad for one's health and so would therefore be forbidden in Jewish law. Indeed in June 30, 2006, the Vaad Halacha (Jewish law committee), sponsored by the Rabbinical Council of America, ruled that the use of tobacco is forbidden to Jews, and the committee specifically cited and reversed precedents that permitted smoking.


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