Is smoking allowed according to Jewish law?
This is a very fitting question for the month of Elul, whose theme is to realign one’s life with the Divine Ideal for the world on the eve of the upcoming Days of Awe. Rabbi Kook writes that the first stage in the process of teshuva (penitence) is simply getting one’s body back into shape. To reach inner peace and harmony with the world, an individual must first have a healthy body. The Rambam, who was also a physician, emphasizes the absolute necessity of physical health in the proper service of G-d. A person who knowingly causes harm to his body can be punished by a Jewish Court. Today, in our health-conscious world, the importance of physical health is something accepted by everyone. The medical establishment seems pretty united regarding the dangers of smoking. Simply stated, smoking is bad for one’s health. Therefore, someone who smokes is violating the Torah law that states: “You should be careful and exceedingly guard your life.” The first rabbi who condemned smoking was none other than the Hafetz Haim, the author of the Mishna Berurah. He writes that smoking in addition to be detrimental to one’s health, is also a waste of time that could be better spent learning Torah, a waste of money, and it leads to conversations with other smokers that abound in lashon hara. He emphasizes that since our bodies are merely on loan from G-d, they are not ours to do with as we wish. If this is the case, one can ask why do so many religious Jews smoke cigarettes. The answer is that they rely on a halachic decision of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein that allows smoking. He reasons that since the practice is so widespread, surely G-d will guard over his children. However, it must be noted that he made this ruling in 1964, before the very real dangers of cigarette smoking were known. On the other hand, the halachic authority, Rabbi Eliezar Waldenberg, vehemently disagrees with Rabbi Feinstein’s opinion, and writes that smoking is forbidden since it endangers one’s health. Therefore, with Rosh Hashana just two weeks away, let us pray that the Almighty will give us all the strength to abandon bad habits, especially to the smokers among us, that we may truly have a happy, healthy New Year. 1. Lights of Teshuva, Chapter 1. 2. Rambam, Hilchot De’ot, Chapter 4:1. Also, Mishna Torah, Foundations of Torah, 7:1. 3. Shulchan Aruch, Hoshen Mishpat, 427:9. 4. Deut. 4:9. See the Lavush on the Shulchan Aruch, cited above. 5. Likutei Amorim of the Hafetz Haim, Ch. 13. 6. Igrot Moshe, Yoreh Deah, Vol. 2:49. | 7. Tzitz Eliezer, Vol. 15:39.