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Smoking

Rabbi David Samson17 Cheshvan 5764
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Question
Is smoking allowed according to Jewish law?
Answer
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.[1] 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.[2] A person who knowingly causes harm to his body can be punished by a Jewish Court.[3] 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.”[4] 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.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7] 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.
Rabbi David Samson is one of the leading English-speaking Torah scholars in the Religious-Zionist movement in Israel. He has co-authored four books on the writings of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kook and Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook. Rabbi Samson learned for twelve years under the tutelage of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook. He served as Rabbi of the Kehillat Dati Leumi Synagogue in Har Nof, Jerusalem, and teaches Jewish Studies at Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva Institutions.
Tzvi Fishman was a successful Hollywood screenwriter before making Aliyah to Israel in 1984. He has co-authored several Torah works with Rabbi David Samson and written several books on Jewish/Israel topics.
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