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Health Neglect & Cigarette Smoking in Yeshivas


Rabbi Ari Shvat

Tevet 19, 5783
Hi Rabbis. I'm sorry the question is long. I would appreciate your feedback. I’m learning in depth about the mitzvah of health and how all the big rabbis and leaders (Rambam, Chafetz Chaim -and others) both focused on guarding their own health AND spoke about this to their students and encouraged them to have a health minded lifestyle. My question is as follows: From my personal experience - I do not see this mitzvah (of guarding your health) being a priority (or even ever mentioned or implemented or encouraged at all!) in schools nor Shuls. (At least in Brooklyn, NY where I live). I’m wondering why that is??? I would appreciate any feedback on 1. This topic - health and 2. Why don’t leaders and educators in the jewish community talk about it (in schools and Shuls). 3. Why are things like smoking cigarettes kosher? Thank you.
As the saying goes: Judaism is perfect, Jews are not! Especially over the 2,000 year exile, Jews tended to neglect our physical and national health, for we were hated, "pogromed" and wandered from exile to exile, not serving in any army, fighting only with our passports, and similarly, weren't allowed in many countries to own land and farm. We had all the reasons not to be strong, and not feel good about ourselves, and all the excuses for a lack of good health. We focused on our spirits, but unfortunately neglected our bodies, for only in the Land of Israel is the physical holy, and doesn't come at the expense of the spiritual. You are totally correct, but now that we have returned to our Land, and participate in the army, sports and physical labor, the time has come to return to the original ideal Jew, as seen from all of the Tanach heroes, "a healthy soul, in a healthy body". Unfortunately, in many of the Haredi yeshivot, even in Israel, this change hasn't registered yet, for "it's hard to take the Jew out of exile, but even harder to take the exile out of the Jew". In many of those yeshivas they also don't learn biology and about health care, and don't have classes in sports and agriculture, which is just one more reason for the aforementioned tragedy. Regarding smoking, all of the modern rabbinic authorities, since the danger of cancer from cigarettes has been proven, and have now forbidden it, but some of their own yeshiva boys don't listen, for they have difficulty overcoming this desire. In general, often religious people don't change easily. In short, you are right that they are wrong, but the situation is gradually clearly improving.
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