Does Jewish law per­mit smok­ing?

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - JUDAISM - REUVEN HAM­MER

The an­nounce­ment by the Health Min­istry that to­bacco com­pa­nies would not be per­mit­ted to dis­trib­ute free cig­a­rettes at Meron on Lag Ba’omer was a bit of a sur­prise, since the head of that min­istry has done noth­ing to dis­cour­age smok­ing over the years.

Un­for­tu­nately, the lat­est re­port of the state comp­trol­ler gives no rea­son for re­joic­ing, since it states that the min­istry has done noth­ing to fight against smok­ing in Is­rael. On the con­trary.

There­fore, the time has come to bring this mat­ter to the fore so that steps will be taken to keep peo­ple from en­dan­ger­ing their lives need­lessly.

What is the sta­tus of smok­ing in Halacha (Jewish law)?

Although in the past some Or­tho­dox au­thor­i­ties have been re­luc­tant to for­bid it, for many years now, im­por­tant Or­tho­dox and haredi au­thor­i­ties have de­clared smok­ing to be for­bid­den by Jewish law.

In the Ma­sorti/Con­ser­va­tive move­ment, the Law Com­mit­tee of the Rab­bini­cal As­sem­bly is­sued a state­ment for­bid­ding it nearly half a cen­tury ago. Writ­ten by Rabbi Sey­mour Siegel, of blessed mem­ory, one of my out­stand­ing teach­ers, and en­dorsed by the com­mit­tee, its con­clu­sion was that Ju­daism trea­sures life and is op­posed to any­thing that de­tracts from life, so that we are for­bid­den to in­jure our­selves, as Ezekiel de­clared in the name of the Lord, “I gave them My laws and taught them My rules, by the pur­suit of which a man shall live” (Ezekiel 20:11).

When the To­rah de­clared that we are not to place a stum­bling block be­fore the blind (Leviti­cus 19:14), it was for­bid­ding in­di­vid­u­als and so­ci­ety from do­ing any­thing that would en­tice or as­sist any­one to harm him­self even in­ad­ver­tently. As Siegel wrote:

“In re­gard to smok­ing, there is lit­tle dif­fi­culty in ap­ply­ing these prin­ci­ples to the ques­tion of smok­ing. Sci­en­tific ev­i­dence has now es­tab­lished be­yond doubt that smok­ing, es­pe­cially ci­garette smok­ing, is in­ju­ri­ous to our health. It is now ev­i­dent, too, that the non­smoker can be harmed when he/she has to suf­fer the smoke of those who use to­bacco. The smok­ing habit is dirty, harm­ful, and an­ti­so­cial. It would, there­fore, fol­low that Jewish ethics and Jewish law would pro­hibit the use of cig­a­rettes. Smok­ing should, at least, be dis­cour­aged in syn­a­gogues, Jewish schools and in Jewish gath­er­ing places. The rab­binate and com­mu­nity lead­ers should dis­cour­age smok­ing. This would help us live longer and health­ier. In do­ing so, we would be ful­fill­ing our re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to God and hu­man­ity.

“The preser­va­tion of health is a mitzva. This idea is ex­pressed most con­cisely by Moses Mai­monides (1135-1204), who is con­sid­ered one of his­tory’s great­est physi­cians and one of Ju­daism’s great­est schol­ars. His le­gal code is called Yad Ha­haz­aka. In the sec­tion deal­ing with ‘Mur­der and the Guard­ing of Life,’ he writes: ‘It is a pos­i­tive com­mand­ment to re­move any stum­bling block that con­sti­tutes a dan­ger and to be on guard against it .... The Sages have pro­hib­ited many things be­cause they en­dan­ger one’s life. If one dis­re­gards any of them and says “I am only en­dan­ger­ing my­self; what busi­ness do oth­ers have [in­ter­fer­ing] with me over this?” or “I don’t care [if they are dan­ger­ous; I use them any­way],” he can be sub­jected to dis­ci­plinary flog­ging.’

“An­other clas­si­cal writer, Rabbi Moses Isser­les (1525-1572), writes: ‘...one should avoid all things that might lead to dan­ger, be­cause a dan­ger to life is stricter than a pro­hi­bi­tion. One should be more con­cerned about a pos­si­ble dan­ger to life than a pos­si­ble [vi­o­la­tion of a] pro­hi­bi­tion .... And it is pro­hib­ited to rely on a mir­a­cle or to put one’s life in dan­ger.’”

Un­for­tu­nately, the bans on smok­ing is­sued by haredi au­thor­i­ties were never en­forced or taken se­ri­ously and have had lit­tle ef­fect. A walk in Mea She’arim will demon­strate that. Stand out­side any yeshiva there, and you will see how young­sters have no in­hi­bi­tion about smok­ing. I do not have the fig­ures to prove it, but it cer­tainly seems that the per­cent­age of smok­ers there is even higher than that in the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion. Would it not be a won­der­ful thing if the yeshiva heads were to is­sue a ban and en­force it? How many lives could be saved!

The prob­lem is also acute in sec­u­lar so­ci­ety. I have ob­served all too many stu­dents out­side a sec­u­lar high school in my neigh­bor­hood – male and fe­male – who smoke. It is as­tound­ing that, when so many years have passed since it was proven be­yond any doubt that smok­ing kills, we have still not suc­ceeded in pre­vent­ing young peo­ple from start­ing to smoke.

What­ever pro­grams there are in schools, it is ob­vi­ous that they are not good enough. Cer­tainly Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Naf­tali Ben­nett, as a be­liev­ing Jew, should see to it that more ef­fec­tive ways be found to pre­vent chil­dren from em­bark­ing on such a dan­ger­ous habit.

To­bacco com­pa­nies spend bil­lions to per­suade peo­ple to harm them­selves and place them­selves in great dan­ger. They do ev­ery­thing they can to en­tice young peo­ple to be­gin to smoke, know­ing that their prod­uct is in­ten­tion­ally ad­dic­tive.

There is so much more that could be done to op­pose their crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity. For ex­am­ple, there should be a com­plete ban on ad­ver­tis­ing cig­a­rettes in any me­dia. I was dis­ap­pointed to see The Jerusalem Post carry huge ci­garette ads. Even if not against the law, they are against ev­ery eth­i­cal and re­li­gious teach­ing. Stores should not sell cig­a­rettes or, at the very least, not to any­one un­der 30. They should not be so eas­ily avail­able. Cer­tainly phar­ma­cies, whose mis­sion is to pro­mote health, should not be al­lowed to sell cig­a­rettes. Why should cig­a­rettes be al­lowed in the coun­try duty free? The gov­ern­ment should do more – up­ping the taxes to make them too ex­pen­sive. The army has un­der­taken steps to dis­cour­age smok­ing. It should also pro­vide sem­i­nars for those who want to stop smok­ing.

We have come a long way in Is­rael in chang­ing the pub­lic en­vi­ron­ment so that we no longer see smok­ing in the­aters, restau­rants, hos­pi­tals, pub­lic build­ings and buses. But we have a long way to go in elim­i­nat­ing this health haz­ard and rais­ing a new gen­er­a­tion that will not be en­ticed into a habit that kills. It is time to take the teach­ings of our tra­di­tion se­ri­ously – so that we “shall live” and not die need­lessly. ■

There should be a com­plete ban on ad­ver­tis­ing cig­a­rettes in any me­dia

The writer is a for­mer pres­i­dent of the In­ter­na­tional Rab­bini­cal As­sem­bly and a mem­ber of its Com­mit­tee on Jewish Law and Stan­dards. He is a two-time win­ner of the Jewish Book Award whose lat­est book, Akiva: Life, Leg­end, Le­gacy (JPS), has re­cently been pub­lished in He­brew by Ye­diot Press and the Schechter In­sti­tute.

(Wiki­me­dia Com­mons)

‘TO­BACCO COM­PA­NIES spend bil­lions to per­suade peo­ple to harm them­selves and place them­selves in great dan­ger.’

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