Is Va­p­ing Kosher? De­pends on Who You Ask.

Forward Magazine - - Foreground - By Ari Feld­man

Walk into Drop Juice, an e-cig­a­rette store in Brook­lyn, and you’ll hear cus­tomers ask­ing the nor­mal ques­tions about va­por, oils and bat­tery packs — in Yid­dish. The store is lo­cated next to a yeshiva in one of Wil­liams­burg’s ul­tra-Ortho­dox sec­tions.

Vir­tu­ally of its cus­tomers are Ha­sidic, ac­cord­ing to Moses, the man­ager.

They buy his prod­ucts, Moses said, as a way to wean them­selves off cig­a­rettes, some­times cut­ting their in­take from two packs a day to the equiv­a­lent of three or four smokes to­tal. One cus­tomer told Moses that af­ter climb­ing the seven flights of stairs to his apart­ment he used to sit on the couch for ten min­utes.

“Now, he walks up with a smile,” said Moses, who de­clined to give his last name.

Since e-cig­a­rettes, in­vented in China in 2003, went on the U.S. mar­ket in 2004, their use has in­creased “ex­po­nen­tially” ac­cord­ing to the New York Academy of Sci­ences. Their big­gest fans are teenagers. They also have a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing health­ier than to­bacco, but the science on that isn’t set­tled. Amid con­cerns from med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als, some rab­bis are telling their flocks not to vape.

“At this point, we should treat va­p­ing ex­actly the same as smok­ing,” said Sh­muly Yan­klowitz, a Mod­ern Ortho­dox rabbi based in Phoenix, Ari­zona. “There are few sub­stances that would be for­bid­den [by Jewish law] from any con­sump­tion, but I think this is one.”

E-cig­a­rettes are small de­vices that turn oil in­fused with nico­tine and ar­ti­fi­cial fla­vor­ings into va­por. Young peo­ple like them be­cause they come in sweet fla­vors like mango or bub­blegum. In a given month, one in six Amer­i­can teenagers have used an e-cig­a­rette, ac­cord­ing to a re­port by the U.S. Sur­geon Gen­eral.

In­deed, va­p­ing is a “new teen threat,” warned Rabbi Maury Grebe­nau, prin­ci­pal of the Yavneh Academy of Dal­las, in a De­cem­ber blog post. He warned Jewish par­ents against think­ing that be­cause their chil­dren live in a tight-knit Jewish com­mu­nity, they wouldn’t

wouldn’t use e-cig­a­rettes.

Rab­bis have long dis­agreed on whether smok­ing is kosher. Some cite dec­la­ra­tions about the im­por­tance of be­ing healthy made by rab­bis in the Tal­mud. Mai­monides wrote that it was a com­mand­ment to re­move any “bar­ri­ers” be­tween one­self and per­fect health. Oth­ers say that since smok­ing rarely puts you in im­me­di­ate dan­ger, it is al­lowed.

The Con­ser­va­tive move­ment has been of­fi­cially against smok­ing for nearly thirty years. In the early 1990s, its as­so­ci­a­tion of rab­bis, the Rab­bini­cal As­sem­bly, re­leased an opin­ion con­demn­ing the con­sump­tion of to­bacco.

“Smok­ing should, at least, be dis­cour­aged in syn­a­gogues, Jewish schools and in Jewish gath­er­ing places,” wrote Rabbi Sey­mour Siegel. “The rab­binate and com­mu­nity lead­ers should dis­cour­age smok­ing.”

Yan­klowitz re­cently posted his opin­ion on the ha­lacha, or Jewish law, of va­p­ing. He ar­gues that the over­whelm­ing opin­ion of lead­ing rab­bis is that smok­ing is bad. Be­cause we don’t know how bad va­p­ing is com­pared to smok­ing, he writes, we should as­sume it is just as bad.

“We should be scar­ing peo­ple to not smoke,” Yan­klowitz wrote.

Rabbi Aryeh Liebowitz, an Ortho­dox rabbi and teacher, took a slightly more le­nient view in a 2015 episode from his pod­cast about ha­lacha. He put it some­where be­tween donuts and smok­ing — bad for you, but per­mit­ted.

Liebowitz said there are other is­sues to con­sider, how­ever. Does the flavored va­p­ing oil have to have to be cer­ti­fied kosher by a rabbi? (De­pends on whether you con­sider the va­por to be food.) Is it kosher for Passover? (De­pends on whether a dog would eat it.) Can you vape on a fast day? (Only if you’re re­ally ad­dicted.)

“Again, the over­all com­ment is, this is not a good habit,” Liebowitz said. “It’s gen­er­ally a bad idea to in­gest poi­son in any form.”

E-cig­a­rette use has be­come a pub­lic health is­sue in Is­rael as well, where to­bacco con­sump­tion is on the rise. A study pub­lished in 2017 found that 23% of the pop­u­la­tion smokes, up from around 19% in 2015.

How­ever, ul­tra-Ortho­dox lead­ers in Is­rael have re­cently op­posed in­creas­ing taxes on cig­a­rettes and putting warn­ings on to­bacco con­tain­ers. Yaakov Litz­man, Is­rael’s Health Min­is­ter and a mem­ber of the United To­rah Ju­daism party, has called such warn­ings “not aes­thetic.”

Moses, of Drop Smoke, says he doesn’t see that many Ha­sidic teenagers us­ing e-cig­a­rettes on the street, and that he would never sell prod­ucts to any­one un­der 21. He in­sists that va­p­ing is a use­ful way to quit smok­ing. He added that his cus­tomers feel sup­ported in their habits by their rab­bis.

Moses said that “a nice per­cent­age” of his clients even­tu­ally wean them­selves off nico­tine com­pletely.

“They’re not cus­tomers any­more, but they’re good ad­ver­tise­ments,” Moses said. “So it goes both ways.” Con­tact Ari Feld­man at feld­man@for­ward.com or on Twit­ter @ae­feld­man

‘It’s gen­er­ally a bad idea to in­gest poi­son in any form.’

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