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Down in Smoke

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Topic: Health

Smokeless in Switzerland wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

It is common knowledge that smoking endangers one's life. On the other hand "pikuach nefesh" -- saving a life -- is one of our guiding principles. I have never heard of any rabbi who banned smoking. Is there a reason why? Thank you for your answer.

Dear Smokeless,

Originally, the dangers of smoking were not fully known, and smoking was accepted. As the dangers of smoking become more and more clear, less and less observant Jews smoke.

Maimonides writes: "It is impossible to understand and to perceive the knowledge of the Creator when one is sick; therefore a person must distance himself from things destructive to the body, and to conduct himself in those things that are strengthening and therapeutic."

Most halachic authorities -- including Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan (the "Chafetz Chaim"), Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, and Rabbi E. Y. Waldenberg -- forbid smoking. Recently, Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Wosner of Bnei Barak reportedly issued a ban against smoking, adding that even if a person can't restrain himself, it is nevertheless prohibited to smoke in the vicinity of others because of the harmful effect of "secondary smoke."

As we go to press, leading rabbis in Israel including Rabbi Y. S. Elyashiv, Rabbi A.L. Steinman, Rabbi S. Auerbach, Rabbi N. Karelitz and others have issued a ban on beginning to smoke and a directive for those who smoke to gradually reduce their smoking to the goal of stopping completely. They also prohibited smoking in public places.

  • Maimonides, Hilchot De'ot 4:1
  • Chafetz Chaim, Likutei Amarim, Ch.13 (circa 1920)
  • Responsa Tzitz Eliezer

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