UPDATE: Why Are Rabbis Less Strict On Smoking Than Mike Bloomberg?
05/25/2011 - 14:11

5/31- This JTA item caught my eye given the heavy response to my blog post on smoking:

Israeli men and women better think twice before they light up -- the government has established a separate Health Ministry unit devoted to combating the dangers of smoking.

The new legislation will strengthen the law against smoking in public places and tightly restrict the advertising and marketing of tobacco products.

It also will ban cigarette sales in automated vending machines and require the inclusion of graphic warnings on tobacco products, including photos of black lungs and stained teeth.

Taxes on cigarettes could rise dramatically following a recommendation of Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz scheduled to come before the Cabinet in 90 days.

The law also singles out teachers, who will be prohibited from smoking in educational institutions.


Given the sad fact that many American teens start smoking during visits to Israel -- where cigarettes are cheap, easy to get and popular -- and the notorious addiction of Israelis (about 20 percent smoke) this is very welcome news.


Beginning this week, you can be fined for lighting up in New York City parks and on beaches, the latest step in the city's war on smoking spearheaded by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Say what you will about the mayor, but he certainly puts his money where your mouth is, investing millions of his own philanthropic dollars in the fight against smoking worldwide and putting the city resources to work reducing second-hand smoke exposure and encouraging people to quit. Those are worthy efforts. A growing number of municipalities around the country are following suit in public spaces smoking bans, and the New England Journal of Medicine looks at the issue here.

Which makes you wonder why modern halachic Judaism, which governs so many aspects of how adherents live their lives -- some of which are very personal -- seems to largely look the other way at what common sense dictates should be a clear transgression of religious life. (Here is a good analysis of the smoking ban and halacha regarding smoking in public.)

Is it logical that eating dairy soon after meat is viewed as a bigger transgression against God than deliberately inhaling toxins into your lungs, poisoning other people around you and perhaps harming future children?

Yet it's common to see Modern Orthodox, haredi or chasidic Jews, mostly men (and particularly young yeshiva students) puffing away in public without fear of sanction, often with their own kids nearby. When I studied in Israel it was routine to see people smoking inside yeshivot and I had a few rabbis who not only smoked themselves but even shared their packs of cigarettes with students.

Though awareness of health effects and bans on public smoking have only increased in the decades since, I doubt things have changed much on a practical level. Here is some backgound on recent Jewish law and smoking.

To its credit, the Rabbinical Council of America's Vaad Halacha ruled in 2006 that "smoking is clearly and unquestionably forbidden by halacha and that this should be made known to all who care about the Torah and their health." But I wonder how enforced that judgment is. How many rabbis ban smoking anywhere on the premises of shuls and yeshivas (indoors and outdoors) or at related events, or offer resources for people who want to quit? And how many influential rabbis in other movements are silent on this issue?

"A lot of prominet rabbis and even poskim continue to smoke, so how to ban smoking has been a continual dilemma," Dr. Edward Reichman, associate professor of emergency medicine at Albert Einstein College who is also a rabbi told me.

A frequent lecturer on halacha and medical issues, Dr. Reichman believes there is no question that smoking is against halacha, but he notes that one loophole often cited is that many people live long lives while smoking without getting sick. So to some, that creates doubt about the direct cause and effect that would make smoking a sakanat nefesh, or direct threat to human life.

A group of researchers are even studying Ashkenazi Jews, some of whom smoke, to see if there is some kind of genetic insulation.

"It would be interesting in years to come if there is a genetic test to see who is immune from lung cancer," says Dr. Reichman. "But in this day and age it is indefensible to allow smoking."


Loving the sinner and hating the sin is appropriate here: As the RCA rabbis noted, "While it is important to make clear that halacha prohibits smoking, it is also important not to condemn those who struggle with this issue. Rather we must offer our full help and support to aid them in their quest for physical and spiritual health." But a rabbi doesn't have to deny aliyahs to smokers to have an impact. Private prodding and public, general reminders from the pulpit can help.

Rabbis, shuls and religious organizations could do a lot more to encourage healthier lifestyles -- more exercise, alchohol moderation, ways to cope with stress and kiddush staples that aren't loaded with fat and salt. But the best place to start would be a widespread unequivocal declaration that throwing away God-given good health in favor of a destructive vice is completely contrary to a Torah lifestyle.

Why not encourage a National Jewish Smoke-out, beginning on a Saturday night, when Sabbath observers already have a 25-hour head start?

As someone who has showed up at a weekday minyan more times in the past two months than in the previous two years, I can attest to the boost in self-discipline that comes with a religious mandate.

If being spotted buying or smoking cigarettes carried the same stigma as being seen at McDonald's or driving on Shabbat, numerous lives could be saved.

Want to quit? Check out some resources here, here and here.


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If I may provide one more example of antismoker trickery. We’ve all seen some variation of this “information”:
Acetone (nail varnish remover), Ammonia (cleaning agent), Arsenic (ant poison in the USA), Benzene (petrol fumes), Cadmium (car battery fluid), DDT (insecticide), Ethanol (anti-freeze), Formaldehyde (embalming fluid), Hydrogen Cyanide (industrial pollutant), Lead (batteries, petrol fumes), Methanol (rocket fuel), Tar (road surface tar).

This trick was suggested by Simon Chapman (an antismoker) at the Fifth World Conference on Smoking & Health (1983) while presenting his “manual of underhanded tricks & tactics”.

“A glance through any copy of the Smoking and Health Bulletin of the U S Department of Health and Human Services shows an entire indexed, section on ‘Tobacco Product Additives’ . Citations are included from patent office registrations of new chemical applications to tobacco processing and from the specialist chemical literature. Both these sources are virtually unintelligible, let alone normally accessible to the average person but are rich in potential for anyone willing to translate them into news items with popular interest . Polysyllabic chemical names should be checked through a reference book that lists common usages and toxicological data for chemicals . Look for usages that will connote revulsion or concern . For example, well known chemicals found in tobacco include cadmium (as in car batteries), ammonia (as in toilet cleaners), cyanides, formaldehyde and so on ……” (p.15)

Re: Anonymous 15:30 and “DNA damage”

A difficulty of the time is seeing through contemporary antismoking propaganda, given that it is advanced in highly technical language. But one of the tricks used is to remove smoke/smoking from any coherent context. For example, DNA damage/repair occurs thousands of times a day (from eating, drinking, running, anxiety, etc). Numerous encounters during the day will produce “damage” that is typically repaired. This is a fact of living and it is the immune system in motion.

The antismoking propaganda will remove smoke/smoking from this general context and give the impression that DNA “damage” is peculiar to smoking, it never mentions the repair function, or that this is typical bodily activity.

There are certainly long-term risks associated with smoking. However, antismoking propaganda typically goes far beyond these risks, propagating inflammatory exaggerations galore. This has occurred in every antismoking crusade. The antismoking goal is to institute smoking bans by whatever means. The antismoking credo is to never speak of smokers/smoking in any positive terms and always speak of smokers/smoking in negative terms. It can then be understood why an antismoking crusade will inevitably produce irrational fear, hatred, and social division.

Contrary to the antismoking view that there are no benefits from smoking, it will obviously surprise many that there are well-documented benefits from smoking, offsetting the risks.

There are long-known benefits of nicotine, i.e., cognitive enhancement.
And that’s just nicotine. There are also behavioral, perceptual, and psychological aspects of smoking.

For the record, antismoking is not new. It has a long, sordid history. Much of it pre-dates even the pretense of a scientific basis or the concoction of secondhand smoke “danger”.

America, in particular, should be highly sensitive to antismoking crusades. There were concurrent anti-tobacco and anti-alcohol “crusades” in early-1900s USA. These crusades led to a temporary ban on the sale of tobacco in some states and smoking restrictions in most states, and eventually Prohibition immediately following WWI. In the decade following Prohibition there was a renewed, unsuccessful attempt at a tobacco version of Prohibition.

Pushed by the Eugenics and Temperance Movements, antismoking (and anti-alcohol) was viewed as in the interests of a “healthier” society. Rather, this fake “purity” promoted irrational fear, hatred, and social division: It brought out the worst in the human disposition. Baseless, inflammatory claims were made as a matter of course by so-called “authorities” and “experts”.

The current antismoking crusade (and anti-alcohol, prescriptive diet) is a continuation of the eugenics mentality represented by physicians, biologists, statisticians, and behaviorists. Health has again been perversely reduced to only a biological phenomenon.

The fact that earlier efforts to limit alcohol and tabacco consumption might have links to the temperance and eugenics movements of a century ago does not necessarily mean that contemporary efforts regarding smoking have the same idealogical underpinning. although not defensible by traditional Judaism, let's assume for the moment that the individual has total autonomy related to decisions of health and substance consumption. The rights of the individual stop when the rights of another individual are impaired. This would include a right to health and safety. Therefore, given the known and proven damaging effects of second hand smoke, smoking in common areas, especially places where children are present, would be improper. Given that Judaism does make demands upon the individual, restrictions on smoking and excessive drinking are appropriate.

Interesting article. Thanks.

As president of Jewish Vegetarians of North America, I want to point out that the same health-related arguments against smoking can be used against eating meat.

based on the negative health effects of smoking, Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twersky wrote a wonderful article, "Thou Shalt Not Smoke." Based on it, I wrote a parallel article, "Thou Shalt Not Eat Meat." It can be found at:


It should be also considered that plant-based (vegan) diets are most consistent with Jewish mandates to treat animals with compassion, protect the environment, conserve natural resources, and help hungry people, as well as to take care of our health.

It would be nice if government and others would let people choose how they live as long as they aren't harming others. Often times it starts out as wanting to do good but often grows into much worse, particularly when it's the government. Next thing you know it'll be, "Step away from that Twinkie." Don't get me wrong, I don't smoke and wish others didn't for their health. My wife told me she read that within seconds of taking that first puff, a smoker's DNA is altered. Pretty scary stuff. Maybe the best way to get people to stop smoking is to make them aware of just what bad stuff can happen. The DNA fact sure got my attention. I've also heard that if you saw the inside of a smoker's lungs vs. non smokers it would make you sick. Information can be more powerful than controls.

I don't know where Mr. Dichter is coming from regarding Orthodox Jews and smoking. I'm an orthodox charedi Jew, attends shul daily frequents yeshivos, and it is clear policy that smoking is forbidden in all of the above. As a former smoker Iv'e given up smoking. It is clearly articulated that smoking is forbidden as being injurious to ones own health and to others. I'm personally acquainted with many Rabbis and do not know of any who smoke or sanction smoking in others.Smoking is a problem with youth but it is an aberration and some thing parents and educators are very disturbed about. Let us set the record straight.