engaging in socially acceptable self destructive behaviour
The Prohibition to Smoke
Smoking tobacco was not recognised as a health hazard by the early halachic authorities. They were concerned with other questions: perhaps one should make a BeRacha just as one makes a blessing before enjoying edible pleasures that are provided by The Almighty. In fact the terminology used to describe smoking was “drinking tobacco”. The other question concerned Yom Tov.
We may ignite a match on Yom Tov by inserting it in a flame but not by striking it. One may increase fire on Yom Tov for cooking and bathing but may one similarly use fire to smoke tobacco? The Torah (Shemot 12:16) permits Havara (extending a fire) on Yom Tov, although Chazal (see Biur Halacha 502:1 s.v. Ein) forbid creating fire on Yom Tov. Thus it has become common practice to have a long burning candle [these days many just use a pilot flame although they are becoming extinct] lit before Yom Tov from which one may extend fires as required on Yom Tov.
Yom Tov Fire Must Enhance Our Yom Tov Pleasure
However, even when using such a flame, only fires that enhance our Yom Tov pleasure may be lit. This pleasure is measured on a national level, not an individual’s personal scale. Thus we may not burn incense on Yom Tov (Beitza 22b and Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 511:4) because it is not “Shaveh LeChol Nefesh”, something that the broad community indulges in.
Poskim debated whether smoking is considered Shaveh LeChol Nefesh.
Rav Simcha Bunim Cohen (The Laws of Yom Tov p. 106 footnote 1) argues that today it should be forbidden to smoke since smoking is no longer a broadly accepted practice. He also cites (page 108 footnote 3) Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Teshuvot Minchat Shlomo 2:58:6) and Rav Shalom Yosef Elyashiv (cited in Sefer Hazikaron Mevakshei Torah 1:264) as ruling that today it is forbidden to smoke on Yom Tov as does Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg (in a responsum printed in Pe’eir Tachat Eifer p. 52). However, Rav Moshe Feinstien in Teshuvot Igrot Moshe (O.C. 5:34) states that one can not ignore the fact that many millions of people throughout the world do smoke.
Avoiding Danger Year-Round
VeNishMartem MeOd LeNafShoSeichem
The question that the Halachic authorities are dealing with today is whether one may begin the habit of smoking and if one has already started this habit whether one is obligated and to what extent must one invest time and money to kick the habit.
Rav Moshe Shternbuch (Teshuvot VeHanhagot 1:316) says that it is ridiculous to rely on doctors’ opinions when requiring expert opinion in order to determine Halachic rulings (such as eating on Yom Kippur) but ignore their opinions in other matters such as smoking [and maintaining a healthy weight]. No Poskim would have ever permitted smoking had they been aware of the medical facts that we know today.
Halacha demands that we refrain from dangerous and unhealthy activities; Devarim 4:15, VeNishMarTem MeOd LeNafShoSeiChem, one must be exceedingly careful to protect life and well-being. (see Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society Fall 2001, article by Dr. Shalom Buchbinder and Dr. James Dipoce.
RaMBaM a Little Vague
The RaMBaM (Hilchost Rotzeiach Ushemiras HaNefesh 11:5) writes that Chazal prohibited engaging in activities that are dangerous. He also writes (Hilchos Deios 4:1) that one must avoid eating foods or engaging in activities that injure or weaken the body. His language and style in each of these Halachos is quite different suggesting that some matters are strictly forbidden, whilst others are only discouraged but not forbidden. Rav Waldenberg explains that the activities mentioned in Hilchos Rotzeiach Ushemiras HaNefesh are absolute dangers whilst those mentioned in Hilchos Dei’os are unhealthy but not dangerous.
How Dangerous Need It Be?
Is smoking to be considered an absolute danger or just unhealthy? This question certainly requires information from experts in the medical field; nevertheless evaluating its significance in the Halacha’s eyes must be calculated by Halachic experts. The Gemara (Shabbat 129b, Yevamot 12b, and Niddah 31b) suggests about certain risky activities, “Since the multitudes have already trodden upon this matter, then [we apply the Pasuk, Tehillim 116:6] ‘Hashem protects the foolish.’” Rav Moshe Tendler (Beit Yitzchak 15:71) explains this Gemara as teaching that the Halacha defines the parameters of acceptable risky activities by what the members of a society accept as reasonable. This is a subjective and variable standard. For example competitive race skiing or bungy jumping at one end and not crossing the road at a pedestrian crossing or speeding at the other. Also, what is acceptable today may not be acceptable tomorrow and what is acceptable here may not be acceptable over there.
Since Halacha permits activities that members of the society accept as a tolerable risk, therefore Chelkat Yaakov (Choshen Mishpat 31 in the new edition) rules that one may travel in an airplane or car. Obviously this is the case as we have special blessings to be made, HaGomel, for those who have crossed the sea or a wilderness and it would be strange to say that this blessing is to be made for having transgressed G-d’s command. But we do not know at what point of poor maintenance it would be prohibited. If the Ukranian airlines have a poor safety record will it be permitted for Ukranians to use those services but prohibited for Australians, Americans and Europeans? [see Rav J. David Bleich’s discussion of hazardous medical procedures (Tradition Fall 2003 pp. 76-100) and Rav Shlomo Cohen-Duras’s discussion of hazardous sporting activities (Techumin 22:120-126)]
Is smoking socially accepted and therefore we may legitimately apply the principle that “Hashem protects the fools”, or perhaps we are witnessing a distortion of the society, a consequence of advertising and addiction?
Hashem Preserves the Fools – When Does it Apply?
Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky (Teshuvot Achiezer 1:23) applies this guideline only when the danger is minimal and disaster rarely occurs. [it is impossible to accurately rate and evaluate such values] Rav Aharon Soloveitchik (in a Shiur delivered at Yeshiva University in 1986) maintains therefore that airplane travel is acceptable but cigarette smoking is forbidden because of its significant dangers.
The Gemara (Bava Metzia 112b) notes without criticism that people risk their lives and work high up in trees in order to earn a living. Is the need to earn a livelihood a mitigating factor? Were the dangers in those times such that those risks were just part of the norm? Would such risks be tolerated if done merely for recreation? Rav Yechezkel Landau (Teshuvot Nodah B’Yehudah 2: Yoreh De’ah 10) permits hunting animals to earn a living but forbids recreational hunting.
Rav Yaakov Ettlinger (Teshuvot Binyan Tzion 1:137, in the nineteenth century) explores the permissibility of embarking on a sea voyage or a journey across a desert. He distinguishes between an immediate danger and a long-term danger. Immediate danger is prohibited in all situations. Future danger may be ignored if it can reasonably be expected to cause no harm. It is likely that such risk is tolerated only if for the purpose of earning a living or other great need. This in fact is a reflection anyway of what goes on in society.
Application to Smoking
Rav Moshe Feinstein (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe Choshen Mishpat 2:76) writes (in 1981) that smoking should be discouraged, as should all other unhealthy habits, as the Rambam states in the fourth chapter of Hilchos DeiOs. Smoking cannot be forbidden since only a minority of smokers are afflicted with related health problems. In such circumstances “Hashem protects the fools” applies.
Rav Moshe’s ruling seems to no longer apply, as research now indicates that a majority of smokers suffer related ill effects. Dr. Jeffrey Berman, an Orthodox physician who is an expert on recovery from addiction (including smoking) at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical Centre in New Jersey, reports that a staggering eighty-five percent of smokers will suffer health problems as a result of their habit.
Rav Moshe’s student Rav Efraim Greenblatt (Teshuvot Rivevot Efraim 8:586, printed in 1998) observes that although society accepts smoking, it no longer regards it a tolerable risk as is seen by the banning of smoking in various public venues.
Rav Greenblatt argues that smoking is a suicidal act and is prohibited. [one wonders why being seriously overweight is not classified in the same way] Rav Chaim David Halevi (Teshuvot Asei Lecha Rav 3:18) calls it “slow suicide.” Rav Greenblatt offers, “Smoking is definitely forbidden and there is no justifying it. I have spoken to Gedolim and Poskim who agree with my conclusion.” Rav Avigdor Neventzhal writes (Asyah 5:261) that we cannot apply the “HaShem protects the fools” principle in a situation where we clearly witness that HaShem is not protecting them. [probably because smoking makes them sinners and not fools]
The Shulchan Aruch (C.M. 427:10) rules that we punish [lash] those who endanger themselves and argue, “Why should others care if I do not care?” We do not accept the selfish perspective that, “It is my body and I can do as I please with it.” We declare in Selichot, “HaNeshama Lach VeHaguf Pa’olach,” our souls and bodies belong to Hashem. The Chafetz Chaim declares that a patient is obligated by Torah to obey the doctor’s orders, “How may a slave choose to do as he pleases; he belongs to his Master.”
The Bei’er HaGolah writes (C.M. 427:10) that those who endanger their lives spurn the will of our Creator by implying that they do not wish to serve Him and be rewarded by Him. There is no greater denigration of and disregard for our Maker.
Rav Moshe Feinstein
Rav Moshe Feinstien maintains that it is forbidden to begin smoking. It is forbidden to habituate oneself to worldly pleasures. In responsum (Igros Moshe Yoreh Deah 3:35), he rules that it is forbidden to smoke marijuana or use other (illegal) drugs. He says that we can learn from the Halacha of a Ben Sorer UMoreh (see Devarim 21:18-21) that one is to be punished for developing frivolous worldly desires. (see Sanhedrin 68b) and this is supported by the Sefer Yereim (in his discussion of Ben Sorer UMoreh).
Rav Eliezer Waldenburg (Teshuvot Tzitz Eliezer 15:39), Rav Chaim David Halevi (Teshuvot Asei Lecha Rav 2:1,3:18, and 9:28-29), Rav Avigdor Neventzahl (Asyah 5:261), Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, Rav Hershel Schachter, Rav Gedalia Schwartz, Rav Aharon Soloveitichik and Rav Efraim Greenblatt (one of Rav Moshe Feinstein’s leading Talmidim - Teshuvot Rivevot Efraim 8:586) all prohibit smoking. Three major Israeli Halachic authorities- - have written that smoking is prohibited.
Additionally, Rav Ovadia Yosef has concluded that it is prohibited to smoke (Halichot Olam 1:265-266, published in 1998). This contrasts with Rav Ovadya’s earlier writings (such as Teshuvot Yechave Daat 5:39, published in 1983) in which he states that it is preferable to refrain from smoking due to the health hazards involved. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Teshuvot Minchat Shlomo 2:58:6) writes, “I have never joined those who believe that it remains permissible to smoke [on any day] in our times.” Finally, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe Choshen Mishpat 2:76) writes (in 1981) that it is forbidden to begin the habit of smoking. Thus, according to Rav Feinstein, it is forbidden for one to smoke.
Is O’Ness (Duress) an Excuse?
Many smokers seek to excuse their behaviour by stating that they are Anusim, coerced to smoke, since it is so difficult to free oneself from this addictive habit. In general, the Halacha excuses one from sins committed under duress (see Devarim 22:26 and Keubot 3a). The question is: are social pressures and advertising forcing people to begin smoking?
It is forbidden to place oneself in situations where it is likely to lead to circumstances where one will be compelled to violate Halacha. The Baal Hamaor (Shabbos 7a of the Rif) writes that one is forbidden to deliberately put himself into a situation where he will be forced to desecrate Shabbat for the purpose of saving a life. Based on this assertion of the Baal Hamaor, Rav Moshe Feinstein forbids one from choosing to have elective surgery.
The Rambam (Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 5:4) condemns those who choose to remain in positions in which they will be coerced to violate the Torah. The Gra explains in the siddur, the section of the Yom Kippur Vidui (confessional) in which we confess the sins that we committed BeOness – under coercion, as referring to cases where a person could have foreseen these consequences. For further discussion of the prohibition to willingly enter a situation where one will be coerced to sin, see Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik’s responsum regarding the propriety of rabbis volunteering to serve as chaplains in the United States armed forces (Community, Covenant, and Commitment pp. 23-67).
Regarding Gittin (Shulchan Aruch Even HaEzer 134:4, and see Pischei Teshuva E.H. 50:8) we rule that despite the fact that a husband can not be coerced to give his wife a Gett the Rama rules that a husband can be coerced to fulfil a commitment, thereby giving her the Gett. Halacha regards his giving the Gett as voluntary because it is a function of his commitment which was made willingly [Taz (134:6)] The Biur HaGra (134:14) cites Bava Basra 47b as the Talmudic source for the Rama’s ruling. Similarly for smokers, they cannot claim they are coerced to smoke, since they initially chose to smoke. Today particularly, there are many medicines programmes and therapies to help quit this deadly habit.
Honouring a Parent
Rav Chaim David Halevi (Teshuvot Aseih Lecha Rav 6:58 and 7:65) was asked whether one must honour his father’s request to purchase cigarettes. Normally, the Halacha requires one to fulfil a parent’s request for service (Kiddushin 31b). On the other hand, one is not required to follow a parent’s order to violate Halacha (Bava Metzia 32a).
The Beit Lechem Yehuda (commenting on Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 240:15) discusses the following: doctors ordered that someone drink no water nor eat a certain food. That fellow insisted that his son bring him those foods. Based on Bava Metzia 32a, he rules that the son is obligated to disobey his father. Rav Chaim David Halevi explains that it is forbidden to assist another to sin (“Lifnei Iveir Lo Sitein Michshol” [Vayikra 19:14]) and bringing unhealthy foods or assisting others to engage in unhealthy or dangerous activities violates that prohibition. This includes purchasing or offering cigarettes.
Our Rabbinic Predecessors
In general, the Halacha frowns upon calling into question the Halachic practices of earlier generations (Motzi Laaz, see Gittin 5b). Indeed, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe Y.D. 2:49) writes (in 1964) that we cannot pronounce that smoking is technically forbidden since great Torah scholars of previous generations smoked.
There are a number of responses to this argument. First, the Pischei Teshuva (E.H. 125:12) cites opinions that qualify this guideline. It applies only when we seek to introduce a mere stringency (Chumrah BeAlma) which will reflect badly on our earlier generations. It does not apply when we are concerned with critical Halachic considerations. Also it may apply only to matters of family law (Ishut) that are particularly sensitive, such as calling into question the validity of Gittin executed by prior generations.
Furthermore, it is not a matter of disgrace that in earlier times they did not have the information that we have today.
Poor Example a Chillul Hashem
Rav Chaim David Halevi (Teshuvot Asei Lecha Rav 3:18) advances another argument to forbid smoking. He writes, “In enlightened countries, smoking is banned in public places, commercial advertisements of smoking are banned, and manufacturers of cigarettes are compelled to print health warnings on every pack of cigarettes. Should we, whose holy Torah is a ‘Torat Chaim’ (a life giving Torah) lag behind?”
In a number of places, the Torah presents us with the mission of serving as a role model for other nations (see Shemot 19:6, Seforno’s comments ad. loc., and Devarim 4:6). Indeed, part of every Jew’s role is to emulate the Kiddush Hashem created by Avraham Avinu who is referred to by his Hittite neighbors as “a prince of God amongst us (Bereishit 23:6).” It seems that Chazal regard a Chillul Hashem as such a major infraction (see, for example, Rambam Hilchos Teshuva 1:4) because setting a positive example for others is at the core of the mission of the Jewish People.
Accordingly, the sight of an observant Jew smoking in our time appears to constitute a Chillul Hashem. The sight of an observant Jew smoking does not create the impression of “knowledge and wisdom in the eyes of the nations.”
The problem today seems to be that we are uncomfortable condemning smoking when it is publicly practiced by prominent orthodox members of our community.
The Rama (Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 116:5) writes, “One must avoid dangerous activities because we treat danger even more seriously than Issurim (forbidden behaviors, see Chullin 9b). We must be more concerned about possible danger than about possible violations of Issurim.”