Smoking in Jewish law

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Halakha, is the Jewish religious-law that applies to tobacco and cigarette smoking from the early modern period to the present day. Halakha addresses three main topics: the regulation of smoking on days of special Jewish significance, the debate over prohibition of smoking, per se, with regard to individual Jews, and the general environmental concerns (e.g. second-hand smoking).

Historical background

Until the late 20th century, the use of tobacco for smoking and in the form of snuff was common among Jews. It is asserted that a Jew named Luis de Torres, who accompanied Christopher Columbus on his expedition in 1492, settled in Cuba, learned the use of tobacco, and introduced it into Europe. From this time Jews were connected with the trade in tobacco, one of the most important in early American history [1]

Ritual and other moral concerns

Tobacco encountered the early opposition of some European rabbis, who characterized tobacco smoking as "offering incense to Satan." (Source: JE) More recently, some rabbis considered smoking an improper, lightheaded activity for students (Stone 302).

Rabbis also debated the use of tobacco under traditional Jewish law, including varying aspects of its permissibility on the Sabbath, chagim (Jewish holy days), fast-days, and whether a special "smoking" berakhah (blessing) might be needed. Among the early sources are the Keneset ha-Gedolah ("Men of the Great Assembly") of Rabbi Hayyim Benveniste (1603–73) and the Magen Avraham ("Shield of Abraham") of Avraham Gombiner (1635–83). Gombiner refers to the "drinking of tabak [tobacco] through a pipe by drawing the smoke into the mouth and discharging it," and says that a smoker should first make a blessing over smoking as a type of refreshment. Believing that tobacco was soaked in beer — a source of chametz, or leaven — he bans smoking during Passover. (ib. 343). Benveniste expresses himself very forcibly against smoking tutun (tobacco) on the Ninth of Av, and reportedly excommunicated a Jew who smoked on that solemn fast-day (Keneset ha-Gedolah, to Orach Chayim, 551, 21). According to Jacobs and Eisenstein, Benveniste “points out the inconsistency of those authorities who permit smoking on holy days because it is a 'necessity,' a 'means of sustaining life,' and who allow it on fast-days because smoke has no 'substance' like food. In Benveniste's opinion, smoking should be prohibited on holy days; he quotes Rabbi Joseph Escapa as coinciding in this view, though he thought it unwise to enforce a generally accepted law.” (Source: JE)

Writing in Turkey, an Islamic country, Benveniste further argues that smoking is Chillul Hashem (a defamation of God), because Muslims refraining from smoking on fast-days would see Jews smoking on theirs (Keneset ha-Gedolah, ib. 567 [ed. Constantinople, 1729, pp. 101 et seq.]). Despite such concerns, some Jews did smoke on the Sabbath, and visited Muslim neighbors in order to smoke hookas there. Rabbinic authorities banned this practise on the grounds that Gentiles would consider Judaism as ridiculous (Alkalai, "Zekor le-Abraham," i. 142-143, Salonica, 1798). (Source: JE)

Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan (1838–1933), known as the Chofetz Chaim ("Desirer of Life"), also sought to dissuade practitioners from smoking. He considered it a waste of time, and saw the practice of people borrowing cigarettes from each other as morally questionable. (Cp. Stone (296f., 299) and Eliezer Waldenberg).

There is a custom still practiced today by Hasidic and some Haredi grooms who hand out free cigarettes to their friends at their vort (engagement). Recent rulings against smoking by great rabbis do not have seem to have stopped the tradition.[citation needed]

Specific aspects of smoking

Early modern Jewish law also addresses the Turkish narghile, or water pipe, which filters the smoke through water. Benveniste rules that the narghile violates even holy-day regulations because it may extinguish fire (which cannot be extinguished on a Jewish holy day). Gombiner forbids the naghile's use because its tobacco is analogous to the mugmar (spice incense) banned by Talmudic law. (Source: JE)

Unlike smoking, the use of snuff was allowed on the Sabbath, holy days, fast-days, and Yom Kippur (Le?e? ha-?ema?, p. 51b, Amsterdam, 1707). “Jacob ?aziz (1620-74) quotes a responsum of Isaiah Pinto permitting the use of snuff on the Sabbath, even though it cures catarrh; for everybody, even healthy people, snuff, and it can not therefore be considered a drug ("Halakot ?e?annot," No. 101), according to Jacobs and Eisenstein.

Some Jewish women also used tobacco (see Elijah of Lublin, Yad Eliyahu, responsum No. 65, Amsterdam, 1712).

The JE also cites Hebrew poetry on tobacco: “Solomon Wilder of Amsterdam composed one in acceptance of a tobacco-pipe as a birthday present (Ha-Karmel, 1862, vol. ii., No. 20). Another poem characterizes the cigar and cigarette as "the two tails of these smoking firebrands" (Isa. vii. 4; see "Ha-Bo?er Or," i. 123).”

Postmodern halakha

Concerns about smoking and health may be observed in Jewish approaches based on halakha, or Jewish law. For instance, when the link between smoking and health was still doubted, Rabbi Moses Feinstein wrote a responsum stating it was permitted, but inadvisable. Rabbi Feinstein wrote that since the risk of illness due to smoking is very small and it is a widespread practice, it is therefore permitted under the rabbinical principle: "The Lord protects the simple." However, he went on to state that starting to smoke would be prohibited because of the transgression of v'lo sasuru.[2] Being that Rabbi Feinstein wrote that the basis of his permitting smoking is the distant risk involved, it has been argued that his ruling is definitely no longer applicable.[3] Rabbi Aaron Kotler had ruled that smoking is a biblical transgression.[4] Rabbinical rulings that more recently, rabbinic responsa tend to argue that smoking is prohibited, under Jewish law, as self-harm. Responsa to prohibit (or virtually prohibit) cigarette smoking have been issued by several Orthodox rabbis, including Waldenberg, and Hayim David HaLevi, Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv) from 1973. Smoking is specifically prohibited by Solomon Freehof, other Reform rabbis, as well as rabbis in the Conservative movement in the U.S. and Israel.[citation needed]

Second-hand smoke

The early modern responsa literature shows that Jewish students smoked in their batei midrash – or study halls – and synagogues. Some rabbis sought to outlaw smoking and the use of snuff in places of worship (Pahad Yitzkhak, 9, p. 62a) and posted notices for study halls. (Ha-Maggid, 1859, vol. iii., No. 16). While smoking had been extremely prevalent in Orthodox yeshivot, rabbinic opinions have led to a major decrease in cigarette use in Israeli and (especially) American yeshivot.[citation needed]

In tandem with secular campaigns to restrict indoor tobacco-smoking as harmful to non-smokers, Orthodox rabbinical authorities began to make it virtually prohibited a priori to smoke in synagogues and study halls. Rabbi Moses Feinstein ruled against indoor smoking based on halakha covering nuisance and pollution, while most other rabbis have based a similar ruling on the halakha concerning health. In Israel, Jewish doctors and rabbis work collaboratively on anti-smoking efforts.[citation needed]

On June 30, 2006, the Vaad Halacha (Jewish law committee), sponsored by the Rabbinical Council of America, ruled that the use of tobacco is forbidden to Jews, and the committee specifically cited and reversed precedents that permitted smoking.[5]

Current-day Haredi rabbis

Famous Ashkenazi Haredi rabbis have called on people not to smoke and called smoking an 'evil habit'. These rabbis include Rabbi Yosef Sholom Eliashiv, Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Shapiro, Rabbi Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz, Rabbi Nissim Karelitz, and Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach. Rabbi Shmuel HaLevi Wosner forbade people from starting to smoke and said that those who smoke are obligated to do everything they can to stop. All of these rabbis also said that it is forbidden to smoke in a public place, where others might be bothered by it.[6]

Among important Sephardi Haredi rabbis, Rabbi Ben Tzion Abba Shaul and Rabbi Moshe Tzedaka called on youth not to start smoking.[7]

Other major Ashkenazi rabbis who explicitly forbade smoking include Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg, Rabbi Moshe Stern, and Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Sheinberg.


  1. (M. J. Kohler, in Publ. Am. Jew. Hist. Soc. x. 52) (Source: JE)
  2. Igros Moshe, Choshen Mishpat 2;76
  3. Bar Shalom, Eliyahu. "Rabbi".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. letter from his close student Rabbi Yechiel Perr, the current Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva of Far Rockaway available at
  5. "The Prohibition of Smoking in Halacha" (PDF).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. [1]; [2]; [3]
  7. [4]
———. [Letter to the editor] Tradition 17 no. 3 (1978).
———. "Survey of Recent Halakhic Literature: Smoking." Tradition 23, no. 2 (1983).
  • Etinger, Dov. Sefer Pe'er Tahat Efer: Ha-`Ishun Bi-Yeme Hol Uve-Yamim Tovim Le-or Ha-Halakhah. Yerushalayim: D. Etinger, 1988. Includes opinions by several important Orthodox rabbinic decisors.
  • Feinstein, Moses. Sefer Igrot Mosheh.
  • RCA Roundtable. (Statement by progressive Orthodox Rabbis Saul Berman, Reuven Bulka, Daniel Landes and Jeffrey Woolf.) “Proposal on smoking” (unpublished) July 1991. [5]
  • Rosner, Fred. “Cigarette Smoking in Jewish Law” Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society 4 (1982): 33-45
———. Modern Medicine and Jewish Ethics. Hoboken, N.J. New York: Ktav Pub. House; Yeshiva University Press, 1986.
  • Stone, Daniel. “Smoking in Halakhah” [Hebrew] Beit Yitzkhak 20 (1988)
  • Waldenberg, Eliezer. Tzitz Eliezer. See: Schussheim, Eli and Eliezer Waldenberg. “Should Jewish law forbid smoking?” B’Or ha’Torah 8 (1993)