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August 24, 2005


Ron Citro

Very interested in this topic, look forward to more.
A friend of mine recently told me that he asked an Orthodox man who was standing nearby enjoying a cigarette why it was halachically permitted to smoke, and the reply: The torah is not supposed to be hard (said as he extinguished his cigarette).
Of course, drinking hard liquor and overeating are prevalent in the Orthodox world and are also self endangerment issues, and people do know better and are embarassed if attention is called to it.
At my shul, there is a group of 20 somethings who call themselves the kiddish club and meet regularly during musaf to have some scotch. If I am standing there and hear their l'chayim (to life), I usually think to myself l'mavet (to death). Perhaps I am right about the physiological consequence of heavy drinking, but they are right about the social consequence. I am guily of separating myself from the group (tsibur), which is not a Jewish thing to do. The good effects of alcohol consumption are more proximate than the harmful ones, and alcohol consumption is halachically permitted. Perhaps the same logic applies to smoking, a habit which is difficult to kick as much for the loss of social ties with other smokers as for the nicotine withdrawl.

Perhaps this is what the Orthodox smoker in the aforementioned story meant by "hard" -- individual Jews are not expected to separate from the tsibur. If the halachic process were to somehow able to come out with a ruling that it was asur to smoke then I am sure all of a sudden people would throw away their cigarettes. But, as you mentioned, the halacha is concerned about the reputations of rabbis, many who smoked, and, I would add, the reputation of halacha.


Ron, you are right to be concerned about alcohol. While some drinking is permitted, some Orthodox Rabbis justly oppose excessive drinking on halakhic grounds.

While I mention the concern with the reputation of rabbis and of halakhah, I did not mean to imply that smoking is permitted. Indeed, I think the practice of smoking is basically asur (prohibited). Hopefully, I'll explain this in the follow-up post(s).

You'll do a world of good by staying close to your tsibur (community) and lightly guiding the 20 somethings to healthier socializing.

Take care, good shabbes,


Yaakov Menken


Since you recently commented on C-C, I thought to return the favor -- especially as I have previously discussed this very topic.

In 1963, the dangers of smoking were hardly well-established, even among doctors. I can explain how I know this, if necessary, but it's true.

Here is the first half of the last paragraph of Igros Moshe ChM 2:76: But certainly it is appropriate for any man, especially bnei Torah, not to smoke since there is a risk of danger, and there is no benefit, and [not] even pleasure to those who are not accustomed to it. And as a result, certainly one should not accustom himself in this, and a person should not let his young sons accustom themselves to it even if he himself is accustomed.

The "defense" of Reb Moshe, assuming such were necessary, is rather simple: "who is wise? He who perceives the future." If he had prohibited smoking entirely, it would have been honored in the breach -- people truly addicted to smoking are not able to stop immediately even when a doctor tells them that they are in imminent danger, so why would any reasonable person imagine that even bnei Torah would exhibit superhuman strength, en masse?

Rather, he said that even those accustomed to smoking should not allow their sons to smoke. And within one generation, smoking in the American charedi community went from ubiquitous to rare -- a far more precipitous decline than that in secular society, despite the medical evidence.

There's simply no [logical] grounds for criticism, at least from what I can see.


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