|The information below, examining a Jewish perspective
on smoking, was written and published and made public sometime before
Since that time much more has been discovered and disclosed about
the harmful effects of tobacco.
Today Cigarettes and tobacco products remain the only legal
product which will adversely affect your health (and possibly kill you)
when used as directed.
(Some of the transliterated Hebrew terms may be difficult for the
average layman. We hope to have a linked glossary of terms
sometime in the future.)
5625 Arlington Avenue
Riverdale, New York 10471
PROPOSAL ON SMOKING
Rabbi Jeffrey R. Woolf
Rabbi Reuven Bulka
Rabbi Saul J. Berman
Rabbi Daniel Landes
II. Passive Smoke (ETS)
III. Active Smoking
1) Since it is an established fact that all tobacco smoke constitutes a definite and immediate danger to one's health, such activity is in violation of the Torah's injunction against harming oneself.
2) Since scientific research has shown passive smoking by those in the presence of non-smokers to be equally dangerous, it constitutes a public danger and assault
(Habalah). Therefore smoking must be banned in all public arenas such as synagogues, schools, mikva'ot and all public functions.
3) Those who choose to continue smoking rely on shomer peta'im
hashem: In light of contemporary medical knowledge, this idea no longer obtains.
Over the course of the past twenty-five years, it has become increasingly clear that the smoking (or
ingesting) of tobacco, constitutes a serious, inevitable danger to the user. The ingesting of tobacco
smoke has been intrinsically linked to heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, and
dozens of other fatal and potentially fatal illnesses.1
Indeed, at present, it is the overwhelming opinion of the medical research community, that tobacco
smoke in any amount will render immediate damage to the human physiology.2
Over the course of the past five years, it has also been conclusively demonstrated that non-smokers
who inhale the smoke of other people's cigarettes are at real and significant risk of contracting the
very same illnesses as the smokers themselves.3
In recognition of this fact, an increasingly large number of governments and government agencies
have banned smoking in the presence of or in proximity to non-smokers, out of concern for the health
rights of the latter. In light of this situation, it is both relevant and urgent that the halachic dimensions
of this question be reexamined.
II. Passive Smoke (ETS)
It is axiomatic according to Torah Law, that one individual is not allowed to harm another. This
point is discussed extensively in the Gemara4 and summed up in the Shulchan Aruch as follows:5
It is forbidden for one man to strike his fellow, and if he does so, he violates a negative
commandment, as it is written, "Lest he add etc," 6 And if the Torah was strict with regard
to the striking of the wicked, a fortiori regarding the striking of the righteous, and he who
raises his hand to strike his fellow, even though he does not do so, he is deemed to be a
In light of the above-cited scientific evidence, it is clear that the infliction of injury on another party,
by means of tobacco smoke, constitutes assault. Indeed, even prior to the publication of the lion's
share of the scientific evidence concerning "passive smoke" theate Rabbi Moshe Feinstein
asserted that people harmed by the smoke of others were empowered by Halakhah to sue for
damages. As he himself wrote:7
But the matter (i.e. the legal implications of "passive smoke") are far worse, since smokers
actually commit assault...And it is obvious that were the courts competent to adjudicate
torts,8 they would be empowered to enforce collection of their estimate of the suffering
caused [by the smoke], and if [the complainant] had become ill therefrom,he would be
entitled to compensation of medical expenses, even if he had not incurred direct damages
due to absence from his employment.9
It might be objected, though, that such a conclusion is only germane when the damage done by ETS
is substantial enough to warrant suit for damages. This, however, can hardly be the case in a short
period of exposure to someone's smoke, on an ad hoc basis. Such a conclusion, however, cannot
be maintained. For independent of the possibility of incurring financial damages, assault constitutes
a forbidden action according to the Torah, irrespective of whether there is significant damage
inflicted or not.10 The point is summed up in the Shulkhan Arukh :11
If he struck his fellow with a blow which inflicted damage less than the value of a penny,
receives stripes (malkot) [as punishment], since no monetary obligation is incurred thereby.
Since, as already noted, temporary exposure to ETS has immediate, deleterious effects on one's
health, it is clear that it is forbidden to allow smoking in the presence of non-smokers, even on a
short-term basis. What is more, in light of the immediate effects of ETS on the physiology of the
non-smoker, it seems clear that even if he or she is not immediately irritated thereby, that he may
not forgo his prerogative and allow another person to smoke (mehilah).12 This is due to the
well-known fact that an individual is not allowed to harm himself.13
Finally, the upshot of several key rulings in Halakhic literature, make it clear that preventing the
generation of ETS, and its attendant damage to the health of those who inhale it, is not simply the
responsibility of the smoker and the non-smoker, but rather that of the community generally, and
especially that of the court (Bet Din). For example, Rambam writes,14 that over and beyond the
obligation to erect a fence around one's roof (ma'akeh),15 the Sages forbade many things which are
injurious to one's health, "and anyone who violates them and says,"I will place myself in danger and
what business is it of other people [should I do so], "...one inflicts him with 'Stripes of
Rebelliousness' (Makkot Mardut)." Upon this passage the Aruch HaShulchan comments, that the
Rambam does not intend to imply that since the punishment is rabbinic in nature, that so is the
crime. "For certainly this involves the violation of a Torah prohibition, it is only that one cannot
receives normal stripes (malkot) for it, just as there are many Torah prohibitions for the violation
of which no malkot are administered."16 And the Yaffe LaLev17 adds that not only is the crime of
injuring oneself punishable, this fact plainly establishes that it is the obligation of the court to ensure
that such behavior is not pursued.18
In light of the above, it is clear that rabbis and communities are obliged by Halakhah to ban smoking
at all functions and meeting, buildings and facilities under their jurisdiction, pursuant to the sacred
trust to secure the observance of Torah Law and to protect the physical and spiritual welfare of their
III. Active Smoking
Based upon the above presentation, it ought to be equally apparent that if ETS is forbidden
according to Halakhah, owing to its not only being a nuisance but actually constituting an immediate
danger, the same must be said a fortiori of active smoking.20 And, indeed, this is the published
opinion of both Rabbi Hayyim David HaLevi, the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv,21 and of Rabbi
Eliezer Waldenberg,22 both of whom are outstanding contemporary Halachic authorities. They both
base themselves upon the prohibition against harming oneself and upon the explicit statement of the
Rambam that the Rabbis have the authority to ban any action which harms one's health.23
The one authority who consistently refused to prohibit "active smoking" per se, was the late Posek
HaDor, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (zt'l). While he strongly urged people to stop smoking, and
discouraged others from developing the habit,24 he held tenaciously to the position that smoking
could not be banned on purely Halakhic grounds. In light of the preeminent position occupied by
Rabbi Feinstein, any proposal to ban smoking on purely Halachic grounds must perforce address
his objections thereto.
Rabbi Feinstein heavily based his inability to forbid smoking on the argument, that when a specific
action possibly entails an element of danger, and people are willing to take that risk (which albeit
is only a risk) one cannot forbid people from that action for "the L-rd Protects the Simple"
SheDashu Bo Rabim, Shomer Peta'im HaShem).25 As he wrote in his last responsum on the subject:
To generalize the principle of "the L-rd Protects the Simple" which appears in Shabbat
(129b) and in Niddah (45a) relates to two cases where there is some risk of danger and
[nevertheless] people are not careful [avoid them], though it certainly is true that in an
average case of possible danger it is forbidden to rely on this principle...[nevertheless] it
appears obvious that as regards something which does not entail any negative effects upon
the health of a large number of people...even though it does exert harm upon a distinct
minority , there is still no prohibition to eat them27 as per the possible danger involved,
since the majority are not harmed therefrom... And cigarette smoking is akin to such things,
since those who are accustomed to smoke enjoy it very much, and suffer from the lack of
cigarettes more than the lack of certain types of good food, and even more than total food
deprivation for an abbreviated amount of time. [What is more] the danger (kilkul) of
becoming ill from this is in any case very small, afortiori is the possibility of developing
cancer and other life threatening illnesses exceedingly small...and in a risk like this one
applies the rule, "the L-rd protects the Simple..."
The upshot of Rabbi Feinstein's presentation is that the rule of Shomer Peta'im HaShem applies
when two conditions are present: 1) The activity in question only presents a possible danger to the
individual and 2) Most people are willing to take the risk involved in pursuing that activity. At the
time that Rabbi Feinstein wrote this responsum, both of these factors seemed to indicate Halachic
license to smoke. Today, however, in light of the scientific evidence published in the decade since
this responsum was written, and based upon Rabbi Feinstein's explicit definition, it is clear that
neither of these considerations obtains any longer.
First, the danger involved in smoking is not merely possible, it is inevitable. And while death from
lung cancer may well only affect a minority of smokers, damage to the cardio-vascular and
pulmonary systems is immediate and inevitable. Thus, we have entered into a situation in which
smoking is a definite danger (Bari Hezeka).28
Similar conclusions may be reached regarding the second element in Rabbi Feinstein's equation, i.e.
the willingness of people to take the risk involved in smoking. Here there seems to have occurred
a substantive change. Over the past ten years a large anti-smoking educational effort has been
undertaken by the American Cancer Society and the Office of the Surgeon General of the United
States. The results of this campaign have been that large numbers of people have stopped smoking,
while others have not cultivated the habit because of the risks involved. Clearly, then, smoking is
no longer a Davar SheDashu Bo Rabim. 29
Each of these considerations, taken both separately and together, leads us to one ineluctable
conclusion. Namely, that based upon present research and the stated argument of Rabbi Moshe
Feinstein, the smoking of cigarettes constitutes a blatant violation of the Torah's commandment
against inflicting harm on oneself and hence is absolutely prohibited according to Jewish Law.30
As a result of our discussion here it is apparent that definite action must be taken in order to
eradicate smoking from the Orthodox community. This is called for both out of consideration for
the health of the smoker, as well as that of the innocent bystander assaulted and harmed by the
smoke he generates. In both instances, the community (as represented by the Rabbinate and Batei
Din) are responsible for the enforcement of Halachic norms regulating the general welfare. As
practical steps toward the realization of a smoke-free community, we recommend that our
colleagues take the following steps:
1) Smoking should be banned from all synagogues, synagogue functions, Day
Schools, Mikva'ot and all other institutions and events under the supervision of the
2) Rabbis should themselves cease to smoke, and should publicly educate their
congregations as to the medical and Halachic severity of smoking. This should
include not tolerating smoking in their own homes and businesses, as this either
facilitates or causes assault on others.
3) It must be carefully pointed out that had the present-day research been available,
that scholars of previous generations who themselves smoked, would not have
sanctioned this conduct.
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1 Stanton A. Glantz and William W. Parmley, "Passive Smoking and Heart Disease:
Physiology, and Biochemistry," Circulation, 83 (January, 1991), p. 1. (Thanks to Dr. Fred Rosner
for providing us with the periodical literature behind this topic.)
2 Ibid, pp. 1, 4-5.
3 Ibid, pp. 1-12. See also, Jonathan Fielding and Kenneth J.
Phenow, "Health Effects of Involuntary
Smoking," The New England Journal of Medicine, 319 (December, 1988), pp. 1452-1460;
Mohammed-Reza Masjedi, Homayoun Kazemi, and Douglas C. Johnson, "Effects of Passive
Smoking on the Pulmonary Function of Adults," Thorax, 45 (January, 1990), pp. 27-31; G. H.
Miller, "The Impact of Passive Smoking: Cancer Deaths Among NonSmoking Women," Cancer:
Detection and Prevention, 14 (1990), pp. 497-503; C. Humble, J. Croft, A. Gerber, M. Casper, C.
G. Hames, and H. A. Tyroler, "Passive Smoking and Twenty Year Cardiovascular Disease Mortality
Among Non-Smoking Wives in Evans County, Georgia," The American Journal of Public Health,
80 (May, 1990), pp. pp. 599-601; D. Janerich, W. D. Thompson, L. R. Varela, P. Greenwald, S.
Chorost, C. Tucci, M. B. Zaman, M. R. Melamed, M. Kieley, and M. F. McKneally, "Lung Cancer
and Exposure to Tobacco Smoke in the Household," The New England Journal of Medicine, 323(
September, 1990), pp. 632-636; S. D. Woodward and M. H. Winstanley, "Lung Cancer and Passive
Smoking at Work: The Carroll Case," The Medical Journal of Australia, 153 (December, 1990), pp.
4 Baba Kamma 91a-b.
5 Shulchan Aruch, Hoshen Mishpat 420: 1. In an edifying pamphlet on the subject of Smoking,
Rabbi Menachem Slae enumerates no less than thirty-six commandments (both positive and
negative) which are violated by smoking.
Among these are the commandments: 1) Not to murder 2) Causing injury to a Fellow Jew 3) Not
to Curse One's Fellow Jew 4) Not To Lead One's Fellow astray ( Lifnei Iver) 5) Desecration of
G-d's Name 6) Wanton Destruction ( Bal Tashchit ) 7) Not to eat Non- Kosher Food. See M.
Smoking and Damage to Health in the Halachah, Jerusalem, 1990, pp. 26-33.
6 The Torah (Deut. XXV:3) sets a limit to the number of stripes which a convicted criminal may
receive. If the person administering them exceeds this number, he is himself liable for assault and
the damages incurred thereby. See Sanhedrin 85a and Ketubot 36a.
7 Resp. Iggerot Moshe, Hoshen Mishpat, II, no. 76.
8 Contemporary rabbinical courts cannot address questions of criminal tort as they lack the required
level of rabbinic ordination (semicha). See Shulkhan Arukh, Hoshen Mishpat, I:I and commentaries,
9 Rabbi Feinstein underscores the immanency of the legal obligation engendered by damage due to
ETS, by noting a fundamental distinction between torts (Habalot) and fines (Kenasot), even though
ajudication of both requires a court possessed of full rabbinic ordination (mumhim
In the latter case, says Rabbi Feinstein, no liability exists for the accused, even where it is patently
clear that were a competent court extant, that he would be adjudged responsible for the fines in
question. This is because in the case of Kenasot it is the court which not only collects the fine, but
which also creates the obligation to pay via its rendering of judgment. The instance of torts,
however, is different. Here, it is the action of the defendant which generates the obligation to pay.
The court merely clarifies the obligation and enforces it. In other words, the role of a court of
semuchim is essential in the case of fines and a technicality in the case of torts.
The difference, Rabbi Feinstein concludes, is in the instance of whether the defendant might be
morally obliged to pay (LaTzeit Yedei Shamayim). In the case of torts, where a mere technicality
prevents the collection of damages by the plaintiff, there is an obligation to pay. In the case of fines
however, since no competent court ever created the obligation to pay, no supererogatory requirement exists either. (Cf. Baba Metzia 91a,
Rashi, ad loc, s.v. Rava; Tos.,ad loc, s.v. B'va and
the important discussion in Ketzot HaHoshen 28:1).
10 See the discussion in Encyclopedia
Tamudit, XII, Jerusalem, 1978, pp. 679-746 s.v. Hovel.
11 Hoshen Mishpat, Sec. 420: 2. See also Arukh
HaShulkhan, ibid, par. 3.
12 Earlier discussions of the question whether the non-smoker had the right to waive his
prerogatives, were based on the assumption that smoking was merely an irritant, or only harmful
in the long run. See Tzitz Eliezer, op. cit and the discussion by Rabbi Y.
Grubner, Kunteres B'Issur Ishun, HaDarom 53 (1984), pp. 71-83.
13 Hoshen Mishpat, ibid, par. 21 and Aruch
HaShulchan, ibid, par. 43. Both are based upon the
discussion in Baba Kamma 90b. In his formulation, the Rambam makes it clear that the prohibition
against injuring oneself is of equal force as that against hurting one's fellow
(Hil. Hovel u'Mazik
V:1). A similar position is adopted by the Rashba ( Responsa I:616) and the Rosh on Baba Kamma
Others, however, assume that the prohibition is rabbinic in origin (e.g. Bet HaBehirah L'Baba
Kamma, adloc.) See Slae, p. 14 n.24. This is a decidedly minority opinion, both in terms of the
number and stature of those who espouse it.
14 Hil. Rotze'ah U'Shmirat Nefesh, XI: 4-5.
15 See Sefer HaHinnukh, nos. 538 and 567.
16 Arukh HaShulkhan, Hoshen Mishpat, Sec. 427 par. 8.
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, however, takes pointed exception to this interpretation of the
argues that the Rambam simply means to exhort people to abandon potentially deleterious habits,
and not to prohibit them outright. He does not, however, explain why the Rambam allows stripes
to be administered.
17 Cited by Slae, p. 16 n. 42.
18 Of course this is beside the general obligation of the community to secure the general welfare
and to rebuke those who violate the norms of the Torah.
19 Confirmation of the propriety of such action is found in the fact that such action was specifically
and emphatically advocated by Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg (See below, note 20).
Similar actions have been undertaken by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi M.M.
Schneerson, the Gerer
Rebbe and the Rosh Yeshivah of the Ponevez Yeshivah, Rabbi Eliezer Menahem Shach. The
positions of the former two authorities were published in Rabbi Y. Grubner, (above, note 11) pp.
80-83. Rav Shach's order, banning smoking in the Bet Midrash of Ponevez was published, with an
explanatory cover letter, in Slae, ibid, pp. 58-61.
20 Another issue related to the impact of smoking is its effect on the fetus during pregnancy. See
the discussion in Slae, ch. III.
21 JTA Daily News Bulletin, 11/28/76.
22 Resp. Tzitz Eliezer, XV, no. 39.
23 Hil. Rotze'ah U'Shmirat Nefesh, XI: 5.
24 At the conclusion of one responsum (Iggerot Moshe, Hoshen
Mishpat, II, no. 76) Rabbi
Feinstein writes that "it is nevertheless appropriate for every person, especially Bnai Torah, not to
smoke, since it presents a potential danger to life (Hashash Sakkanah) and has no redeeming
value..." (See the remarks of Dr. Fred Rosner in The Journal of Halachah and Contemporary
Society, XX (1990), pp. 61-63).
A similar position was advocated quite strongly by Rabbi J. David Bleich in his "Survey of Recent
Halakhic Periodical Literature," Tradition, 16 (1976-1977), pp. 121-123.
25 The concept is discussed in Shabbat 129b, Yevamot 72a, and Niddah 31a. See the extensive
discussion by Rabbi Grubner (op. cit., pp. 73- 77). Rabbi Moshe David Tendler as listed in the
exact formulation of this phrase.
26 Iggerot Moshe, ibid. The responsum is dated 8 Sivan 5741 (= 10 June 1981).
27 Rabbi Feinstein is referring specifically to certain types of food which can harm the health of
28 Similar conclusions were offered earlier by Rabbi Waldenberg (ibid); Rabbi M. Halperin (in
Assia, V(1986), pp. 244ff) and Rabbi Reuven Bulka (in Proceedings of the World Conference on
Smoking and Health, Winnipeg, 1983).
29 This observation was originally made to us by Rabbi Moshe
This conclusion does not seek to ignore the large number of people who continue to smoke. At the
same time, it appears to us that this population is no longer determinative. First, the issue of Dashu
Bo Rabim is a question of societal sensitivity and not absolute numbers. Second, it is difficult to
assess the element of free-will involved in "taking the risk" in light of all that we know concerning
the nature of nicotine addiction and the addictive personality.
As a side issue, which transcends our discussion here, one might be moved to wonder whether at
present offering a match to a smoker might not be a violation of lifn Iver Lo Toiten Mikhshol or at
least of being Mesaye'a Yedei Ovrei Averah. Also, it would seem reasonable that synagogues ought
no longer leave candles burning in their kitchens on Yom Tov, since in light of contemporary social
realities, smoking is no longer a Davar HaShaveh L'Chol Nefesh and hence constitutes a prohibited
activity (Melacha) on Yom Tov.
30 This line of argument effectively removes Rabbi Bleich's objections to a purely Halakhic ban on
smoking, as well. See above, note 23.
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