1. The Prohibition against Smoking
A question that many people ask is, “What does Jewish law have to say
about smoking? Is it permissible or forbidden?”
Hundreds of years ago, there were doctors who believed that smoking
was actually a healthy practice, to the point where they would even
advise smoking to those suffering from certain types of sicknesses.
But, as time passed, it became increasingly clear that smoking is in
fact very bad for one’s health. Already some sixty years ago, in the
days of Rabbi Yisrael Meir from the city of Radin, or as he was better-
known as the “Chofetz Chaim,” the opinion of a number of doctors was
made public which stated that a frail person should not become
accustomed to smoking. These doctors explained that smoking saps a
person’s strength and might even cause death. Basing himself upon this
report, the “Chofetz Chaim” wrote that it is forbidden for a person to
accustom himself to smoking.
Despite this, though, because it was not clear to just what degree
smoking was dangerous, the majority of rabbis held that smoking was
not absolutely prohibited; only that it was not advisable to smoke.
They therefore did not object to Yeshiva students who had a practice
But, during the last few decades, it has become undeniably clear
through comprehensive studies that smoking is very dangerous to one’s
health. This being the case, it is clearly forbidden according to the
Torah to smoke. For, the Torah commands us to guard our lives, as it
says, “Only be careful and guard your soul greatly” (Deuteronomy 4:9),
and “You must guard your souls greatly (Ibid. 4:15). And the Torah has
commanded us to stay away from anything which might endanger life.
Therefore, if one builds a roof or a balcony, there is a Torah
obligation to build a guard-rail around it in order that nobody falls
from it. Hence we can see to just what degree a Jew is obligated to
maintain his health. It follows that the Torah prohibits smoking
(“Aseh Lekha Rav” vol. 2, 1; Tzitz Eliezer 15, 39).
As a side note it is worth mentioning here that Rabbi Dr. Mordechai
Halprin writes that it is possible that the prohibition against
smoking does not stem merely from the commandment to protect one’s
health. It may very well be that the Torah prohibition against
murdering also becomes an issue here. This is because with every
inhalation the smoker causes direct damage to his lungs and, in a
sense, brings his own death a bit closer. If this is the case, such a
person violates a severe negative commandment, “Thou shall not kill,”
which is one of the Ten Commandments.