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25 Sivan 5762 - June 5, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
The Battle Against Smoking

by Rav Dov Ettinger

Under the guidance of leading poskim and roshei yeshivos, activists have already made significant headway in curtailing the disease of cigarette smoking, thereby making a great contribution to saving lives. Chazal tell us "Kol hamatzil nefesh achas miYisroel ke'ilu kiyeim olom molei." These words become even more relevant where thousands of lives are at stake.

Yet obviously we cannot rest on our laurels and content ourselves with past achievements; now that our endeavors have proven to be effective we must press forward and redouble our efforts, for there remain thousands of talmidim in need of assistance in this matter. Now the time has come to discuss the problem not primarily in terms of smoking on Yom Tov, but rather halachic perspectives on smoking itself.

Before examining specific halachic pronouncements it should be noted that all of the poskim, including those who have avoided making pointed declarations, are opposed to smoking in principle. In Michtav MeEliahu (Part I, pp. 79 and 111) Rav Dessler maintains that smoking is merely a form of tayvah, so strongly fixed in habitual smokers that it distances them from the obvious truth and causes them to cling to delusions and sheker. In Imrei Binah (p. 228) Rav Y. Weinstein also recalls the story of Rav Eliyahu Boruch Kamai, av beis din and ram at Yeshivas Mir. One year when Rosh Hashonoh fell on a Thursday and Friday, on motzei Shabbos he declared that if it was possible to survive three days without smoking it was a sign that he had no real need for cigarettes, and therefore he stopped smoking entirely.

HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt'l, in his approbation for Pe'er Tachas Efer (a short book written against smoking), writes, "The drive to smoke is destructive." HaRav Moshe Feinstein zt'l (Igros Moshe, Yoreh De'ah, Part II, Siman 49; ibid., Choshen Mishpot, Part II, Siman 76) casts smoking in a very negative light both from a moral perspective -- noting that tayvah is the only impetus behind smoking -- and from a halachic perspective -- saying one should definitely try to adopt chumros regarding smoking rather than seeking heteirim, since a clear case of tayvah cannot be considered she'as hadechak.

HaRav Eliashiv shlita, also writing an approbation for the above sefer, adds, "Expert medical opinions warn against the high risk to which smokers expose themselves and those surrounding them."

HaRav Fisher (Pe'er Tachas Efer p. 45) writes, "According to what today's physicians have shown, namely that smoking is damaging and poses a health risk . . . it would be ridiculous to say today that smoking is for health's sake. Every heter has disappeared, making it once again an issur deOraisa."

Gedolei haposkim addressing potential and beginning smokers, have stated unequivocally that there is no heter to begin smoking, and certainly young people may not knowingly adopt a practice based on very shaky halachic ground that is entirely inconsistent with upright moral standards and has various other undesirable effects during adolescence, a period during which one must work particularly hard not to pursue tayvah.

During their lifetimes HaRav Ben Tzion Abba Shaul and HaRav Tzedaka called on young bochurim to avoid adopting the habit, and now HaRav Shmuel Wosner has also spoken out against it.

In a discussion of the Rambam's use of the word "ro'ui" (Hilchos Dei'os, 4:1), Rav Wosner points out the contention in the Ritva (Chidushim LeMaseches Shavuos, 27:1 Vehai) that "bad [foods] are referred to as `bal tochal' because we are forbidden to eat them since it is written hishomer lecho ushmor nafshecho."

The reader is liable to misunderstand the above and conclude that although smoking is clearly undesirable, it does not fall in the category of an outright halachic prohibition. Yet in his letter of approbation for Pe'er Tachas Efer, HaRav Auerbach zt'l writes, " . . . his [the author's] words should be heeded and the urge to smoke should be entirely avoided," adding, "And I hereby give notice that I never joined the ranks of those who permit smoking today as well."

Included among those who explicitly forbid smoking are HaRav Waldenberg, author of Tzitz Eliezer; HaRav Moshe Stern, the late Av Beis Din of Debritzin (Sheilos Utshuvos Be'er Moshe, Part VI, 105); Sheilos Utshuvos HaShvisas Yom Tov (Part III, p. 134b); and HaRav Weinstein (Imrei Binah, pp. 227- 29). After an extensive discussion of the prohibition against smoking on Yom Tov, Rav Zelaznik adds, "Yet in any case, I find it surprising how anyone can smoke cigarettes today after observations by many have shown that it is a great and terrible source of harm . . . and how can we ignore this because of the urge to smoke . . . ?" (pp. 39-40) and elsewhere he writes, "Perhaps when they see the terrible damage caused by smoking it might make them fear for their lives and then there will no longer by those about whom we say, Umaklo yagid lo" (p. 254). Similarly Rav Wolbe insists that the halocho says even to shorten the life of a dying man, and even by one minute, is considered spilling blood. Therefore "it should suffice regarding this terrible phenomenon to warn every individual of the great stringencies applied to the mitzvah venishmartem me'od lenofshoseichem, for smoking one cigarette constitutes an act of suicide that cuts five precious minutes of life, and even one minute of a Jewish life is worth more than gold, and readers should take heed."

Such statements, as leading rabbonim have noted previously, represent conclusions drawn from overwhelming medical evidence based on surveys and examinations of hundreds of thousands of people that showed the disastrous effects are not limited to one or two untreatable diseases, which would be bad enough in itself, but that in fact smoking has proven to cause or aggravate nearly every serious disease, leading to immeasurable harm.

Professor Sompolinsky has determined that today smoking poses a serious health risk, shortens life spans and claims many young victims. Beyond its immediate harmful effects, smoking also increases the risk of malignancies, heart disease, damaged lung cells and other illnesses. Professor Sompolinsky concludes, "Kol hamekayem nefesh achas miYisroel ma'ale olov haKosuv ke'ilu kiyeim olom molei and in many cases young people were snatched away at a tender age due to a habit that is of no benefit, but rather causes damage needlessly."

Professor Gottesman echoes these sentiments, saying, "Smoking is clearly prohibited for all of Beis Yisroel for it poses a personal risk and accelerates the development of hereditary heart disease, chronic bronchitis and lung cancer."

Other distressing admonitions can be found in statements by Drs. Meltzer and Eli Shusheim, and in an article written by Drs. Hershkovitz and Katan. Dr. Lafaer, director of the Respiratory Ward at Hadassah Hospital, says, "Among the other severe diseases directly caused by smoking are chronic bronchitis, shortness of breath, various types of lung cancer and blockage of cardiac arteries . . . Smoking clearly poses a risk to human life."

Passive smoking also leads to a number of severe diseases. Says Professor Sompolinsky, "The smoker not only endangers his own life, but also poses a threat to people in his environment." Explains Dr. Lafaer, "People regularly exposed to smokers are more likely to develop diseases such as bronchitis and lung cancer." These inherent dangers are also cited in piskei halocho that prohibit smoking in botei medrash and yeshivos.

The opinions presented above are well-known fact, but much like the Ramchal writes in a different context at the beginning of Mesillas Yeshorim, because they are so familiar to all they bear repeating in order to keep them in mind.

Years ago HaRav Mushullam Dovid Soloveitchik, rosh yeshivas Brisk, remonstrated against smoking by the yeshiva students in the beis medrash. According to an article printed in the Hebrew and English edition of Yated Ne'eman at the time, "In his daily shiur HaRav Soloveitchik upbraided bochurim who smoke in the beis medrash thereby harming and bothering people who find it difficult to tolerate. As is well known, in recent years it was decided to forbid smoking in the main hall of the major yeshivos, and now Rosh Yeshivas Brisk has also issued such a prohibition in keeping with the Beis Brisk tradition of being extremely vigilant and wary in all matters of pikuach nefesh and shemiras hanefesh."

According to another story, "Once HaRav Yaakov Kamenetsky saw me smoking a cigarette and the great tzaddik was unable to refrain from beckoning to me. As I approached him I was trembling, for I had never before had the zechus to speak with him. `You should know,' he told me, `that you are making a mistake by smoking. What do you need this for?' I was flabbergasted. Later, those who knew him well explained to me that Rebbe Yaakov used to smoke three packs of cigarettes a day, and the moment the doctors told him clearly and explicitly that he was causing himself irreparable harm, he stopped this bad habit and has not touched a cigarette since then."

HaRav Pinchas Sheinberg says, besides the personal health issues involved, "One should always refrain from smoking in botei knesses and botei medrash for in such places it may constitute kalus rosh and negate the mitzvah of moroh mikdash."

When HaRav Nissim Karelitz was asked by a melamed whether he is permitted to smoke when there are children who are bothered by the smoke, he replied that smoking is clearly prohibited if it disturbs someone, adding, "And today certainly a melamed must refrain from smoking in the classroom for a number of reasons." In my opinion this is a reference to the fact that talmidim, particularly in their early years of schooling, are heavily influenced by their environment, i.e. the talmud Torah or yeshiva ketanoh, and when their role models do not display a negative attitude toward smoking, or even smoke themselves, this takes away all the value of any anti- smoking campaigns since the children are being taught exactly the opposite message. Furthermore, such an educator has failed as a teacher, for his task is to guide the student within a positive environment, and not to harm the child; to show that Shabbos is more important than the cigarette that is sometimes lit immediately after Hamavdil and well before Havdoloh.

Children must be taught that venishmartem me'od lenofshoseichem is also among the mitzvos we are obligated to keep, and that we should strive to keep all mitzvos as faithfully as we can rather than seeking kulos, particularly dubious kulos. How can an educator imbue his talmidim with such values when he sets an example in direct contradiction? Not only educators, but every other potential role model should be well aware of the great responsibility lying on his shoulders.

If we truly want to save thousands of youths from the grave, both literally and in terms of chinuch, we must carefully contemplate all of the information and the words of our rabbonim and gedolei hador, presented above.

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