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Nowadays, since there are studies that show that smoking is dangerous to health, is one allowed to smoke or is it violating "Venishmartem Meod Lenafshosechem"?

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Cigarettes, pot, fish? Fish is a joke, but I think smoking cigs were once halachicaly allowed because they were believed to have medicinal benefits (which we now know the opposite to be true), while pot actually has many medicinal benefits. –  zaq Oct 6 '11 at 3:42
    
@zaq Cigarettes. Pot is discussed by R' Moshe Feinstein in another letter –  Shmuel Brin Oct 6 '11 at 5:22
    
@zaq and see the tags... –  yydl Oct 6 '11 at 5:25
    
Ah, missed that. &@tom, thanks for the pot letter. –  zaq Oct 6 '11 at 12:23
    
@yydl, actually, I added the tobacco tag, assuming that that's what tom had meant. (Turns out I was right, but maybe I shouldn't have assumed.) –  msh210 Oct 6 '11 at 15:35
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6 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

There is a machlokes haposkim on this matter.

  • Igros Moshe wrote in 1964 that since there is a possibility of danger from smoking, one should refrain from doing so, however, it is not forbidden because "Shomer Psaim Hashem", Hashem guards the fools.

    In 1981, R' Moshe wrote that the danger of smoking is no more than the danger of eating unhealthy foods, about which the Rambam does not write that they are "forbidden", just unrecommended. Therefore, he writes, because people get withdrawal syndromes when they do not have what to smoke, and the danger is not so great (R' Moshe writes that the amount of people who get sick is a small minority). Therefore, we say that "Hashem guards the fools".

    However, he says that one should not start smoking, since there is some danger without any benefits, and there is no desire to smoke until one starts.

  • However, R' Moshe Shternbuch said that it is forbidden because of

    1. danger from Cancer and heart problems.
    2. the Chazon Ish said that smoking hurts memory and comprehension, so smoking would be prohibited because of "Lo Tishkach", that one isn't allowed to do something to cause oneself to forget words of Torah.
  • Binyomin Zilber takes a middle approach, and says that while it may be very unhealthy, yet it would not be intrinsically prohibited. He brings a proof from the Mishna Brurah which permits smoking on Yom Tov, yet in his Likkutei Amarim he says that smoking weakens a person, and causes a waste of time and money. In other words, there are things that are wrong to do, yet not officially "prohibited".

  • The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe writes (in 1943) to the Rosh Yeshiva of Tomchei Tmimim to absolutely forbid smoking to students under 20 wherever they may be for all 24 hours a day. He should also give over a request to students who are above 20 that it is in their benefit (both physical and spiritual) to quit smoking, by slowly lessening their smoking until they will quit completely.

There are two opinions as to what was the Lubavitcher Rebbe's opinion. Someone asked the Rebbe why do Rabbonim not forbid smoking. The Lubavitcher Rebbe answered with two reasons:

  1. This matter is for doctors to decide, not Rabbonim.
  2. It is possible that a harmless cigarette will be invented. However, if there will be a ban, that cigarette would also be included and would be needlessly forbidden.

There is a debate between R' Oberlander and R' Zayants as to the meaning of the Rebbe's answer.

  • R' Oberlander writes that one reason to permit is because of "Hashem guards the fools". One of the sources that we can rely on the verse "Hashem guards the fools" is a Gemara in Yevamos(12b) that has an argument between R' Meir who says that a 11-12 year old should prevent pregnancy (because it is dangerous to give birth at that age) and the Chachamim who permit it because "Hashem guards the fools".

    However, he brings down the Tzemach Tzedek who asks if we can say "Hashem guards the fools" in cases where a pregnancy is dangerous for a woman. The Tzmeach Tzedek says that one could differentiate between the Gemara's case and a dangerous pregnancy, because in the case of the Gemara, most 11-12 year olds don't get pregnant, so we could rely on "Hashem guards the fools" and a "majority" to assume that the dangerous situation won't come up and there will be no pregnancy. However, if the danger is more definite, one can't say "Hashem guards the fools".

    R' Oberlander then goes on to say how smoking is not very dangerous, so we could rely on "majority" (majority of people who smoke don't get sick) and "Hashem guards the fools" to assume the "minority" dangerous situation won't happen and permit smoking.

  • However, R' Zayents explains the Tzemach Tzedek differently. He explains the idea of "Hashem guards the fools" is that when it applies Hashem prevents the "minority" dangerous case from happening. In other words, by a 11-12 year old, "Hashem guards the fools" means that such a case will not occur (she won't get pregnant). However, if a dangerous situation would occur, we would have to worry about it in the first place. Since in smoking there is at least this "minority" of smokers who get sick, we would have to take them into account and forbid smoking. Moreover, R' Zayentz points out that the letter where the Rebbe gave reasons why Rabbis don't forbid smoking does not mention "Hashem guards the fools". The Rebbe's letter says that smoking is a medical questions for doctors to address, and as long as it's unhealthy it's automatically forbidden, and when it will become healthy, it will be automatically permitted.


Interestingly enough, Igros Moshe permits the Dor Yeshorim test even though there is only a small chance of having children with birth-defects, and says that not taking the test is like closing one's eyes to danger.

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I would wonder how would the Tzemach Tzedek allow Dor Yeshorim, as there is only a small minority, and people (used to) get married without it, and the danger is not currently present? –  Shmuel Brin Oct 6 '11 at 6:00
    
I saw someone (don't remember who) who said that when Jews used to live in shtetls, they had more fresh air and smoking wasn't dangerous. –  Shmuel Brin Oct 6 '11 at 6:22
    
you linked "R' Oberlander" and "R' Zayants" to the same page, are they supposed to be different? Also, can you explain the connection to Dor Yeshorim a little more? I may be a little too tired, but I'm not sure why it's "Interestingly enough". Are you trying to say that R' Moshe seems to be in line with R' Oberlander? –  Menachem Oct 6 '11 at 6:41
    
@Menachem fixed. Igros Moshe doesn't mention the TT. He says smoking is permitted because it's not dangerous. However, the "danger line" to permit Dor Yeshorim (iow, it's not a problem of Tomim Tihye) is obviously going to be less than to forbid smoking. –  Shmuel Brin Oct 6 '11 at 16:13
    
@ShmuelBrin About the shtele comment: One serious risk from smoking is radioactive Polonium. Using phosphate fertilizers significantly increases the levels of Polonium on the leaf, so does certain types of farming methods that increase dust. It could be that in old Euorope tobacco was grown in a different way. (However, there are many other dangerous things in tobacco besides Polonium, and Polonium is also found in food we eat.) –  Ariel Dec 19 '12 at 22:05
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To add to the answer(s) about R' Moshe Feinstein's Pesak, R' Dr. Moshe D. Tendler, son-in-law of R' Moshe Feinstein, has been an outspoken advocate for banning smoking 'Al Pi Halachah, and he has publicly stated that he firmly believes R' Moshe Feinstein's Pesak would have been very different, outlawing it 100% in all cases, had the medical community known then what it knows now about just how deadly it actually is.

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How much less did the medical community know in 1981? –  Shmuel Brin Oct 6 '11 at 18:39
    
In your own answer you quote him and his words stating that those who get sick are a small minority and that the risk is small, etc. –  Seth J Oct 6 '11 at 19:01
    
My question is, was this the medical consensus then also, or did R' Moshe rule how he did despite the medical consensus? –  Shmuel Brin Oct 6 '11 at 19:16
    
According to R' Tendler, R' Moshe consulted doctors and medical experts in rendering his decision. The consensus was that it wasn't good for you, but it wasn't yet determined to be as severely or as commonly dangerous as we now know it to be. –  Seth J Oct 6 '11 at 19:20
    
In other words, the wording of his ShU"T reflected his the understanding of the medical community as conveyed to him by those he consulted. –  Seth J Oct 11 '11 at 16:21
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To echo above answer:

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein strongly discouraged it and prohibited new use, but couldn't quite prohibit existing smokers from continuing their awful habit (and as such, allowed one to give a smoker a light if asked), despite protests from his student Dr. Fred Rosner.

Some 15 years later, in light of further medical proof of just how awful smoking is (and the advances in detection and treatment for many types of cancer, but not lung), the RCA's position became to flat-out prohibit it.

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Based on current science it is 100% forbidden for someone to smoke. The Bobover Rebbe - HaRav Shlomo Halberstam Zatzal - used to smoke, yet when it became clear that it was unhealthy stopped cold turkey.

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Re "The Bobover Rebbe... stopped cold turkey": Is there any reason to think he held it was halachically mandated to do so? Maybe he quit because, well, it's healthy to do so. –  msh210 Oct 6 '11 at 15:38
    
Smoking is still pretty common in some communities. Have other rebbes followed the Bobover's position? Have any been more lenient than Rav Moshe's opinions? Also, has there been cultural changes at all, e.g. is a young man's smoking habits, or those of his family, a disqualifying factor in shiduchim? I think my daughter's crowd would consider it an absolute negative, but I'm not sure about other communities. –  Bruce James Jan 17 '13 at 18:25
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Harav Eliyahu Ben Haim says that it Asur to smoke becuase of Wenishmartem. He specifically quotes Harav Moshe and says he was wrong.

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Any chance you can include a source for that Hakham Gabriel? I'd love to use it. –  Lee Jan 14 at 23:25
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Hacham Dawid Yosef Shelit"a in his Sefer Torat HaMoadim says it is "Tov Venachon" not to smoke at all. My father always explained Hacham Ovadia's approach as being that if you started there is no Isur to continue and that is also Mashma from Hacham Dawid (see En Yishak).

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