Say that Reuven smokes. Shimon knows that smoking causes lung cancer, and has tried everything he can think of to help Reuven stop. For that matter, he's gotten the other ten Shevatim, the Avos, and anyone else you can think of in Tanach, Tzaddik or Rasha, to try to talk to Reuven and get him to snap out of it to no avail.

What, you don't like my sense of humor?

Though I suppose I lied. There was one other thing he could thing of: he could always just steal the cigarettes and dispose of them in the nearest dumpster so that the rats get lung cancer instead. (This question has nothing to do with tza'ar ba'alei chaim, don't worry.)

Is he allowed to do so? The Gemara in Bava Metzi'a (61a) says it's assur to steal from someone even if it's for their benefit. Would that apply here?

There's also a question about lo sa'amod (ta'amod for you Sefardim out there) al dam reiecha. I would assume one is allowed to damage others' property in order to save a life. Would this fall under that rubric? Is preventing a long-term deadly disease considered part of lo sa'amod?

Is there a lifnei iveir issue that he'll hate you for stealing (possibly repeatedly) from him? Does it matter in the face of saving his life?

Are there any other issues that I haven't thought of?

(Let's assume that smoking is not an aveirah, as, if it is, this question already deals with the issue.)

  • 3
    And tha'amodh for Yemenites and Iraqis
    – Double AA
    Jan 19, 2017 at 2:21

2 Answers 2


The Peirush "Shiurei Bracha" on Yoreh Deah 241 (brings a Zohar) that asks why our mother Rachel did not merit to enjoy many stages of parenthood? The answer is that she caused her father pain by stealing the household terafim (idols).

I heard from Rav Zev Smith (my Rosh Yeshiva's son-in-law (Stolin)), that he personally asked Rav Pam, why she suffered for this if she certainly meant it for a good purpose, to remove her father from idolatry?

Rav Pam answered, that the problem was considered so severe, because although the course of action was meant for good (l'shem shomayim) it was doomed to failure. Lavan was not convinced that idols have no power. He simply went out and bought replacements! Therefore, it was a wasted effort at the certain price of upsetting her father. Rav Smith adds that no one comments against Abraham smashing his father's idols? He answers that (using Rav Pam's idea) Terach actually did teshuvah and eventually followed his son to recognize Hashem.

(note: This is not comparable to a person who has inappropriate pictures on the wall in a shared area, since those pictures are having a bad effect on everyone else too. (a little second hand smoke isn't by itself enough.) It is also not comparable to someone who, as a Rebbe, may have permission to confiscate a toy in class, since the whole class suffers from the distraction and its the Rebbe's job to run a functioning class!)

It would seem that unless you are very sure you have a good shot at having a positive influence over your friend, you may not justify destroying the cigarettes, averah or not. Taking away a carton of cigs will not be a long term answer to anything and will not save lives. It will also almost certainly step on someone else's ego, which is the surest way to make sure they just won't listen to you and simply buy more cigarettes (when you are not looking; especially if they are addicted). Bossing someone around, is really playing with fire. :)

  • Second hand smoke is actually just as dangerous as first hand. But let's assume that he does it in an empty lot where it doesn't bother anyone else. Shkoyach.
    – DonielF
    Jan 19, 2017 at 16:25
  • @DonielF thanks. :) Yeah I meant the same case, where the second hand smoke has no real effect. Jan 19, 2017 at 16:43
  • What about destroying someone's pornography?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Dec 3, 2023 at 19:27

The Chida (Birchei Yosef on Yoreh Deah 240:15) writes, in the name of Rav Yaakov Molcho, that if your father is ill and he demands that you feed him something that would be dangerous for him (סכנה), you are not allowed to obey him. However, if eating the food is not an outright סכנה, but merely harmful to him (מזיקו), then you should obey your father's command.

The Chida makes a distinction between סכנה - actual danger - and מזיק - something which is "damaging" to one's health, and he says that the mere fact that something would be harmful to your father's health is not sufficient to exempt one from the obligation to honor your father and obey his commands.

If this is true with regards to exempting one from a positive obligation, then it would almost certainly be true with regard to permitting the violation of negative prohibition, such as theft. As such, it would seem clear that, under normal circumstances, stealing someone's cigarettes in order to protect their health would be forbidden.

(While we tend to say that cigarettes are dangerous (סכנה), given the distinction made by the Chida, it would seem clear that tobbacco smoking would fall under the category of מזיק, rather than סכנה. The danger of smoking is precisely because, over time, smoking causes damage to the body.)

It is possible that there are cases involving illness in which smoking might indeed constitute an immediate danger (סכנה). In such a case, it is likely that stealing their cigarettes would be permissible. (Consult your local posek.)

  • I'm not sure I follow your kal v'chomer, nor why you assume that it's a mazik rather than a sakanah.
    – DonielF
    Jan 19, 2017 at 22:30
  • @DonielF, generally speaking, it is easier to find a justification to exempt one from a positive obligation than one to permit violating a negative prohibition. The first involves simply not doing anything (שב ואל תעשה), while the latter involves actively doing a forbidden action.
    – LazerA
    Jan 19, 2017 at 22:38
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    @DonielF, with regard to your second question, I am not sure what is bothering you. While you might be able to argue that, by definition, anything that damages the body is dangerous in the long run, the Chida clearly makes such a distinction, and given such a distinction it would seem obvious that smoking falls under the category of mazik and not sakana. The mere act of smoking a cigarette is not dangerous in any kind of immediate sense. The danger comes from the damage caused by chronic exposure over a long period of time.
    – LazerA
    Jan 19, 2017 at 22:41
  • Got it. That wasn't clear to me from the way you phrased it in the answer.
    – DonielF
    Jan 19, 2017 at 23:09

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