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Prior to the studies which convincingly connected consistent cigarette smoking with a variety of illnesses, including cancer, the frequent use of cigarettes was all too common, including amongst Orthodox Jews

Are there any extant reports of rabbinic opinions about the value (or demerit) of smoking, before the health concerns became common knowledge? Meaning, did any Rabbi's or teachers speak or write about a particular benefit (spiritual, physical, or otherwise) which comes from smoking, or a particular detrimental effect? Or was it just an indulgence people enjoyed without thinking too much about it?

I believe this is relevant because it could shed light on the way Jews attempt to find meaning and religious significance within mundane activities. It also has the potential for a case study of the change of halachic status in the face of contemporary medical opinion (such as, if some rabbi had asserted that smoking had some spiritual benefit, and should be done).

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    The early Chassidishe rebbes all smoked. There are many stories including the Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, the Alter Rebbe, etc. that include them smoking a pipe. Also, interestingly enough, the Sixth Rebbe of Chabad (R' Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn) smoked cigarettes, and he passed away in 1950. (Hey, look here!) – ezra Sep 28 '17 at 2:00
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    @ezra they actually held smoking to a high regard and considered it their "ketores". – Oliver Sep 28 '17 at 4:41
  • Rabbi Yisrael Salanter lived in an era when people thought that smoking was medically positive, that it helped digestion. But he quit smoking because his addictive feelings seemed to violate everything he was trying to accomplish. – Micha Berger Oct 1 '17 at 20:41
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Both the Pnei Yehoshua (Shab. 39b s.v. בא״ד ואמר-אמנם) and R. Yaakov Emden (Mor U'ketzia §511) were clearly under the contemporary impression that smoking was not harmful, rather it carried multiple health benefits (digestion, palate cleansing, appetite inducing, blood flow etc.)

R. Shmuel Abuhav (c. 17th cen.; Dvar Shmuel §156) denounced smoking as another unnecessary vice, a waste of Torah-time involved [e.g. in its preparation] and inadvertent extinguishing of tabaco on the holiday.

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    Well researched answer. Appetite-inducing is an interesting one, since that is one of the reasons Rav Moshe Feinstein used to explain why Marijuana is actually forbidden to use. – Chaim Sep 28 '17 at 12:23
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    @Chaim Thank you. You remind me, khat was fairly common for centuries among Yemenite Jews and at times even used before praying, IIRC, for the euphoric influence. Clearly the health risks associated with it didn't prevent anyone from stopping to chew on it and AFAIK I don't think the rabbis were so opposed to it. – Oliver Sep 28 '17 at 12:45
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The Chafetz Chaim has a beautiful piece about the effects of reading newspapers and smoking cigarettes(cigars) in Zechor L'Miriam 10(published 1925). I will attach the whole piece since it's amazing. With regards to smoking the Chaftez Chaim writes that for those who can't read(in beg of his piece he talks about how newspapers are a big time waster) the yetzer harah uses smoking as a form of bitul Torah.

He writes besides for the fact that smoking is harmful as is known it is also damaging to the neshama since it causes bitul Torah. He writes that at the very least a person wastes a half an hour every day preparing and smoking . He continues by saying that smoking is an addictive habit which is hard to stop. He also notes that if one doesn't have the proper materials to prepare his cigarette then he will waste even more time to find them.He also writes that if one adds up all the hours from the year to prepare and the time it takes to smoke it will add up to 100 of hours of bitul Torah.

Regarding positive effects the Magen Avraham discusses the question regarding if one needs to make a bracha on a smoke pipe or not.He notes that people get benefit from it since it fills them up like they have eaten a food or drink.He doesn't say one should smoke ,he brings the reality of his day in age.

Text of Magen Avraham 210:9: צ"ע באותן שנותנין עשב שקורין טוב"ק לתוך השפופרת ומדליקין אותו ושואבין העשן לתוך פיהם וחוזרין ופולטין אותו צ"ע אי דמי לטועם ופולט שא"צ ברכה או דלמא דומה לריח שצריך לברך ק"ו כאן שגם הגוף נהנה ממנו שהרבה שבעים ממנו כמו שאכל ושתה וצ"ע, עסי' רי"ו סי"ג

Text of Zechor L'Miriam: enter image description here enter image description here

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The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe (Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn) wrote a letter in 1943 concerning smoking in the main Lubavitch yeshiva, "Yeshiva Tomchei Tmimim".

He forbids smoking cigarettes, cigars, and pipes, saying that the yeshiva should be a "no-smoking zone" all 24 hours a day:

.בלי הבדל אם פאפיראסן או סיגארן ופיפקעס, ואיסור זה חל על כל התלמידים בכל מקום שהם בכל משך כ''ד שעות המעל''ע

Interestingly enough, the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe himself smoked at least for a significant period of his life (see this picture) but perhaps he stopped sometime around the time he wrote the above letter (maybe once he realized the ill-effects of smoking).

The Lubavitcher Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn) also has some interesting things to say on smoking, but of course it was after the 1950s (he assumed leadership in 1951).

Additionally, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (d. 1810) is recorded to have smoked a pipe for "mystical significance", but called smoking a "very foolish habit" and advised his followers against it:

Chayei Moharan 273

(לג) רַבֵּנוּ זִכְרוֹנוֹ לִבְרָכָה הִתְפָּאֵר שֶׁלֹּא הִתְחִיל לַעֲשׂוֹת שׁוּם דָּבָר בָּעוֹלָם קֹדֶם שֶׁיָּדַע הַסּוֹד שֶׁיֵּשׁ בּוֹ. וַאֲפִלּוּ מַה שֶּׁנּוֹהֲגִין לְהַעֲלוֹת עֲשַׁן הַטִּיטוּן עַל־יְדֵי לִילְקֶע וְצִבֶּעךְ (שֶׁקּוֹרִין לוּלְקֶא רֵייכֶערְן) [עִשּׁוּן טַבַּק] לֹא הִתְחִיל בָּזֶה עַד שֶׁיָּדַע סוֹד בְּהַנְהָגָה זוֹ. וְכַיּוֹצֵא בָּזֶה בִּשְׁאָר הַנְהָגוֹת לֹא הִתְחִיל שׁוּם דָּבָר לַעֲשׂוֹת עַד שֶׁיָּדַע סוֹד הַדָּבָר. וְאַף־עַל־פִּי שֶׁהוּא זִכְרוֹנוֹ לִבְרָכָה יָדַע סוֹד בְּעִנְיַן עֲשַׁן הַטִּיטוּן, אַף־עַל־פִּי־כֵן הִזְהִיר אוֹתָנוּ הַרְבֵּה לְהִתְרַחֵק מִזֶּה מְאֹד, וּפַעַם אַחַת דִּבֵּר הַרְבֵּה מֵעִנְיַן זֶה שֶּׁנּוֹהֲגִין הָעוֹלָם לְהַעֲשִׁין טִיטוּן וְאָמַר שֶׁהוּא שְׁטוּת גָּדוֹל, וּלְעִנְיַן נְקִיּוּת אֵינוֹ מוֹעִיל כְּלָל. וְכֵן הָרֵיחַ טַבַּק שֶׁהוּא גָּרוּעַ עוֹד יוֹתֵר, כַּמְבֹאָר שִׂיחָה זֹאת בְּמָקוֹם אַחֵר (לְקַמָּן תעב):

See also 242 and 472 for more on Rabbi Nachman's opinion of smoking.

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