(c) 2000 Dr Hendel; 1st appeared in Bais Medrash (c) Torah.Org

Date: Mon, 16 Jun 1997 19:30:15 -0400
From: rhendel@mcs.drexel.edu (Russell Hendel)
Subject: RE: Smoking--When is something harmful, Prohibited

I would like to take issue with Dr Kramer's opinion [BM V1n15] that
   >  >   it is difficult to forbid smoking, halachically >  >    because
   >  >   to forbid it there needs to be shown a DIRECT connection to damage >  >
   >  >   That is "A" causes "B" in the immediate time frame >  >

I also want to take issue with Rabbi Bleich's reason for prohibiting
smoking [V1 n17] quoted by Daniel Malament that
    >  >   smoking actually kills cells with every puff (and hence is prohibited)

The underlying question is this: When is something harmful prohibited?

First let me strengthen the question: Rabbi Feinstein citing Character Laws
4:9-10 notes that the Rambam when discussing "foods that are bad for you"
does NOT prohibit them but simply "ADVISES" you that >  >  It is better not to
eat them>  >  . In fact, it was this Rambam which caused Rav Moshe not to
explicitly prohibit smoking (as Dr Kramer notes..it is "difficult" to
prohibit).  Furthermore, we can answer Rabbi Bleich using this Rambam: Many
activities--overexposure to the sun, eating high cholesterol foods etc are
guaranteed to flood your body with free radicals and kill cells. This is
NOT a reason for prohibiting them.

Second, let me note that halacha (Rambam, Murder, 12: 4) prohibits sucking
coins because they may have body sweat on them.  Clearly ingestion of sweat
on coins does NOT cause IMMEDIATE death or sickness.  Thus we already have
a refutation to Dr Kramers opinion that >  >  immediate harm>  >   is a
prerequisite for prohibition.But the question remains: When is something
harmful, prohibited?

Let me cite 3 laws and then give a theory I presented in a Letter to the
Editor to the Journal TRADITION in the late 1970s:

* Sucking coins is prohibited (even though immediate sickness will not result)
* Consuming "bit fruit" is prohibited because a snake may have bitten and
  injected venom into it (which would cause immediate sickness or death)
* Consuming "bad foods" is permissable even though they can cause harm long

In the Tradition Letter I introduce the idea of a redeemable activity.
Certain activities like walking in the sun, or riding cars are "redeemable"
in the sense that society as we know it couldn't exist without these
activities--in other words,they serve a tangible goal. On the other hand
certain activities are "non redeemable"--society as we know it could exist
in the same state even if these activities were not performed--an example
is  "sucking coins".

We can now succinctly suggest a theory for when something harmful is

* If it may cause immediate death or sickness then it is prohibited
* If it may cause long term sickness AND is non redeemable then it is
* If it causes long term sickness BUT is redeemable then it is not prohibited
  but it is "better not to do it"(The Rambam's language cited by Rav Moshe).
* Sucking coins is NOT redeemable (nothing good comes from it). Since body
  sweat can cause illness long term (ingestion of Urea) the combination of
  Long term effect and non redeemability make sucking coins prohibited (and
  ditto for smoking).
* Eating bitten fruit which may have snake venom is prohibited EVEN though
  the fruit has nutrients because the snake venom would cause IMMEDIATE harm
* Eating "bad foods" is permissable because (i) the harmful effects of the
  foods are long term and (ii) the foods are redeemable since they have
  "some" nutrients (but coins and smoking do not).

I hope the above analysis clarifies this important but difficult issue.

Russell Jay Hendel; Ph.d; ASA; rhendel @ mcs drexel edu