(c) 2000 Dr Hendel; 1st appeared in Torah Forum (c) Project Genesis

Date: Sun, 26 Dec 1999 21:13:46 -0500 (EST)
From: Russell Hendel <  rhendel@mcs.drexel.edu>
Subject: Re: Smoking

<  <  Explain, please, why so many religious boys and men who are so careful in
the foods they eat, the music they hear, the books they read, and what
their senses are exposed to, can put something in their bodies that is not
potentially harmful, but definitely dangerous.  We know that the torah says
'v'nishmartem me'od l'nafshosaichem' ('and you will guard your souls
carefully').  How could they smoke when it's scientifically proven how
dangerous it is?  And why is it that the Rabbis, who discuss every single
other issue in the community, seem to be ignoring this problem - and it's
not a minor problem.  Thank you.>  >

ANSWER: I would like to make 3 observations as to why smoking is widespread.

1) PEOPLE DON"T KNOW IT IS ASSUR:  I was one of the first to publicize the
idea that smoking is prohibited back in the 70s. I can attest to the fact
that many (not all) people did stop smoking. This includes many Rabbis
(some of whose names you would recognize if I mentioned them). My favorite
story is a discussion I had with a medical student. When I told him (Rambam
Murder 12) that it is inconsistent for halachah to require lashes for
sucking coins (because of their dirt) but not for smoking cigarettes, he
looked at me and said "There are lashes for sucking coins?". After I showed
him the reference he stopped smoking.

2) THE GEDOLIM SHOULD ASSUR IT: In a letter to the editor (in Tradition in
the 70s) I questioned Rav Moshe's psak about the Heter of smoking. I
feel if people like Rav Moshe would come out against it many people would
stop. I must disagree with Rachamim Pauli who in a later issue of Torah
Forum Volume 4 suggested that Rav Moshe retracted. Besides the fact that
there is no WRITTEN basis for this it is not possible. Rav Moshe gave
reasons for the prohibition: He cites Character Traits Chap 4---although
certain fruits are harmful if eaten Rambam only recommends against eating
them he does not prohibit them. Thus Rav Moshe in his responsum on smoking
explicitly says that "..Therefore while I strongly condemn the practice I
cannot prohibit smoking anymore than the Rambam could prohibit bad foods".
In other words Rav Moshe ALREADY had acknowledged how harmful smoking was
but still couldn't prohibit it.

3) MY SUGGESTED REASON FOR PROHIBITION: In a former volume of Torah Forum I
brought the law in Rambam, Murder Chap 12 that coin sucking is prohibited
and punishable by lashes. To distinguish between coin sucking and bad fruit
I introduced the 2 concepts of "dangerous" and "has good effects". Since
fruit has "good effects"(beneficial nutrients) as well as "dangerous"
effects it cannot be prohibited. However since coin sucking only has
dangerous effects but no "good effects" it is outright prohibited. It
follows that cigarette smoking which has no beneficial effects should also
be outright prohibited.

I hope the above helps. Like Ahuva I urge Gedolim to come out against
smoking, I urge people to tell their friends the above sources and I would
like to see a cessation.

Finally,to the posting that suggested "that smoking is addictive" my
favorite story is the following: The sexton of my synagogue when I was a
child smoked 3 packs a day. When the Surgeon General reports first came out
the Rabbi delivered a sermon saying it was wrong to smoke and against
halachah. The sexton stopped overnight.  Yes...it can be done.

Russell Hendel;Phd ASA;rhendel@towson.edu,