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Ask the Rabbi - 270

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Ask the Rabbi

4 March 2000; Issue #270

Down in Smoke


Smokeless in Switzerland wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

It is common knowledge that smoking endangers one's life. On the other hand "pikuach nefesh" -- saving a life -- is one of our guiding principles. I have never heard of any rabbi who banned smoking. Is there a reason why? Thank you for your answer.

Dear Smokeless,

Originally, the dangers of smoking were not fully known, and smoking was accepted. As the dangers of smoking become more and more clear, less and less observant Jews smoke.

Maimonides writes: "It is impossible to understand and to perceive the knowledge of the Creator when one is sick; therefore a person must distance himself from things destructive to the body, and to conduct himself in those things that are strengthening and therapeutic."

Most halachic authorities -- including Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan (the "Chafetz Chaim"), Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, and Rabbi E. Y. Waldenberg -- forbid smoking. Recently, Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Wosner of Bnei Barak reportedly issued a ban against smoking, adding that even if a person can't restrain himself, it is nevertheless prohibited to smoke in the vicinity of others because of the harmful effect of "secondary smoke."

As we go to press, leading rabbis in Israel including Rabbi Y. S. Elyashiv, Rabbi A.L. Steinman, Rabbi S. Auerbach, Rabbi N. Karelitz and others have issued a ban on beginning to smoke and a directive for those who smoke to gradually reduce their smoking to the goal of stopping completely. They also prohibited smoking in public places.

  • Maimonides, Hilchot De'ot 4:1
  • Chafetz Chaim, Likutei Amarim, Ch.13 (circa 1920)
  • Responsa Tzitz Eliezer



L. Froehlich in Gaithersburg, MD wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

Several years ago, I took a class in Aikido, one of the eastern martial arts. Like its counterparts, Aikido is premised on the concept that a "force"-- in this case known as "ki or "chi"-- flows through the body and the universe and can be focused by a person to use, for example, in personal defense. Is this concept of "ki" (or "chi") inconsistent with mainstream Jewish belief? In other words, can a Jew believe in one G-d and also accept the idea that there is an unseen energy flowing in the universe and through one's body that can be tapped with proper training? (After all, there are other unseen forces and things in the universe that do not seem to conflict with Jewish belief, e.g., gravity, electromagnetic energy, cosmic rays.) Is there any analogous concept in Judaism?

Dear L. Froehlich,

I'm not an Aikido expert, but I do have a black belt in Judo-ism. Ahem.

Before I answer your question, I would like to say that I find martial arts truly amazing. I mean, people with years of training in martial arts can, using only their hands and feet, make some of the worst movies in history.

Now to your question: The idea there can exist such a force as you have described is not inconsistent with mainstream Jewish belief, as long as you believe that this force, like all forces, is created by and controlled by G-d. I think your analogy to gravity is a good one.

Is there an analogous concept in Judaism? Perhaps the analogous concept is "ruach Elokim," a Divine "wind" or spirit, which gives a person extra-human powers, strengths and abilities. This is the power to which the Bible attributes Samson's source of strength.

But Judaism also has a the concept of "ruach tumah," an impure "wind." This force also lets a person tap into powers, but is detrimental to one's spiritual state.

Another point to consider is that some Eastern disciplines involve what we consider idolatrous practices. For example, bowing to the room, bowing to the force, or "talking to" the force. We are not allowed to make requests of spiritual forces, only to G-d.

In conclusion, believing in the existence of such a force can be okay, while the way one relates to that force can border on idol worship if done incorrectly.

Yiddle Riddle


One day, Sam decided to go into real estate. His first, ill-fated, attempt at acquisition was a very small plot of land, only one meter square, in the middle of Jerusalem's Highway One. Sam, never one for bureaucratic details, by-passed all red tape and permit application and simply set about with his plans to build right in the middle of the busy road. As a result of these actions, Sam eventually found himself brought before a Beit Din (Torah Court).

It may come as a surprise to you, but the court found that, in regard to the case at hand, Sam was considered the owner of the plot of land. How can this be?

Answer next week ...


The Public Domain
Comments, quibbles, and reactions concerning previous "Ask-the-Rabbi" features.


Re: "Oh What a Good Jew Am I" (Ask the Rabbi #268):

Much enjoyed your response to "David" who asked if he was a "good Jew" despite various transgressions. It reminded me of a eulogy delivered by Rabbi Kenneth Hain of Lawrence, New York, for a young man who had left the "derech hayasher" (straight and narrow) and was openly living a life opposed to Torah values. When this young man died of AIDS, some in the community allowed their tongues to wag derisively. Rabbi Hain reminded the community that in our tradition, when we hear of a death we recite the blessing "Baruch Dayan Emet" -- we bless the True Judge, the Judge in Heaven. And He is the only Judge. We on earth cannot judge anybody's life or worth.

Jerry Kowalski

Anyone interested enough to contact a Jewish website like should be encouraged and praised for that alone, and for any efforts he is making, not a flippant answer from you that his actions leave room for improvement. Why not focus on the positives this person presented?

Ellen Appelbaum

I found your reply to the question "Oh what a good Jew am I" very profound. I'm still shaking my head. I can't remember when I last heard such wisdom. I am thrilled to be a part of your connection.

Lloyd Kahan


Just wanted to say yashar koach (great job) for your "Wedding Ceremony" page. It's so clear and beautiful, exciting, etc. I send a lot of people to this page, and they just love it! May we all share this simcha and all of our simchas.

An reader

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