Insights into Halacha

For the week ending 1 August 2015 / 16 Av 5775

Smoking and Halacha

by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
A Historical Perspective
Library Library Kaddish

The question of how smoking is viewed through the lens of halacha is not a new one. In fact, there is abundant halachic literature dating back to seventeenth and eighteenth centuries related to the permissibility of smoking. Far from discussing the health issues later associated with this habit, the poskim of the time actually address whether or not one may smoke on Tisha B’Av or other fast days[1] and whether non-kosher ingredients contained in a cigarette are of halachic concern[2]. There is even discussion whether or not smoking requires a bracha beforehand[3]! But the main area where we find smoking discussed is by the Halachos of Yom Tov, where poskim debate whether smoking on Yom Tov is permitted, prohibited, or actually fulfilling a Mitzvah.

It is well known that on Yom Tov, as opposed to Shabbos, we are allowed to light a fire, provided that it is only kindled by transferring from a preexisting flame, and not by creating a new flame. The Gemara (Beitzah 22b - 23a) discusses whether placing incense on coals, and its by-product, the smoke it causes, are permitted on Yom Tov, due to the kindling and extinguishing issues involved[4]. Many Acharonim drew a parallel from the Gemara’s scenario to what must have been a burning issue of the day (and still is): smoking cigarettes on Yom Tov.

The Magen Avraham, as well as the Elya Rabba, Korban Nesanel, Chavos Yair, and Chayei Adam, all maintain that smoking is not a ‘davar sheshaveh lachol nefesh’, ‘something that is equally enjoyed by all’, a necessary provision to allow dispensation for a Melacha on Yom Tov[5]. Therefore, they all rule that smoking on Yom Tov is prohibited[6].

However, several other poskim, including the Darchei Noam, and the Chida[7], disagree with their assessment, averring that smoking does indeed fit this criterion, for several reasons:

  1. They deem smoking to be in the category of ‘ochel nefesh’, (generally used to describe acts related to food preparation) which is permitted on Yom Tov regardless of whether or not it is enjoyed by all[8].
  2. Since the vast majority of people enjoy smoking, it is still considered a ‘davar sheshaveh lachol nefesh’.

The famed Pnei Yehoshua, Rav Yaakov Yehoshua Falk zt”l, Rav Yaakov Emden zt”l, and Rav Yonason Eibeshutz zt”l,[9] all raise an additional point to allow smoking on Yom Tov. Astonishingly, they extol the health benefits of smoking! They write that smoking aids digestion, whets the appetite, and improves the body’s general wellbeing. Therefore, they conclude, that even if some do not actually enjoy smoking, it is nevertheless still considered ‘shaveh lachol nefesh’. Rav Yaakov Emden adds that his father, the renowned Chacham Tzvi, restarted smoking on Yom Tov, because otherwise he felt that was not properly fulfilling the Mitzva of Oneg Yom Tov! This is quite understandable, as many Rabbonim of the time viewed smoking in a positive light, and quote the Talmidim of the Baal Shem Tov as even comparing smoking to the Ketores[10]!

Although many poskim argued on all of these points, including the Beis Meir and Zera Emes, other later authorities, including the Pri Megadim, Ben Ish Chai, and Aruch Hashulchan, concurred wholeheartedly[11]. In fact, the Mishna Berura cites a summary of this discussion with no clear-cut psak, and concludes simply that ‘one may not object to those who smoke on Yom Tov’, with a provision to be careful regarding extinguishing the cigarette.

However, in the words of Rav Moshe Sternbuch shlit”a and Rav Asher Weiss shlit”a[12], nowadays the real question is not whether or not smoking is permitted on Yom Tov; it is whether or not smoking is permitted at all!

In 1964, the United States Surgeon General released his initial report stating the health risks associated with smoking. Since then, there have been thousands of scientific studies and reports detailing the hazards of smoking. The Center for Disease Control estimates that one out of every five deaths in America each year is caused by smoking. Other reports estimate that 15% of smokers eventually die of lung cancer. Compounded with the elevated risk of emphysema, stroke, coronary disease, and circulatory disorders, studies indicate that smokers face a much higher mortality rate, an almost 67% chance of dying due to an illness directly attributed to their smoking[13].

Now that we are aware of the true “health benefits” of smoking, the question is whether or not there remains a hetter to engage in this socially acceptable self destructive behavior.

The Gadol HaDor, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l, in a brief, albeit pivotal, teshuva dated several months after the Surgeon General’s initial report[14], wrote that although it is certainly appropriate to abstain from smoking, nevertheless, one cannot say that smoking is outright assur, as there are many people who smoke. Therefore, smokers fit into the category of ‘shomer pesaim Hashem’, ‘Hashem watches over fools’[15]. Rav Moshe adds that especially since many Gedolim smoked, it is impossible to say that such an act is truly forbidden[16]. This responsum seems to be the primary justification for many a smoker.

Several other contemporary authorities wrote similarly, explaining that although it may not be proper to smoke, it still is not truly prohibited by halacha. Yet, subsequently, and as the knowledge of the health risks associated with smoking became more widespread and universally acknowledged, and the number of smokers started dropping, many of these poskim changed their psak to reflect the emerging reality, using extremely harsh terms to decry smoking, with many authorities outright forbidding it[17].

These contemporary authorities include Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l, the Tzitz Eliezer zt”l, Rav Ben Tzion Abba Shaul zt”l, and Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l[18], who, contrary to their earlier psakim, in their later rulings all came out strongly against smoking. Other poskim, including Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l, the Debreciner Rav zt”l, Rav Shmuel HaLevi Wosner shlit”a, Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlit”a, Rav Moshe Sternbuch shlit”a, the Rivevos Efraim zt”l, and Rav Asher Weiss shlit”a, wrote unequivocally about the dangers of smoking and how it is not permitted, with some even referring to smoking as ‘suicidal’[19].

In fact, many Gedolim, including Rav Elyashiv zt”l, Rav Aharon Yehuda Leib Steinman shlit”a, Rav Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz zt”l, Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro zt”l, Rav Nissim Karelitz shlit”a, and Rav Shmuel Auerbach shlit”a, recently (Av 2004) signed a Kol Koreh against smoking, even imploring those who do smoke to do everything in their power to stop[20].

Although it is known that many Gedolim smoked (and do smoke), it is highly probable that they started before the risks were known, and now simply cannot quit, due to their nicotine addiction. If they would be able to do so, they certainly would[21]. In fact, it is exactly the battle against addiction required to quit smoking that Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler zt”l embodied in his classic Michtav M’Eliyahu to define the battles against the Yetzer HaRa, and it took someone of his incredible stature several years to finally be able to quit[22].

Anecdotally, it is told that Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l, as well as this author’s Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Leib Bakst zt”l of Detroit, quit cold turkey after doctors personally explained the health risks of smoking to them. Even mv”r Rav Yaakov Blau zt”l (of the Eida Chareidis), a tremendous Gaon and quintessential old time Yerushalmi (heavy smoker), and the Dejer Rebbe of Miami, Rav Yehuda Paneth zt”l, both attempted to cut down in their later years. Additionally, it is recorded that Dayan Yisrael Yaakov Fischer zt”l, who permitted smoking year round (including Yom Tov), at the end of his life, when he was dying of lung cancer, gathered ten men together to publicize in his name that smoking is truly unequivocally assur and he wanted to be ‘mezakeh the rabbim’ with this psak[23].

In fact, even Rav Moshe himself, in subsequent teshuvos dated 1981[24], took a much stronger stance against smoking due to the health risks involved. Although he still would not call smoking outright assur, he nonetheless rules that due to the dangers of second-hand smoke, it is forbidden to smoke where it will bother others (a psak later echoed by many other authorities[25]), and concludes with an exhortation that everyone, especially Bnei Torah, should not begin to smoke due to the chashash sakana, adding that it is assur to ‘get addicted’. Recently, his son, Rav Dovid Feinstein shlit”a, was quoted as saying that with the current knowledge of the harm smoking causes, it is pashut that had his father, Rav Moshe, still been alive today, he would have prohibited smoking outright, as his dispensation was based only on the ‘fact’ that smoking endangered only a small percentage of smokers[26]!

It may be interesting to note that many Bnei Yeshiva, who would never dream of relying on Rav Moshe’s famous hetter regarding Chalav Stam, paradoxically, seemingly have no qualms relying on his hetter for ‘lighting up’, even though the wording of his halachic dispensation is quite similar.

Over a hundred years ago, the Chofetz Chaim[27] expressed his dismay that ‘weak’ people smoked, even though the doctors of the time clearly informed them of the grave health risks involved. He strongly condemned smoking where it was found to be injurious to health.

Additionally, the Rambam writes that one should distance himself from any activity that can cause his body harm; one who does not, but rather places himself in sakana, deserves ‘makkos’. This is seconded by the Shulchan Aruch, and referred to as transgressing an Issur De’oraysa by the Levush, and even outright ‘apikorsus’ by the Be’er HaGolah. Furthermore, while addressing the requirement of avoiding dangerous activities due to the Talmudic dictum of ‘chamira sakanta m’issura’, (matters of danger are to be treated more stringently than prohibitions; Gemara Chullin 10a), the Rema stresses that we should be further concerned with a possible danger (safek) above and beyond a possible prohibition[28]. All of the above would certainly apply to smoking.

Although with many apparently suffering from ‘ostrich syndrome’, and others claiming to follow the Pnei Yehoshua since he predated the Surgeon General by several centuries[29], nowadays, with medical science conclusively proving the dangers of smoking, and with so many prominent authorities having issued rulings forbidding it, one who embarks on a smoking ‘career’ does not seem to actually have the staunch halachic backing he might assume he does. ‘V’Nishmartem Me’od L’Nafshoseichem[30] does not apply exclusively to others.

This article is not meant to be a comprehensive guide; it is merely a brief summary of the main halachic issues involved with smoking.

This article was written L'iluy Nishmas the Ohr Somayach Rosh HaYeshiva - Rav Chonoh Menachem Mendel ben R' Yechezkel Shraga and l’zechus Shira Yaffa bas Rochel Miriam v’chol yotzei chalatzeha for a yeshua sheleimah!

For any questions, comments or for the full Mareh Mekomos / sources, please email the author:

Rabbi Yehuda Spitz serves as the Sho’el U' Meishiv and Rosh Chabura of the Ohr Lagolah Halacha Kollel at Yeshivas Ohr Somayach in Yerushalayim.

[1] See Shiyurei Kenesses HaGedolah (Orach Chaim 567, Haghos on Beis Yosef 3, and Orach Chaim 551, Haghos on Beis Yosef 21; he writes that he even put a violator in Cherem for smoking on Tisha B’Av!), Mor U’Ketzia (end 210, s.v. su), Sha’arei Teshuva (559, 4), Mishna Berura (556, 8), and Shu”t Yechaveh Da’as (vol. 5, 39).

[2] See Pri Chodosh (Yoreh Deah 108, 23), Mor U’Ketzia (end 210 s.v. aval), Shaarei Teshuva (Orach Chaim 210, 9), Leket HaKemach (beg. Hilchos Tisha B’Av), Shu”t Masos Moshe (Yoreh De’ah, 4), Pischei Teshuva (Yorah Deah 108, 3), and Darchei Teshuva (ad loc. 89).

[3] See Magen Avraham (Orach Chaim 210, 9), Ba’er Heitiv (ad loc. 9), Shaarei Teshuva (ad loc. 9), Shu”t Halachos Ketanos (vol. 1, 101), Eshel Avraham (Butchach; Orach Chaim 216), Ba’er Heitiv (ad loc. 13 and Orach Chaim 210, 9), Mor U’Ketziah (210, from s.v. b’MG”A), Machazik Bracha (Orach Chaim 210, 8), Magen Giborim (Orach Chaim 210, Elef HaMagen 12), Shu”t Ksav Sofer (O.C. 24), Taamei HaMinhagim (Inyanei Brachos 214 - 215, pg. 102), and Mishna Berura (210, 17).

[4] For the halacha l’maaseh in this case see Tur and Shulchan Aruch and main commentaries (Orach Chaim 511, 4).

[5] See Gemara Kesuvos (7a) and Beis Yosef (Orach Chaim 511, 4).

[6] Magen Avraham (514, 4), Elya Rabba (ad loc. 3), Korban Nesanel (Beitzah Ch. 2, 22, 10), Mekor Chaim (Orach Chaim 514, ad loc.), and Chayei Adam (vol. 2, 95, 13). There are other reasons for prohibiting as well. The Kenesses HaGedolah (cited by the Magen Avraham) prohibits smoking on Yom Tov due to Mechabeh, extinguishing, and the Pri Megadim (Orach Chaim 511, M.Z. 2; see also Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 98, 32) raises the issue of Mocheik, erasing, if the letters on cigarette get burned. For an opposing viewpoint to this issue, see Shemiras Shabbos K’Hilchasa (Ch. 13, footnote 34) and Shu”t Ohr L’Tzion (vol. 3, Ch. 20, footnote 2).

[7] Shu”t Darchei Noam (Orach Chaim 9) and Birkei Yosef (Orach Chaim 511, 2). See also Haghos Rav Baruch Frankel (ad loc.), who opines that with the high prevalence of smoking in his time, perhaps the Magen Avraham would have changed his mind.

[8] This is actually understandable, as the poskim of the time referred to smoking as ‘shtiyas tutin’, drinking tobacco. See, for example, what the Ben Ish Chai (Year 1, Parshas Vayikra 5) writes regarding the rights of Talmidei Chachamim to smoke in shul, as he considered it drinking. This is also why many ruled against smoking on ordinary fast days, even though nowadays it would seem implausible to consider smoking an act of eating or drinking.

[9] Pnei Yehoshua (Shabbos 39b s.v. amnam), Mor U’Ketziah (Orach Chaim 511, at length), Bina L’Ittim on the Rambam (Hilchos Yom Tov Ch. 4, 6). This hetter for ‘briyus’, health, is based on the words of the Mordechai (Beitzah Ch. 2, 680) and Tosafos (Shabbos 39b s.v. u’B”H mattirin), who allow one to ‘sweat’ on Yom Tov (ostensibly to enter a sauna or ‘shvitz’); as due to its health benefits it is considered ‘shaveh lachol nefesh’. Interestingly, the Chayei Adam (vol. 2, 95, Nishmas Avraham 2 s.v. v’tzarich iyun) although prohibiting smoking on Yom Tov (as mentioned previously) and rejecting full dispensation to allow it due to its health benefits, nevertheless does seem to accept that smoking might have some medical benefit. He allows a ‘choleh she’ain bo sakana’ to smoke on Yom Tov, and only via the aid of a non-Jew, as he classifies smoking as ‘tzorchei choleh she’aino l’taanug’.

[10] See for example Taamei HaMinhagim (Inyanei Brachos 214 - 215, pg. 102). However, he concludes with a story about the Av Beis Din of Belz, who after realizing that in the amount of time in took him to set up and smoke his pipe he could learn a Daf of Gemara, quit smoking immediately. A similar assessment is given by the Chofetz Chaim in his sefer Zechor L’Miriam (Ch. 23, s.v. v’hinei nimtzaim), where among the reasons he decries smoking for (and aside from health reasons) is the sheer amount of bittul zman and bittul Torah it engenders.

[11] Beis Meir (Yorah De’ah 197), Shu”t Zera Emas (93), Pri Megadim (Orach Chaim 511, M.Z. 2 and E.A. ad loc. 9), Shu”t Rav Pe’alim (vol. 2, Orach Chaim 59), and Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chaim 511, 11). A summary of the main issues involved and machlokes haposkim whether smoking on Yom Tov is permitted is presented by the Ba’er Heitiv (Orach Chaim 554, 1), Sha’arei Teshuva (Orach Chaim 551, 5), and Biur Halacha (ad loc. 4 s.v. ain). See also Shu”t Ksav Sofer (Orach Chaim end 66), Shu”t Shoel U’Meishiv (Mahadura Tinyana vol. 2, 8 s.v. v’hinei), Sdei Chemed (Asifas Dinim, Ma’areches Yom Tov 1, 4), and Shemiras Shabbos K’Hilchasa (new print; Ch. 13, 7). See footnote 20.

[12] See Shu”t Teshuvos V’Hanhagos (vol. 4, 115) and Shu”t Minchas Asher (vol. 1, 35 and 36; at length). They (as well as several other poskim mentioned in this article) maintain that the main issur is the addiction and not necessarily each individual cigarette, yet, each individual cigarette brings one one step closer to addiction, and is therefore prohibited; similar to what Rav Moshe Feinstein wrote regarding smoking marijuana and taking drugs in Shu”t Igros Moshe (Yoreh De’ah vol. 3, 35). The Chofetz Chaim (Lekutei Amarim Ch. 13 and Zechor L’Miriam Ch. 23 s.v. v’hinei yadaati) writes that he screamed at smokers who were harming their health, “Who let you get addicted?’. Rav Moshe himself, in a later teshuva (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Choshen Mishpat vol. 2, 76), wrote that even regarding regular cigarettes it is assur to ‘get addicted’.

[13] According to the most recent studies smoking kills two thirds of smokers. See Medical Daily, Oct 11, 2013: Cigarettes Even More Dangerous Than Once Thought: 67% Of Smoking Deaths Linked Directly To Habit:; The Lancet, Volume 381, Issue 9861, Pages 133 – 141: The 21st century hazards of smoking and benefits of stopping: a prospective study of one million women in the UK:; BMJ 2004;328:1519: – p. 1524 – “This indicates that about two thirds of the persistent cigarette smokers born in the 1920s would eventually be killed by their habit”. Thanks are due to R’ Zvi Herzig for pointing out these references.

[14] Shu”t Igros Moshe (Yoreh De’ah vol. 2, 49).

[15] Tehillim (116, 6). See Gemara Shabbos 129b, Yevamos 12b, 72a & 100b, Kesuvos 39a, Sanhedrin 110b, Avodah Zara 30b, and Nida 31a & 45a. This dictum is invoked by the Gemara to explain how certain dangerous activities that have become common practice were not outright forbidden.

[16] This fact is very important. It is well known that Rav Moshe was against prohibiting any action that could possibly cast aspersions on previous generations. See article titled: ‘Bubby Didn’t Eat Bugs!’

[17] The first written responsum outright prohibiting smoking nowadays due to medical concerns was in Shu”t Asei Lecha Rav (vol. 2, 1; see also vol. 6, 58, where he prohibits purchasing cigarettes for others, even parents!) by Rav Chaim Dovid HaLevi, Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, in the 1970’s. As the knowledge of the health risks associated with smoking became more widespread and universally acknowledged, and the number of smokers started dropping, many more poskim began ruling stringently as well.

[18] Compare, for example, the wording of the teshuvos in Kovetz Teshuvos (vol. 1, 219; from 1981) and the later recent Kol Koreh (from Av 2004) which Rav Elyashiv signed, as well as his Ha’aros B’Maseches Kesuvos (7a) and Shu”t VaYishma Moshe (vol. 1, pg. 436). According to the Jerusalem Center for Research - Medicine and Halacha (headed by Rabbi Yaakov Weiner), Rav Elyashiv later even prohibited advertising for cigarettes! Compare Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer vol. 1 (20, Ch. 3; from 1945) to vol. 15 (39; from 1983, and vol. 17, 21) where he explicitly prohibits smoking. Regarding Rav Ben Tzion Abba Shaul, compare Shu”t Ohr L’Tzion (vol. 3, Ch. 20, footnote 2) to his later Ohr L’Tzion - Chochma U’Mussar (pg. 221; as well as the editor’s note to his previous teshuva). Regarding Rav Ovadia, one can see the evolution of his psak from Shu”t Yabea Omer (vol. 5, Orach Chaim 39; from 1969) to Shu”t Yechaveh Daas (vol. 5, 39, and footnote 2; from 1983) to Halichos Olam (vol. 1, pg. 265 - 266, 4; from 1998) where he quite explicitly assurs it.

[19] Rav Aharon Kotler’s shitta is attested to in a signed letter by his talmid, Rav Yechiel Perr, Rosh Yeshivas Derech Ayson of Far Rockaway; Shu”t Minchas Shlomo (vol. 2, 58, 6), Shu”t Ba’er Moshe (vol. 6, 160, 9), Shu”t Shevet HaLevi (vol. 10, 295), She’elas Rav (pg. 92), Shu”t Teshuvos V’Hanhagos (vol. 1, 159, and 316, and stronger in vol. 3, 354, and outright assur in vol. 4, 115); Shu”t Rivevos Efraim (vol. 3, 487, and stronger in vol. 8, 586); and Shu”t Minchas Asher (ibid.). Apparently, these poskim were not impressed by commonly floated smokers’ sevaros as “most of these statistics were referring to non-Jews; this proves nothing about Yidden”, or “statistics were referring to 7 day a week smokers, not 6 day a week smokers”. Interestingly, the posek most smokers associate with these apparently illogical claims is the Chasam Sofer. Yet, anyone who actually read the words of the great Chasam Sofer inside (Chiddushim to Gemara Shabbos 86b s.v. v’im) would realize that the exact opposite is true. He writes that although he is hesitant to rely exclusively upon the findings of non-Jewish doctors regarding leniency with actual issurim, as their expertise is mainly pertaining to non-Jewish patients, on the other hand, regarding issues of ‘Pikuach Nefesh’, and even only a safek, he concludes that one should rely upon them. And the examples he gives are issurim chamurimChilul Shabbos and eating on Yom Kippur – that if a non-Jewish doctor would tell one to do, he must obey. Accordingly, smoking would certainly fit in this category of when one must listen to his doctor, even if non-Jewish. Thanks are due to Rabbi Mordechai Koster (in his Gilyon Gevuros Akiva, Parshas Va’eschanan 5774) for pointing out this important source. Another interesting source this author has heard for permitting smoking is the shittah of the Aruch LaNer (Shu”t Binyan Tzion 137) who maintains that when a potential sakana is not immediate, but would only occur some time later, one may be lenient, as then the dictum of ‘Shomer Pesa’im Hashem’ is invoked. However, this does not fit with most authorities’ understandings of this Klal (see footnote 26), and Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzenski (Shu”t Achiezer vol. 1, 23, 2, in the brackets) strongly argued on his logic, concluding that “b’emes kasheh lishkol b’mishkal sevaros mechudashos b’makom sakana”.

[20] It is well known that Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l (see for example the biographical B’Mechitzas Rabbeinu pg. 268, and Artscroll’s biography ‘Reb Yaakov’ pg. 318), his son Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky shlit”a, and his talmid Rav Yisroel Belsky shlit”a, all prohibit smoking. Similar to the above mentioned Kol Koreh, many American Rabbanim, including the Vaad Halacha of the RCA, signed an Anti-Smoking proclamation in Tammuz, 2006.

[21] See Shu”t Ba’er Moshe (ibid.) and Shu”t Shevet HaKehasi (vol. 1, 332).

[22] Michtav M’Eliyahu (vol. 1, pg. 79 s.v. v’yoser and footnote, ppg. 111 - 112, and pg. 225 s.v. im).

[23] This author has heard this story about Dayan Fischer zt”l several times and is found in Rav Moshe Sternbuch’s Likutei Teshuvos V’Hanhagos on Shavuos (pg. 362, s.v. v’hamachmir, in the parenthesis, discussing “Talmid Chacham Gadol Echad zt”l”). It has also been added to the newer versions of Shu”t Teshuvos V’Hanhagos (vol. 1, 316), in the parenthesis at the end of the Teshuva).

[24] Shu”t Igros Moshe (Choshen Mishpat vol. 2, 18 & 76). He also writes that a father, even one already addicted to cigarettes, should not allow his children to start smoking! See also Shu”t Igros Moshe (Orach Chaim vol. 5, 34) where he concludes regarding smoking on Yom Tov that although not assur, still a ‘ba’al nefesh yachmir’. Others who originally held it was muttar on Yom Tov include the Tzitz Eliezer, Rav Ben Tzion Abba Shaul, and Rav Ovadia Yosef. Yet, they later retracted, changing their psak, and prohibited it (see footnote 14). Many other contemporary poskim forbade smoking on Yom Tov outright, including Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv (ibid.), Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Shu”t Minchas Shlomo, Tinyana 60, 29) Rav Moshe Sternbuch (ibid; he wrote that although m’sevara an addicted smoker might have what to rely upon for Yom Tov, nevertheless, smoking is assur year round, period), Rav Asher Weiss (ibid.) and the Sha’arim Metzuyanim B’Halacha (98, 19). They maintain that the hetterim of previous generations no longer apply. Now that the true health “benefits” of smoking are known, and many people are cutting down, trying to quit, or not starting in the first place, smoking can no longer be considered ‘l’briyus’, and also loses its classification of ‘shaveh lachol nefesh’. A related story is told about Rav Mordechai Winkler zt”l, the famed Levushei Mordechai (as cited in Shu”t Minchas Asher ibid.). Although noted for always smoking on Yom Tov, he quit cold turkey (at least for Yom Tov) after having a dream that he found a hetter allowing him to smoke even on Shabbos!

[25] See Shu”t Shevet HaLevi (ibid.), Shu”t Teshuvos V’Hanhagos (ibid.), Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer (vol. 15, 39, 5 - 9 and vol. 17, 22), Shu”t Shevet HaKehasi (ibid.), and Shu”t Ohr L’Tzion (vol. 2, Ch. 45, 56).

[26] See Kovetz L’Torah V’Hora’ah (5772, pg. 67), in an article by Rav Baruch Moskowitz, author of Shu”t V’Dibarta Bam (Piskei Rav Dovid Feinstein) and Rav Yitzchok Frankel’s Kuntress Yad Dodi (Piskei Rav Dovid Feinstein; pg. 305, Choshen Mishpat #65). This would certainly seem to hold true according to Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzenski’s zt”ls understanding of the hetter of ‘Shomer Pesa’im Hashem’. He explains (Shu”t Achiezer vol. 1, 23, 2; a similar assessment is given by the Tzitz Eliezer, Shu”t vol. 15, 39, 1 s.v. le’ohr) that one may only rely on said hetter when there is no clear and present danger, when the sakana is only a “chashash rachok umiut she’aono motzui,delo chayshee Rabbannan lehai,ve’al zeh yeish lismoch meshumeShomer Pesa’im Hashem”. The Tzitz Eliezer adds that since smoking is deemed enough of a health risk that in every civilized country cigarettes are only sold with a warning printed on the package that it damages health, smoking can no longer be classified as ‘Shomer Pesa’im Hashem. Accordingly, in our day and age, one would definitely not be able to rely on this hetter to smoke. Additionally, even according to Rav Elchonon Wasserman Hy”d’s understanding of this Klal, it seems tenuous at best to smoke. He explains (Kovetz Shiurim vol. 1, Kesuvos 136) that the hetter means that one does not have to refrain from regular daily living, i.e. performing everyday activities, (‘minhag derech eretz’ in his own words), as then he is considered guarded from Heaven. However, when referring to an action that is within his ability to refrain from, he is no longer numbered among the ‘guarded fools’. Moreover, if one does not take the necessary precautions, he is ‘mischayev b’nafsho’ and loses all Heavenly protection. Since smoking’s true health risks have become increasingly manifest, and is now a practice indulged in by far fewer than even several decades previous, it seems highly doubtful that Rav Elchonon would consider smoking ‘minhag derech eretz’ nowadays.

[27] In his Lekutei Amarim (Ch. 13; cited by the Tzitz Eliezer and Rav Ovadia Yosef in their respective teshuvos) and Zechor L’Miriam (Ch. 23 s.v. v’hinei).

[28] Rambam (Hilchos De’os Ch. 4, 1 and Hilchos Rotzeach V’Shmiras Nefesh Ch. 11, 5), Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 427, 10), Levush (ad loc.), Be’er HaGolah (ad loc. ‘os tzaddi’), and Beis Yosef and Rema (Yoreh De’ah 116, 5).

[29] See Gilyon Birchas Binyomin (13 Tishrei 5772 - "Showers on Yom Tov").

[30] Devarim (Parshas Va’eschanan Ch. 5, verse 15). After completing this article, this author has found out that there are several recent excellent sefarim devoted exclusively to the topic of smoking in halacha, including “Pe’er Tachas Eifar” and “Chaim L’lo Ishan”.

Disclaimer: This is not a comprehensive guide, rather a brief summary to raise awareness of the issues. In any real case one should ask a competent Halachic authority.

L'iluy Nishmas the Rosh HaYeshiva - Rav Chonoh Menachem Mendel ben R' Yechezkel Shraga, Rav Yaakov Yeshaya ben R' Boruch Yehuda, and l'zchus for Shira Yaffa bas Rochel Miriam and her children for a yeshua teikef u'miyad!

© 1995-2019 Ohr Somayach International - All rights reserved.

Articles may be distributed to another person intact without prior permission. We also encourage you to include this material in other publications, such as synagogue or school newsletters. Hardcopy or electronic. However, we ask that you contact us beforehand for permission in advance at and credit for the source as Ohr Somayach Institutions

« Back to Insights into Halacha

Ohr Somayach International is a 501c3 not-for-profit corporation (letter on file) and your donation is tax deductable.