Israel: Smokey Joe's Cafe?

In Parshat Va’Etchanan, Devarim 4:15 we read “v’neeshmartem meod l’nafshoteichem”, “watch your selves very carefully”.

The Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 427:8 states that it is a mitzvat aseh, a positive commandment, to remove deadly obstacles, as it says in our pasuk, “watch your selves” as well as in Devarim 22:8 “you will not place blood in your house”. One who does not follow this law is transgressing a Torah law. The chapter concludes with the words “those who are careful in these matters (of not endangering ourselves or others) will be blessed”.

Last year, the Committee of Jewish Law of The Rabbinical Council of America issued a unanimous opinion affirming that the smoking of tobacco products is prohibited by Jewish law. The decision calls on all Jews to make every effort to avoid smoking in the first place, and if already in the habit, to stop doing so.

A group of Rabbis including the current Gerer Rebbe has recently come out with a ruling in Israel that it is absolutely forbidden for a person to pick up their first cigarette. Smokers should do everything in their power to quit. One is never allowed to smoke in public due to the danger of second hand smoke.  This applies even if the other people around are smokers as well. One should not give another person lung cancer because of a habit they refuse to work on. Under no circumstances may one smoke in front of children.

Unfortunately in Israel today, smokers of all ages and levels of religious observance are everywhere. Even malls which claim to be “smoke free environments” have ashtrays on the tables of their cafes. Rabbis teaching in Yeshivot smoke with their students in front of them. I have even seen a “religious” father pushing a baby carriage with one hand and smoking a cigarette with the other hand.

Israel’s rabbis need to quit smoking themselves and teach the public about the dangers of smoking. Israel’s law enforcement officials also need to quit smoking and crack down on people smoking in public.

Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, MD sums it up best:  “A Torah-observant Jew does not smoke on Shabbat. If he can refrain from smoking one day, he can refrain from doing it every day.”