CARR 19-20


Contemporary American Reform Responsa

13. A Ban on Smoking in the


QUESTION: The congregation has recently constructed a

new wing which includes multi-purpose rooms sometimes used as a small synagogue, as well as

various assemblies and classrooms. We would like to ban smoking from the area sometimes

used as a synagogue and would like to know whether it is appropriate to ban smoking entirely.

(Rabbi J. Stein, Indianapolis, IN)ANSWER: There has been some discussion of

tobacco in the halakhah since the eighteenth century. It began with its use on festivals

and fast-days (Mordecai Halevi, Darkei Noam #9). Other questions were discussed

subsequently (Abraham Gumbiner Magen Abraham to Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayim

210 and 514; I. Z. Kahana, Mehakrim Besafrut Hateshuvot, pp. 317 ff). These early

discussions of smoking dealt with this habit and the way in which it affected shabbat,

holidays, studies and the decorum of the synagogue service. A few authorities even considered

its use beneficial (Joshua Pollock; Jacob Emden in Kahanah, op. cit., pp. 321,

323). The question of tobacco in the synagogue was discussed, and it was generally

prohibited (Moses Hagiz, Leqah Hakemah Hil Tisha B’Av; Isaac Lampronti, Pahad

Yitzhaq; David Hoffmann, Melamed Lehoil Orah Hayim 15), but Hayim Palagi

permitted it when there were no services (Kaf Hahayim 21.19). There was a division of

opinion about its use while studying (Shimshon Hamburg, Nezirat Shirmshon #92, Hayim

Benjamin Puntrimoli, Responsa, Orah Hayim #103). We, however, must view

smoking differently as it is clear that smoking and any other use of tobacco are health hazards.

Whatever lingering doubts existed earlier have been removed in the last decades by the

Surgeon General’ s report of January, 1964. Therefore, we must treat this matter entirely on that

basis. It is incumbent upon every Jew to care for his health as well as the health of

other human beings (Deut. 4.9, 15; 22.8), and no injurious product should be used. This applies

as well to the health and well-being of one’s neighbor (B. K. 91b; Yad. Hil. Rotzeah 11.4

ff; Shulhan Arukh Hoshen Mishpat 427; Yoreh Deah 116.5 and Isserles). These

arguments have generally not been applied to smoking by Jewish authorities with the exception

of Israel Meir-Hakohen Kagan, (Kuntres Zekhor Miriam, Hofetz Hayim) who dealt not only

with the physical harm which cigarettes and cigars may bring but also with the neglect of study

which the habit of smoking may cause. Most modern Orthodox rabbis have been

hesitant about prohibiting smoking as they felt that this was a popular habit difficult to change or

that the danger to an individual was no greater than “crossing a street” (J. David Bleich,

Tradition, Vol. 10, #3, Vol. 16, #4). After all, tradition has been opposed to prohibitions

which will not be followed (B. K. 79b; Shab 148b; Moses Feinstein, Igrot Mosheh, Yoreh

Deah II #49). We, however, feel it is necessary to move beyond this cautious stance.

When it is within our power to ban smoking, we should do so on the grounds of personal health

as well as the health of our neighbors. It would, therefore, be appropriate for a synagogue to ban

smoking entirely in its building or to restrict it to a few isolated areas.December 1985

If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.