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September 13, 2006

RCA’s Vaad Halacha Bans Use of Tobacco Products

Jul 3, 2006 — The Va’ad Halacha of the Rabbinical Council of America, in its first decision in recent years, has issued a detailed responsum to explain why the use of tobacco is prohibited by Jewish Law.

The Va’ad Halachah (or Halacha Committee) of The Rabbinical Council of America has issued a unanimous opinion affirming that, in spite of its widespread practice even within many rabbinic and yeshiva circles, the smoking of tobacco products is prohibited by Jewish law. For some observers of Jewish life, this decision might be casually dismissed as a statement of the obvious, or in any case, as long overdue. But from a different perspective, this ruling illustrates the highly significant fact that accepted practice and illustrious precedent notwithstanding, Jewish law is fully able to incorporate new realities, recognize new and reliable scientific findings, and embrace the need to change heretofore acceptable behavior.

The ruling comes in the wake of, and is based on, impeccable halachic sources attesting to the importance of safeguarding health and preserving life. It also benefits from a keen understanding of the massive volume of medical and scientific findings on the dangers of tobacco products. And it posits that those rabbinic authorities who may have in decades passed permitted the activity (or even engaged in it themselves), would in all likelihood have a changed opinion today.

“The Torah is a book of life, both physical and spiritual. And especially on the issue of smoking, the Torah itself must be seen as a living, growing, and ever expanding source of wisdom and life-giving energy, mandating the pursuit of good health and long life,” said the chairman of the Vaad Halacha, Rabbi Asher Bush.

The decision calls on all Jews, and certainly halachically-observant Jews, to make every effort to avoid smoking in the first place, and if already in the habit, to stop doing so.

The RCA’s Vaad Halacha, chaired for many years by illustrious leaders of the RCA, most especially the late and revered Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, was recently reconstituted under the chairmanship of Rabbi Asher Bush. It has been granted a mandate to tackle some of the major issues currently confronting the Orthodox community, including organ transplantation, time of death matters, and others. It will also address issues put to it by the Orthodox Union, in the RCA’s invigorated role as halachic authority to the Orthodox Union.

In addition to the eminently qualified members of the Vaad Halacha itself, the work of the committee has benefit, and will continue to benefit, from the advisory role of its Vaad Haposkim, or Poskim Committee, composed of leading and highly respected decisors of Jewish law, within and beyond the RCA itself.


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