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
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.