Q. Why do the rabbis not say more about the dangers of smoking?
A. The dangers of smoking are well documented and well recognised by the rabbis as by leaders of opinion of every kind. A number of rabbis used to smoke, but hardly any still do, and the orthodox media has carried many articles in recent years warning that smoking is not only unwise but anti-halachic.
The halachah is adamant that one must not take risks with life or health; twice the Torah warns, “You shall carefully guard your life” (Deut. 4:15), and even if the risk is not immediate, the risk must not be taken.
It is not well known that already more than half a century ago, Rabbi JI Schneersohn, a previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, banned smoking in his yeshivah for students under 20, and urged those over 20 to reduce their intake. Rav Moshe Feinstein said it was appropriate for people not to smoke, and parents should persuade their children not to acquire the habit.
In more recent years, Rabbi Yaakov Rakowsky, rabbi of the Hadassa Hospital in Jerusalem, went further and issued a strong ban on smoking, followed by a similar ban by Rabbi David Halevy, Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv – not that Israel has yet succeeded in eradicating smoking to the extent that has been achieved in many other countries.
It has been suggested that a Jewish way of helping to move away from smoking would be to say, “If you can somehow manage to avoid smoking on Shabbat, why not try to extend your abstention to Friday too, and to Sunday, and eventually make the whole week smoke-free?”