Tobacco

Jewish authorities have much to say about using, and abusing, this substance.

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Jews & Gentiles

In an interesting aside, Ha-Levi remarks that Jews should not smoke in public on a fast day since Muslims do not smoke on their fast days and Jews must not give the wrong impression that they are less scrupulous in their religious observances than their Gentile neighbors are in theirs.

Ha-Levi frowns, however, on smoking on Tisha B'av when even the study of the Torah is forbidden because it is a joyful experience.

In practice, Orthodox Jews do smoke on Yom Tov and on Tisha B'av after midday. It is also a widespread custom to take snuff on Yom Kippur, since this does not fall under the heading of any of the 'afflictions' forbidden on the day, such as food and drink.

On the same lines as Mordecai Ha-Levi, the famed German authority, David Hoffman (1843-1921) holds that while, strictly speaking, it is permitted to smoke in a synagogue (not, of course, during the services) it should not be done since Christians would not dream of smoking in a church and it would constitute a profanation of the divine Name if Jews behaved with less reverence in their houses of worship than Christians do in theirs.

Tobacco in Hasidism

In early Hasidism tobacco occupied an important role. Some of the Hasidic masters looked upon tobacco as the modern equivalent of incense in Temple times and many of them used to smoke a meditative pipe before they offered their prayers.

A further idea found among the early Hasidim is that there are subtle 'holy sparks' in tobacco which, under divine providence, was brought to Europe so that the masters could elevate these sparks in order to complete the full restoration that would result in the coming of the Messiah.

A later Hasidic master said that tobacco was used by pagan savages before it was brought to Europe. Its use by the Hasidim raises the weed from the profane to the sacred in that no one is ashamed to accept from another a peck of snuff or a pipeful of tobacco and so acts of benevolence are carried out through it all the time.

The smoking of a pipe by the Hasidim must have been a prevalent practice in early Hasidism since, in the polemics against them, there are repeated accusations that they waste hours in smoking.

The lulke (churchwarden's pipe) of the Baal Shem Tov features frequently in Hasidic legend. Some sources report that the Baal Shem Tov used to recite a benediction before smoking his pipe. The suggestion that the Baal Shem Tov's pipe contained a substance other than tobacco is completely unwarranted.

Rabbi S. Sevin, in his biographies of famous halakhists, reports a curious episode about smoking in his life of the famous Yeshivah principal, Baruch Bear Leibovitz (1866-1939).

Rabbi Leibovitz had an original way of 'smoking' cigarettes. He would place the cigarette in his mouth and chew and suck it without ever lighting it, deriving a certain amount of satisfaction in the process. The reason for his strange behavior was that his father once gave him a cigarette but when his teacher saw him smoking, the teacher said: 'Why do you have to smoke?'

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Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.