The author of this article, and the Orthodox Union, do not endorse smoking. Indeed, we shall see below that many contemporary poskim opposed smoking altogether. However, some earlier authorities did discuss various aspects of smoking. The purpose of this article is to provide the reader with information about the halachic aspects of smoking on Pesach, Yom Tov, and all year round.
Cigarettes were first introduced during the 18th century in Seville, Spain. The earliest cigarettes were actually created by beggars who picked tobacco from used cigar ends in the street, wrapped them in paper, and smoked them. Eventually, cigarettes became a social norm and grew into a large market. Whether it is permissible to smoke tobacco on Pesach and the acceptability of smoking in general, are topics that require exploration.
The kashrut of tobacco has been a subject of discussion amongst poskim throughout the generations. For example, the Chayei Adam (127:3) cautioned against using snuff tobacco that was known to contain yayin nesech as an additive. The kashrus of tobacco, and cigarettes, during Pesach is a topic that has been heavily discussed in halachic literature. The Magen Avraham in Hilchot Pesach (467:8:10) prohibited using tobacco during Pesach, which was known to have been soaked in beer beforehand. The basis of the Magen Avraham’s stringent position seems to be the prohibition of deriving benefit from chametz, even if not eaten. However, not everyone agreed with the Magen Avraham’s conclusion. The Beis Meir in his commentary on Shulchan Aruch contended that since tobacco and its components are wholly inedible before Pesach, it should be permitted on the basis that it is nifsal meachilas kelev (“not fit for a dog”. See Pesachim 45b) and no longer considered chametz. Similar arguments were also made by Rav Chaim Sanzer in Divrei Chaim (Yoreh Deah 20) and Rav Shlomo Kluger in Tuv Ta’am VeDa’as (3:1:131), who disagreed with the Magen Avraham. However, the Beis Meir also wrote that since fumes from tobacco are ingested through one’s mouth while smoking, it might be comparable to shesiya (drinking), and suggests that perhaps as a chumra people should refrain from smoking during Pesach. The Magen Avraham’s opinion was accepted by the Maharam Schick (Orach Chaim 242), who suggested that the beer additive regains its chametz status once it is smoked (see the Rosh’s commentary at the beginning of the third perek of Pesachim), and is also quoted by the Mishnah Brurah (467:33). However, the Mishnah Berurah writes that since manufacturing processes can change over time, they should be investigated and confirmed. The Aruch HaShulchan (Orach Chaim 467:17) for example, also quotes the Magen Avraham, but noted that the process of soaking tobacco in beer has ceased, and nowadays assumes that it is permissible to smoke during Pesach. Nowadays, cigarettes primarily consist of tobacco, paper, synthetic glue, and a fiber based filter that is derived from tree pulp. The Magen Avraham’s concern about tobacco soaked in beer no longer applies. However, other materials can be added to a cigarette. For example, although the filler of a cigarette rod is principally tobacco, there are instances when a small amount of puffed grains, such as rye or barley, could be mixed in. Moreover, humectants are added to the cigarette to maintain moisture, as well as flavors. Flavors are especially complicated since they consist of many other subcomponents. Although most flavors in general do not contain chametz derivatives, a minority of them do. Consumers should consult with their Rabbanim whether cigarettes should be considered inherently permissible on Pesach, or whether their other various components could pose a concern.
A discussion about the kashrus of cigarettes during Pesach would be incomplete without touching on two other areas; smoking during Yom Tov specifically, and smoking all year round in general.
Whether it is permissible to smoke during Yom Tov has been an ongoing dispute amongst poskim. The general rule is that unlike Shabbos, melachot intended for ochel nefesh (preparation of food) are permitted. Chazal in Masechet Beitzah (12a and 22b) extend this principle to certain melachot intended for physical benefits other than food consumption, provided that they are a davar hashaveh lechol nefesh (enjoyed by the masses). The Magen Avraham (514:4) questioned the practice of smoking on two grounds; firstly, whether igniting a cigarette and smoking qualifies as a davar hashaveh lechol nefesh, and secondly, a concern that someone might improperly extinguish it, which is clearly prohibited. The Sha’arei Teshuva (511:5) quotes many poskim that supported or disagreed with the Magen Avraham’s position (also See Mishnah Brurah 511:4:21 and the Bi’ur Halacha), although all poskim agreed that one could not simply extinguish the cigarette but must allow it to burn out. Rav Yaakov Emden in Mor U’Ktziya (514) disagreed with the Magen Avraham and claimed that smoking is a davar hashaveh lechol nefesh since it is therapeutic and beneficial to one’s health. Nonetheless, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l in Igrot Moshe 8: 34 questioned whether it is permissible to smoke on Yom Tov. Rav Moshe suggested that although a minority, since many people smoke perhaps it may be considered a davar hashaveh lechol nefesh and permitted. As a result, Rav Moshe did not prohibit smoking on Yom Tov, but did suggest that one should try to refrain from this activity. More recently, Rav Moshe Sternbuch in Teshuvot VeHanhagot (1:317) writes that smoking is not a violation of Yom Tov because smokers derive physical pleasure from it and refraining from doing so would cause them excessive physical discomfort.1 However, other poskim disagreed. Both Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l in Minchat Shlomo (2:10 and 58:6) and Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv shlita in Kovetz Teshuvot (2: 32) prohibit smoking on Yom Tov. Like all other halachic questions, a Rov should be consulted for guidance regarding this contentious issue.
There is also a general, and very important, question whether it is permitted to smoke at all. The U.S. Surgeon General’s reports indicate that smoking is a contributory factor in the development of a variety of cancers, including the lung, oral cavity, and kidneys. Moreover, smoking is also considered casually related to coronary heart disease and respiratory illness. The Rambam in Hilchot Rotzeach U’Shemiras HaNefesh (11:5) lists a number of activities that one is prohibited to engage in, simply because it puts one’s life at risk. A person is not permitted to put themselves in a situation of life-threatening danger. The Chofetz Chaim decried smoking in Likutei Amarim 13, primarily as an act of bitul Torah, while also making reference to rumors of possible health risks that apparently existed even in his time. However, there are a number of instances where Chazal applied the pasuk from Tehillim, “Shomer Pesaim Hashem” (Hashem guards the simple) as a principle to permit an activity, despite a possible risk to one’s life, when society views the level of risk as negligible (see Yevamot 72a, Shabbos 129b, Avodah Zarah 30b, and Niddah 31a). Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l wrote two teshuvot about smoking that are found in Igrot Moshe Yoreh Deah 2:49, which was written in 5722, and Chosen Mishpat 2:76, which was written in 5741. In these teshuvot Rav Moshe took the position that the principle of “Shomer Pesaim Hashem” applied to individuals who have already begun to smoke. The rationale behind this stance was that the large minority of people that smoke do not believe that it is an activity hazardous to one’s health. However, smoking despite acknowledging that there is a serious and probable health risk is not permitted. Moreover, Rav Moshe cautioned non-smokers who might discount the risks, from considering starting smoking because of the possible detrimental effects to their health.
Many contemporary Gedolei Yisrael have cautioned against the possible ill effects of smoking to one’s health, and have refused to take the position that it is a permitted activity. The list includes Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l (see Minchat Shlomo 2:58:6), Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l (see Reb Yaakov p. 240), Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlita (see Sheilas Rov p.92), Rav Moshe Sternbuch shlita (see Teshuvot VeHanhagos 3:354), Rav Eliezer Waldenberg zt”l (see Tzitz Eliezer 15:39), and Rav Shmuel Wosner shlita (see Shevet HaLevi 10:295).
The two questions whether it is permissible to smoke on Yom Tov or all year round are independent. Smoking on Yom Tov may not be considered a violation, despite taking the position that one should not smoke during the rest of the year. See Beitzah 12b.However, it would seem from Rav Yaakov Emden’s position that an activity detrimental to one’s health may not be considered a davar hashaveh lekol nefesh.