Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Friday, 29 February 2008

Finally Taking Action

I've never understood the tolerance many in the Ultra-Orthodox world have for smoking. Smoking rates have tumbled in almost every other sector of society except for the Chareidi community. It's not uncommon to enter a bais medrash and see men sitting and smoking as they pour over their books, sometimes even sitting under No Smoking signs as they do so!

The idea that smoking is a dirty habit is, of course, one well rooted in contemporary thought and for good reason. Indeed, other than the initial rush of nicotine, there is no benefit to smoking. Most smokers will quietly tell you that the only reason they continue is because they dread the feelings of withdrawal if they're a few minutes late for their next cigarette. The cough, the smell, is it any wonder most civilized societies have banned smokers to the fringes?

Yet I recall a Chabad shaliach who proudly smoked (although, to be fair, he respected No Smoking signs and limited himself to his home and car). He didn't see anything wrong with it and besides, scienctists are always changing their minds about something. I remember one year the news breaking that certain cigarettes had traces of chometz in them. "Great," was the reply. "I'm doing biyur chometz every time I smoke!"

It's amazing to me that the same people who will make sure their bread is Yoshon Pas Yisroel, who won't touch milk unless it's Cholov Yisroel from a cow that was born from a mother cow fertilized by a circumcized bull, who will always wear two head covering and spend 15 minutes checking their tzitzis in the morning with a magnifying glass will not hesitate to pop a cigarette into their mouth and when confronted, ask "So nu? Where in the Torah does it say smoking is forbidden?"

Much of the recalcitrant attitude is based on a psak in the Igros Moshe in which he advised against smoking but stops short of forbidding it outright. However, those actually read this teshuvah note something else. It was written in the very early 1970's before many of the risks of smoking were known. One wonders what the Rav Feinstein, zt"l, would say nowadays when the link between smoking and a multitude of chronic, debilitating diseases has been confirmed.

Therefore, I was glad to see this piece in Ynet mentioning that the Chareidi world has finally taken an interest in cutting down on smoking. In a world where people are finally turning away from cigarettes, it is high time that the Chareidi world stop standing apart and encourage the development of healthy habits in their group. I can only hope this initiative does not founder when it encounters opposition from the hordes for whom all change is "forbidden from the Torah".

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