May 1, 2007
The Va'ad Halacha of the Rabbinical Council of America is to be commended for issuing its authoritative and comprehensive halachic ruling banning the use of tobacco products
. It remains a blot on the Orthodox community that even given what is known today about the pernicious effects of tobacco so many within our midst continue to ingest it in its various forms, still believing it to be a halachically permissible act.
We are fully cognizant of the fact that smoking is in many cases the result of physical addiction, and it can thus be extremely difficult to desist from the habit. But our tradition teaches us that, difficult as it might be, a person always retains a divinely implanted freedom to choose. No one can escape responsibility for his or her choices, no matter how powerful the seductions of habit or yetzer ha-ra
(inclination to do wrong). As a rabbinic organization, it is our task and responsibility to assist and facilitate the right choices, however we can.
Thus it is important that this matter of life and death not be left as a theoretical statement of principle by the Vaad Halacha in the name of the RCA. It should be translated into concrete steps undertaken as a matter of community policy and concerted action in whichever ways are practical and likely to lead to positive results.
To this end, it is proposed that a committee of the RCA be formed with a mandate to engage in proactive steps towards abolishing the use of tobacco throughout our communities. The committee should focus on the options that rabbis, synagogues, and schools should consider for grass roots implementation. These should include, but not be limited to, the following initiatives:
1. Synagogues and Schools in their entirety should be smoke-free environments.
2. 2. This should include rental of the facilities to third parties, so that smoking is never permitted on the premises.
3. The ruling of the Vaad Halacha should be posted prominently, and a link should be put on the synagogue/school website.
4. A committee should be formed in each synagogue to work proactively on this matter.
5. Once a year there should be either a sermon, a shiur, or a Shabbat dedicated to study of the halakhic and musar literature related to smoking, addictions, and self-control. Guest lecturers with expertise should be invited to address the congregation in various appropriate venues. Such presentations should highlight the impact of side-stream smoke on innocent third parties.
6. Rabbis (or properly designated others) should offer their assistance to individual men or women who are seen to be poor role models in this regard. This could include providing the names of smoking and addiction specialists, to be provided by the RCA as a resource
7. In ongoing preventive mode, youth groups and individual teenagers should be proactively sensitized to the dangers of smoking, using appropriately powerful motivators and educational modalities (personal histories, videos, case histories, medical specialists, etc.)
8. Appropriate initiatives should be undertaken as needed in local yeshivot and day schools, as well as institutions in Israel to which young men and women from the synagogue might go for a year of post-High School education.