Is smoking cigarettes a sin?

November 4th, 2015 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 5 comments

Question:

Many years ago, you could go to church and might notice the large numbers of cigarette butts in the parking lots. Today, in most Christian circles, smoking and use of tobacco is said to be sin. 

I have searched the Bible for an answer and clarification to the question about tobacco use. Is there anything in the Old Testament to clarify the question, “Is tobacco use sin or is it just an unhealthy habit?”

 Thank you for your ever thoughtful answers and insight you share weekly. And may the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob bless you.

∼ Linda O.

Answer:

Dear Linda,

Your observation about church parking lots is apt and your question is a good one for all Bible-believing religious people to ask; we know it is much discussed in Orthodox Jewish circles.   We’d like to start our answer by asking, “What is a sin?”

Because there are many Hebrew words for the act of disobeying God, there are many instances in the Bible of wrongdoing all using different words.  However, English doesn’t have too many words other than the word sin.  So many so-called ‘sins’ in the Tanach have different Hebrew words signifying different types of wrongdoing.  There are Hebrew words meant to distinguish between sins that are deliberate rebellions against God and sins that are accidental. There are other words for the entire range in between (It was an accident but if I had cared a little more and paid more attention, I wouldn’t have done that…I was upset but I wasn’t conscious of wanting to disobey God…).So we see there are many nuances for God, just as between human parents and children.  Not all bad behaviors are equivalent.

Smoking seems on the lesser end of the spectrum of sin.  After all, there is no Biblical commandment, “Do not smoke”.  It might well be more of a lapse in observing the requirement in Deuteronomy 4:15 to guard our lives. Certainly, we accept the permanent principle that our bodies are on loan from God and we need to take good care of them.

The difficulty is that we can each find areas in which we individually fail such as eating too much sugar, biking without a helmet, not exercising, not sleeping enough, getting upset, etc., etc.

There is even a legitimate concern that if we obsessively worry about our physical health it will come at the price of our spiritual health. The gym rat is not an ideal any more than the couch potato. Incidentally, Nazi Germany had a very vigorous anti-smoking campaign based on the idea that the government owned everyone and had a right to demand that its Aryan bodies stay healthy.

As you see, the issue isn’t black and white. For some people, smoking may even help alleviate other vices such as anger problems or uncontrolled eating.  If smoking was unequivocally condemned by the Bible, there is a good chance that our increasingly secularized society would not oppose it so strongly for fear of appearing pro-Biblical. Smoking is a good target for social virtue, partially because there is no direct religious commandment forbidding it.

Here is a frightening experiment we urge you to perform, Linda.  Ask a wide variety of friends and acquaintances, “If you had a child who was absolutely going to do one of these two things, which would you rather he or she did—smoking a cigarette or cheating on a school exam?”

We think you’ll be as bothered by the results as we were.  A disturbingly high proportion of people are more concerned with their kids’ bodies than they are with their souls.  This distorted sense of priorities has helped the popular culture demonize cigarettes way beyond what their obviously deleterious impact deserves.

So, we do not encourage smoking but neither do we think that it is the greatest evil of our times. Cigarette butts carpeting church parking lots is surely bad but so is arrogant condemnation of those who smoke.

Tending towards the sin of chocolate ourselves (or at least Susan),

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

 

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5 comments

Cole says:

Wow I feel better smoking now but I do it because of my family problems my sister has been arguing with her bf which gets me upset and my parents are splitting up looking for new partners it really gets me upset

Kathi Tyler says:

DON’T SMOke. Even though it feels good for you it is not.

Likhit says:

I was not that religious or even touched the bible. But a year and a half back my life turned out to be so miserable that I saw and went through things I never even imagined. I was all wrapped with Recreational drugs with a glass of liquor and smoke stick or joints. One day a preacher visited our place n could see I was not interested to know what god did. I was forced to read the bible by my mum. But I have no regrets because I’m enlightened. The only thing that still is with me n won’t leave is smoke or and dope. The pastor of my church always tells me your calling is released but smoking is an obstacle. Just like Rabbi and Susan I went through the bible but couldn’t find anything that classified smoking as sin and also as we know lords love is unconditional then why my smoking has stopped my calling. Why is there a condition. God never wanted us to know what is the difference between good and bad and so asked Adam n eve to stay away from the tree. When he never wanted us to discriminate. Who considered smoking as bad???? I don’t question the word of god but this is like blind faith. Just because world thinks it Bad it’s bad.

Crystal bloom says:

So my mother in law died of lung cancer caused by smoking and my grandfather had a traquiotomy do to smoking. It was a very ugly death and sad to see my grandfather go from out going and from being the entertainer to isolated and depressed because he couldn’t speak anymore. It was sad to never hear my grandfather’s voice for the rest of the time we had with him. It’s hard for me to hear that smoking is not bad or a sin when it is something that is a tool of the enemy to rob, kill, and destroy our lives. The bible says we have freedom in Christ but that not all things are good for us. It also teaches us to be other center like Christ, smoking is harmful to others breathing in second hand smoke around you and is bad for the earth that God created. We are called to not conform to the world but be transformed by the renewing of our minds. We are to be salt in the world. Different from everyone else. Set apart! I am a former smoker and God is able to help us conquer and live in victory. We can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. Still working on food and exercise but will not just be ok with sinning against my savior. Am fighting the good fight to take care of the body God gave me

Susan Lapin says:

Crystal, I’m sorry you had to watch your grandfather suffer. In general, there is a commandment to guard our health. However, there is no commandment to single out smoking more than other activities that aren’t good for us. We certainly aren’t encouraging smoking. Not everything that isn’t a sin is commendable. May you prevail in your fight for your health.

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