I usually try to ignore all this stuff, but for some reason I couldn’t this time. I was so angry at these kids parents. How could they drop the ball so badly that their ten year old was going through a pack of Marlboros a day?!
So I went over and asked the kid who his mum was, and where did she live. He looked at me blankly, and carried on smoking (my spoken Hebrew is horrendous). So then I tried a different tack: ‘That stuff is poison!” I told him.
He looked at me blankly again, so a 20-something man who was also hanging out with the tweenie smoking circle while he prepared his own roll-up translated for me. Then this 20 year old (who was also wearing a big, fat kippa) told me: “This isn’t the way to handle it! It’ll only make it worse!”
(Afterwards, I realized he thought I was going to complain about the boy to his parents. What I wanted to do was tell the parents how disgusting they were, but with hindsight I can see that also would have just backfired.)
Next, an older woman showed up and started telling the 10 year old boy how her son now had lung cancer from smoking cigarettes. “You need to know how to do it properly!” She informed him, clearly thinking she was being useful.
Next, the 20 year old told me that in the yeshivas, 10% of kids this age are smoking already, and that as long as it’s below five cigarettes a day, it doesn’t hurt your health (!) Next, he told me that the 10 year old boy’s parents knew he had a nicotine habit, and they they’d told him to start smoking half a cigarette instead of a whole one.
“He’s already smoking less than he used to!” the 20 year old informed me. “What you’re doing is not helpful.”
By this point, I was ready to tear my hair out from frustration. I left them to it and came home to seethe quietly to myself about the mess the world is in.
“How am I meant to fight against all this moral corruption, God?!?!?”
“What do you want from me?!?!? What’s the point of trying to take a stand against all the evil, abusive, destructive stuff going on all around me when they’re telling me it’s OK, because their Rebbes are doing it!?!?!?”
Which is when it hit me: As a community, we need to start taking a stand in a practical way on this issue. There is one thing that ‘rebbes’ like this (I’m using the word under advisement…) take seriously, and that’s their budget. Many if not most of the yeshivas in Israel fundraise abroad. Abroad, there is generally a much clearer understanding that cigarettes are bad, and smoking kills.
If a Rebbe or rabbi can’t or won’t publicly condemn and ban smoking in their institution (usually because they themselves are also serious tobacco addicts) - donors should pull their funding. If this sounds harsh, let’s remember that ‘guarding your soul’ - i.e., looking after your health, is a Torah commandment.
Many leading rabbis have come out explicitly against smoking cigarettes, and have made it clear that smoking is on a par with eating pork, in terms of transgressing the Torah’s laws. I don’t know about you, but if my rebbe was addicted to pork chops, I wouldn’t hold their Torah or their opinions in such high regard, and I certainly wouldn’t want them teaching my children about Yiddishkeit.
Why should smoking be any different?
If you’ll say that smoking is addictive (which it undoubtedly is) - the answer is that if a rebbe or rabbi can’t get on top of their own yetzer haras and physical lusts, even for something so clearly poisonous and dangerous, then again they have no business teaching, because they haven’t internalized their Torah. It’s all an intellectual exercise.
Plenty of unspiritual non-Jews stopped smoking. It can be done. And if a rebbe or rabbi can’t seem to find the willpower, or prayer power, to quit - then again, why are these people teaching our children? What sort of role models are they, anyway?
Rav Arush has come out against smoking so many times. He’s made it clear that an addiction to cigarettes can be beaten if a person is working on their emuna, and is regularly talking to God. The rebbes and rabbis who are smoking - and encouraging their students to follow suit, even just by way of (very bad…) example, clearly have a massive emuna and prayer deficit going on. Which again begs the question: Do you really want someone who’s addicted to poisonous substances, and who’s disconnected from emuna, prayer and God teaching your children?
Teaching children, being a role model for the next generation, is a huge responsibility. A big reason why so many kids are going off the derech is because the adults in their lives - their parents and their teachers - are big on preaching and criticizing, but very bad at working on themselves or improving their own middot.
Bad middot and smoking cigarettes go together. They feed on each other. They encourage each other. Tackle one side of this equation, and the other side will automatically start to fade by itself.
So to sum up: If you’re donating money to a yeshiva or school, particularly in Israel, do the Am a favour and make your continued support conditional on that institution publicly coming out against smoking. And if they can’t or won’t do that - they’re probably not the people you want teaching the next generation about morals, ethics and Torah, anyway.