The Vaâ€™ad Halachah (or Halacha Committee) of The Rabbinical Council of America has issued a unanimous opinion affirming that, in spite of its widespread practice even within many rabbinic and yeshiva circles, the smoking of tobacco products is prohibited by Jewish law. For some observers of Jewish life, this decision might be casually dismissed as a statement of the obvious, or in any case, as long overdue. But from a different perspective, this ruling illustrates the highly significant fact that accepted practice and illustrious precedent notwithstanding, Jewish law is fully able to incorporate new realities, recognize new and reliable scientific findings, and embrace the need to change heretofore acceptable behavior.
[Emphasis mine] I suspect that line in the statement might come back to haunt them someday.
First of all, it’s bloody well time that somebody got around to banning smoking. R. Feinstein’s infamously irresponsible heter (permissive ruling) wasn’t exactly one of the great moments of Jewish legal thought, and has given more people justification for not quitting (or for starting) than is remotely a good idea. Pikuach nefesh, anybody? Or the Rambam’s statement that it’s a religious obligation to care for one’s health (Deot 4:1)? (To be fair, Feinstein’s psok was in ’81, and we know more now about how evil cigarettes are now). In case anybody still had a question: they are assur, assur, assur.
The other piece of this is, as The Town Crier noted in his Jewschool post, a very iiiinteresting statement about the importance of halakhic adaptation that sounded almost…. Conservative. Halakha needs to “incorporate new realities”? Really? Perhaps we should send the RCA a list of other “new realities” that the Orthodox world could stand to address….