The use of tobacco for smoking and in the form of snuff is commonamong Jews, who in some countries control to a large extent the manufacture and sale of the product. It is asserted that a Jew named Luis de Terres, who accompanied Columbus on his expedition in 1492, settled in Cuba, learned the use of tobacco, and introduced it into Europe. From this time Jews have been connected with the trade in tobacco, one of the most important in early American history (M. J. Kohler, in "Publ. Am. Jew. Hist. Soc." x. 52). The introduction of tobacco into Europe encountered the resolute opposition of the clergy, who characterized tobacco-smoking as "offering incense to Satan." The Rabbis, however, discussed the use of tobacco not from a moral, but from a legal standpoint—concerning its prohibition on Sabbaths, holy days, and fast-days, and as to whether smoking requires a special benediction. As a subject of controversy it appears first in the "Keneset ha-Gedolah" of R. Ḥayyim Benveniste (1603-73) and the "Magen Abraham" of Abraham Gombiner (1635-83), which fact tends to show that during the seventeenth century the practise of tobacco-smoking spread rapidly among the Jews of all nations.
Gombiner describes the "drinking of tabak through a pipe by drawing the smoke into the mouth and discharging it." The rabbi is in doubt whether or not one must pronounce a benediction before inhaling the smoke, since it is a means of refreshment. As an argument against pronouncing a blessing he observes that there is no "substance" in the benefit derived ("Magen Abraham," to Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 210, 9). He prohibits smoking tobacco "through the mouth" on Passover, as he was informed that the tobacco was soaked in beer, which is "ḥameẓ" (ib. 343). Benveniste expresses himself very forcibly against smoking "ṭuṭun" (tobacco) on the Ninth of Ab; and he even excommunicated one who smoked on that day ("Keneset ha-Gedolah," to Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 551, 21). He points out the inconsistency of those authorities who permit smoking on holy days because it is a "necessity," a "means of sustaining life," and who allow it on fast-days because smoke has no "substance" like food. In Benveniste's opinion smoking should be prohibited on holy days; he quotes the venerable R. Joseph Escapa as coinciding in this view, though he thought it unwise to enforce a generally accepted law.
The Jews of Turkey at that time must have been very much addicted to the habit, for Benveniste pictures them as inveterate smokers, impatient for the close of Sabbath, when they might resume smoking, and as watching for the appearance of the three stars which indicate the end of the day; some began smoking even before "Habdalah." "They lingeredin the streets and public houses, every man with a censer in his hand, inhaling the smoke and discharging it in fantastic diffusion," until "a thick cloud of incense went up" (comp. Ezek. viii. 11). He declares that the Name of God is desecrated when the Gentiles observe Jews smoking on their fast-days, while Mohammedans refrain from smoking on theirs ("Keneset ha-Gedolah," ib. 567 [ed. Constantinople, 1729, pp. 101 et seq.]). Some Jews, unable to abstain from tobacco even for one day, filled a hooka with smoke on Friday and inhaled it on the Sabbath. Others would visit Mohammedan neighbors for the sake of the tobacco smoke in their houses. This practise was eventually prohibited on the ground that it would make Judaism ridiculous in the eyes of the Gentiles (Alkalai, "Zekor le-Abraham," i. 142-143, Salonica, 1798).
The Turkish narghile, in which the smoke passes through water, early became popular; Benveniste rules that the "tumbak" (cake of tobacco, over which a burning coal is placed at the other end of the narghile) extinguishes the fire, which is forbidden even on holy days. Gombiner prohibits tumbak because it is like "mugmar" (spice for burning), mentioned in the Talmud, which likewise is prohibited. This, however, is disputed by R. Mordecai ha-Levi in his "Darke No'am" (No. 9, Venice, 1698), who permits the use of the narghile on holy days (see "Be'er Heṭeb," to Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 514, 1). The controversy finally ended in a victory for those rabbis who permitted the use of tobacco on holy days and fast-days, except of course on Yom Kippur, which is like Sabbath; still, some Jews still abstain from smoking on the Ninth of Ab.Snuff.
In spite of some objections, snuff-taking was permitted at any time—Sabbaths, holy days, fast-days, and Yom Kippur ("Leḳeṭ ha-Ḳemaḥ," p. 51b, Amsterdam, 1707). Jacob Ḥaziz (1620-74) quotes a responsum of Isaiah Pinto permitting the use of snuff on Sabbaths, even though it cures catarrh; for everybody, even healthy people, snuff, and it can not therefore be considered a drug ("Halakot Ḳeṭannot," No. 101).
It appears that women used tobacco almost as much as men (see Elijah of Lublin, "Yad Eliyahu," responsum No. 65, Amsterdam, 1712). Jewish women in the Orient mostly used the narghile, while in Russia old women used snuff; others smoked cigarettes, like men. So prevalent was the habit of smoking that it was practised even in the bet hamidrash. A strong effort, however, was made to prohibit smoking and snuffing in places of worship ("Paḥad Yiẓaḳ," ט, p. 62a). In some batte midrashot prohibitory notices were posted in front of the doors ("Ha-Maggid," 1859, vol. iii., No. 16).
In countries where the government had a monopoly of the tobacco trade, manufacturing and trading privileges were assigned to Jewish merchants at a fixed price per annum for a number of years. The question was raised whether the contractor had a prior right to the next contract as against the claims of a new competitor. Lampronti decided that contracts were open to competition, inasmuch as the matter depended on the laws and regulations of the government ("Paḥad Yiẓḥaḳ," א, p. 90a). Russian Jews have invented some practical cigarette-making machines for which they have obtained patents.
A remarkable book is Raphael Kohen's "Ḥuṭ ha-Meshullash" (Odessa, 1874), which deals with the question of cigar-smoking on Sabbaths, and which finally reaches the conclusion that it is permissible on the ground that it affords "'oneg shabbat" (delight and enjoyment). Not daring to publish his name, the author issued his book under a pseudonym. His discussion was not considered a serious one; nevertheless it is of a kind unusual in Hebrew literature.
There are several Hebrew poems for and against smoking. Solomon Wilder of Amsterdam composed one in acceptance of a tobacco-pipe as a birthday present ("Ha-Karmel," 1862, vol. ii., No. 20). Another poem characterizes the cigar and cigarette as "the two tails of these smoking firebrands" (Isa. vii. 4; see "Ha-Boḳer Or," i. 123).
- Ha-Maggid, viii., No. 37;
- Ha-Ẓefirah, i., No. 8;
- Keneset ha-Gedolah, iii., end;
- A. K. Kaufman, Räuchert un Shikkert, Warsaw, 1900;
- Löw, Lebensalter, p. 351;
- Abrahams, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages, p. 139;
- Steinschneider, in Die Deborah (1894), vol. xl., No. 1.