Sunday, May 15, 2011

Ovadia Yosef tells people to stop smoking

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, president of the Shas Council of Torah Sages, has not been my favorite person over the years. I am told on reliable authority that he is a reliable authority--that is, that he is indeed a very great Torah scholar. However, he's also the rabbi most likely to show up in the news saying something deeply alarming about Ashekenazim, sheitels, Arabs, Gentiles, Hurricane Katrina, the's a long list. Odds are about seventy-five percent that if the president of the Shas Council of Torah Sages is in the news, then I will disagree with what he says. Vehemently.

You can see my Rav Ovadia problem in a variety of ways. You could say, for example, that I am a secular woman who fails to understand the social context and deep Torah learning of a 90-year-old scholar born in Iraq, raised in British Palestine, and formerly serving as chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel, who is one of the lights of the generation. Or, you could say that Rav Ovadia is a reactionary elderly man, representing a particularly hardcore philosophy within Judaism, who likes to say inflammatory things to journalists.

Either way, I am pleased to announce that we have found another point of commonality. Rav Ovadia wants everyone to stop smoking.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, president of the Shas Council of Torah Sages, has warned his followers of the dangers of smoking, and stressed the importance and plausibility of quitting if one is already addicted.

“Doctors are against smoking; they say it causes lung cancer. Whoever can refrain from it, all the better; he should take every effort to keep away from it,” the senior Sephardi adjudicator said in his Saturday night televised sermon, which dealt with the laws of Jewish holidays.

“A person who is used to smoking – it’s hard to quit, but [he] should distance himself from it a step at a time,” he continued.

“My father-in-law, Rabbi Avraham of blessed memory, used to smoke two packs a day.

I told him our holy books say it is a danger. He said, ‘What can I do? I’m used to smoking.’ I told him to
gradually cut down in the cigarettes. When he reached 10, he said, ‘I can’t go down any more,’” he said.

“I told him to cut each cigarette to two, [so that] he ended up with 20. After that, he got down to five, and again said, ‘I can’t go down any more. I told him to cut the cigarettes to two. Until he totally quit.”

“Little by little, I will drive them out before you,” Yosef said, comparing the Canaanites to cigarettes in a reference from the Book of Exodus.

“Praise the lord, we do not smoke,” Yosef said of himself.

While Yosef has in the past spoken out about taking up smoking, health experts say this is the first time he actually went as far as telling people to quit.

Yosef also suggested a less harmful substitute for social instances where cigarettes are smoked.

“There are those in yeshivas who distribute cigarettes among friends when someone gets engaged,” he said.

“Better to hand out candies than cigarettes. You start by smoking one cigarette, and then it becomes a habit, and then an addiction, and that is very bad,” the senior adjudicator warned.

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