A New Policy for Phase Three Openings of Yeshivos?


    By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com

    In the safe openings of Yeshivos – it might be the right time to implement a new or change an old policy that some Yeshivos have.  Before we discuss it, however, let’s picture the true story of a wonderful Bais Yaakov girl in high school.

    She has friends, she loves her Torah classes.  She does well in Limudei Chol. She has a life. We shall call her “Shaina.”

    Little does she realize that, not too far away, there is a Yeshiva that has a policy which will help ruin Shaina’s life forever.

    Let’s fast forward a few years. We see Shaina, our former Bais Yaakov girl, crying. She is carefully taking care of her soon to be deceased husband, “Chaim.”  Chaim is lying in the ICU section of Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in Manhattan.

    Her two kids are at home, with a baby-sitter. This time it is a baby-sitter – instead of their grandmother.

    The grandmother is too fatigued from watching them this past two weeks.

    At the Levaya the Rabbanim speak about how wonderful her husband Chaim was.  It is all true. Chaim was a masmid.  He had good midos.  They do not mention that there was a policy in place at Chaim’s Yeshiva high school that helped contribute to Chaim’s death.

    It is now a few years after the funeral.

    Shaina is struggling financially.  Her children are suffering from the fact that she is one person parent.  They also suffer from the fact that neither parent was there for them while Chaim was sick.

    Shaina needs to work hard to provide the bare essentials. Yes, she receives assistance from the community, but things could have been different. Our once pretty, vivacious, vibrant Shaina is now no longer pretty, vivacious and vibrant. The toll of the past few years has left its mark.

    What was this policy of the Yeshiva with such far-reaching repercussions for Shaina?

    Let us first realize that Chaim, who attended the Yeshiva, looked up to older bochurim in the Beis Midrash.

    These older bochurim smoked.

    And the Yeshiva had allowed that situation to continue.  It was “cool” to smoke, as bochurim in the Beis Midrash did it too.  The role models smoked.  That was the policy that helped contribute to both Chaim’s untimely death and Shaina’s current situation.

    It is time for parents, financial supporters, and maggidei shiur to demand drastic change in those rare yeshivos that still allow smoking by older bochurim.  It is time to stop the madness.  It is time to no longer tolerate smoking among the “older bochurim” as well.

    What is sad is that smoking is the largest preventable cause of mortality in the United States. It is also not bashert. Smoking is halachically considered a makom sakanah and one needs a lot of zchusim to remain healthy when one chooses to follow the appeal of smoking. Sixty percent of heart diseases are caused by smoking.  Ninety percent of lung cancers, rachmana litzlon, are caused by smoking.

    Let us also not forget a very important statement from Rav Yisroel Salanter zt”l.  He said that a person who cannot stop smoking is in violation of a Torah prohibition for every cigarette that he smokes – “Do not return to Mitzrayim.”  The purpose of being redeemed from Mitzrayim was so that we would be subjugated to no one but Hashem.

    A number of years ago, Reb Dovid Feinstein Shlita paskened that were his father alive today he would clearly state that it is completely and entirely forbidden from a halachic perspective.  Rav Elyashiv zt”l  ruled that there is now an addition prohibition of havara to smoke on Yom Tov because it is no longer halachically considered “ochel nefesh” – universal consumption.  The Gedolim of Eretz Yisroel forbade the practice – it is not just Reb Dovid Feinstein either.  We would not tolerate Chilul Shabbos in our Beis Midrash bochurim – why are we tolerating this other act which has such harmful repercussions to others?

    Notwithstanding all we hear about the deleterious effects of smoking, Some yeshiva kids are still smoking. The fact that high school kids are doing so is very disturbing since aside from the effects on the lung and heart, smoking actually reduces the rate of lung growth in teens. This ends up causing a number of other abnormalities.

    Why are kids smoking?

    There seem to be two factors:

    • The social influence factor.
    • The character aspect of the child factor.

    In terms of the social influence factor, we must keep in mind that the most influential factor in why a kid begins to smoke is because his or her friends smoke. It requires a lot of character strength to avoid this influence.  And no matter how strong our kids feel they are, many just don’t have the strength of character to resist the peer pressure. The experts say that if your friends smoke, you are twice as likely to start smoking by the next year.

    Another factor is if the parents, Rebbeim or teachers, or other role models  smoke. This is called modeling the behavior. When parents smoke the accessibility of tobacco is much easier. Sometimes it is merely an older person (four to ten years older than our kids) who is modeling the behavior, such as a Beis Midrash bochur. Often the accessibility issue is coming from the role model. Someone out there is giving our kids cigarettes. Their rationale is, “Look, the kid will get it anyway, so I am just making it easier.” This enabler is wrong.


    Another high risk factor is parenting style. Authoritative parenting really does work to reduce smoking in teens. According to Dr. James Sargent, in Pediatrics (2005, Mosby) authoritative parenting is characterized by:

    a.. Combining behavioral control with supportiveness

    b.. Monitoring where your kid is

    c.. Monitoring who your kid is with

    d.. Validating and listening to kids but at the same time having no problem making demands and setting expectations

    If parents do not have an authoritative style, it is more likely that their kids will smoke.  The problem is that when kids are away all day or in a dormitory it is very hard to monitor these things.

    The final factor is whether there is a strong anti-smoking message in the home and in the Yeshiva. According to the Monitoring of the Future Survey conducted in 2000, 38% of white 12th graders have tried cigarettes in the past thirty days of when the survey was conducted. Only 14% of black 12th graders tried it, however. Some experts feel that the reason is because black parents tend to be able to communicate their strong anti-smoking sentiments to their kids more effectively than white parents do. Clearly, we should tone up our anti-smoking message.  When a Yeshiva allows bochurim in the Beis Midrash to smoke – this entirely undermines the anti-smoking message.

    There are also personality characteristics that make for a greater likelihood to smoke. If a child is a risk-taker or thrill seeker he or she may be more likely to start smoking. Rebelliousness and poor school performance are also strong factors.

    So what can we do about it?

    There is something called Bechira – everyone has the freedom of choice ultimately to do as they want. We as parents and mechanchim can only do two things:

    We can educate and create the environment where hopefully our children will make the right decisions, but we cannot make decisions for them.  This idea can be very frustrating to a parent.

    The second thing we can do is to create and manipulate the logistical aspect of the environment to minimize or eliminate the behavior. This actually can be effective, but we must remember that it does not always work, sometimes earning us a backlash. The logistical manipulation, however, does severely reduce the incidence of many of the undesirable behaviors.

    Concerned parents need to help effectuate this change.  The Yeshivos need to implement the change.  There could be  positive reinforcement to the idea.  One suggestion might be to implement a reward for the entire Yeshiva if it remains smoke free.  Maybe a gvir or two or parents could offer a reward to the Yeshiva if it happens.  Or maybe the bochurim could earn something as well.

    Perhaps the reinforcement should also be accompanied with a visit to a cancer ward and some Bikkur Cholim to be done.  The visit to a cancer ward would not be “bitul Torah.”  Research has shown that regularly smoking cigarettes on average takes some 11 to 13 years off a person’s life.  Imagine how much Torah could be learned during those years.

    The fact that role models are engaging in a behavior that on average takes off 11 to 13 years of life is horrifying.  It is something that should not be brushed aside.  This is an issue where the Yeshivos and the parent body should work together in order to implement a permanent stop to the madness.

    So, just as shuls are considering new anti-phone policies as people re-enter, we should likewise consider this as we re-enter the Yeshivos.

    The author can be reached at [email protected]

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    1. There’s something weird about subculture in which children, and adults, wait at least six hours after a hamburger before eating ice cream; spend an entire day every week completely off the grid; readily go without food and drink for 12-25 hours several times a year, not even sneaking a glass of water from the bathroom sink; but cannot seem to stay away from inhaling an established carcinogen that has probably claimed the life of at least one person that they knew.

      BTW, if someone on the level of Rav Elyashiv can remove smoking from the category of Ochel Nefesh, because people behave differently today, why can’t we universally add showering/bathing to the category of Shava l’chol Nefesh?

    2. I appreciate your opinion and acknowledge your passion. But please realize there are Gedolei Yisroel who smoke. Gedolim who clearly curb their taavos throughout their life. Obviously there is an opposing view. Rav Fisher zt”l said that all the statistics don’t apply to Shomrei Shabbos just saying…

      • I highly doubt that any gadol smokes on Yom Tov. I doubt you could name one.

        It is simply not possible that anyone could hold today that smoking is a davar haShaveh liChol nefesh when it is, in fact, the opposite.

        Real gedolim, incidentally, upon hearing that the medical world had acknowledged the tremendous danger of smoking, quit immediately.

    3. Smoking is down in yeshivos, as in the general public. Yeshivos cannot and should not micro manage Beis hamedrash bochurim’s lives. That will give us another disaster. Bochurim should not smoke, neither should adults. But placing the blame on yeshivos is wrong.

      • Blame the Yeshivos. The Yeshivas will not stand for a Minute if they walk around without a Kapel/Kipah/Yalmikel desegrate Shabos or walk around in pink shirts. Usmartem meod es nafsaysechem is MdAyrayse the same way as Shabos. Unless its a Baal Tshuveh Yeshivah it should not be allowed at all. The next thing we will hear that being gay or not keeping Shabos is allowed in Yeshivos because we have do be politicaly correct

      • If they micro-manage them in other ways, like no girl-friends, for example, they surely can micro-manage them in this way regarding zero-tolerance for smoking and potentially being a rodef in influencing others to begin smoking by their example.

    4. There is a bigger and wider issue than smoking. Just ask any doctor or nutritionist . Heart disease, Cancer etc all happen because the food we eat. Its recommended 5 daily serving of vegetables. Is there even 1% of bocherim who eat that daily. The smoking is an old issue mostly corrected. Today more peple get cancer from eating chazerai than from smoking. Rabbi, please study or ask any qualified person or just look at facts. More frumme died in Boro Park (pop 25.000) than i entire Eretz Yisroel in COVID. In Geulah/Meah Shearim every block sells nuts,carrots,orang and other juices. Frumme America???? cakes,candys,cookis, aged steakes.

    5. I don’t know if it made an impression, but when my daughter was in shiduchim my first question to the Rajasthan was does he smoke. If the answer was yes there were no more question.

    6. Smoking ?? Is that what’s the most pressing issue of today is? Yes, I agree smoking should be addressed, but when Corono is over I think our Mesivta departments need to make a cheshbin hanefesh. How many boys did they kill and destroy. First I’m talking of a good boy maybe a 75 – 80 avg. There are two issues, one getting accepted and two towing the line. There are too many yeshivos that have their own mesivta but in order to get into the mesivta you have to pass a major faher. So you have a situation where almost the entire class gets accepted and the two – three weaker students get dumped like a hot potato. Usually because their parents didn’t scream loud enough. How do you think these kids feel. If you have a yeshiva ketana it should be a rule to accept the eighth graders into the mesivta. Then once in the mesivta they give tests, bechinos and fahers again if you get under 90avg your a failure. The way the hanhala view the test you would think these bochrim were studying to be dayonim or rabbonim. I know some will comment go to a bais yeshiva. Yes there is a need for bais yeshivos. but many boys would do well in an alef yeshiva. In addition some boys that wind up in a bais yehiva begin a slippery slope out of yeshiva completely. This is the issue that needs to be addressed.


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