The efforts of Efrat's chief rabbis, Shlomo Riskin and Shimon Golan, to persuade every store in their community to stop selling cigarettes will not receive the support of the powerful chairman of the Knesset Law Committe and resident of Efrat, MK David Rotem.
The rabbis said that anyone who sold cigarettes transgressed the halachic prohibition of aiding and abetting a fellow Jew in the sin of endangering one's life and standing idly by while a fellow Jew endangered him or herself. Riskin said that since he cannot legally revoke the kashrut supervision certificate of every store or restaurant that sold cigarettes, he would try to use the power of persuasion.
Rotem, who is religious and a smoker, said the rabbis' efforts were counter-productive. He said that if no cigarettes were sold in Efrat, he and other smokers would merely purchase them in nearby Jerusalem.
"This is not what will persuade people to quit smoking," Rotem said.
"Smokers know that smoking harms their health, and what a rabbi says won't make any difference. There are issues in which rabbis should not interfere."
The Israel Beiteinu MK compared the rabbis' efforts to those of Shas to prevent the sale and display of hametz during Passover in that neither would accomplish their objective.
Kadima MK Otniel Schneller, who is also religious, criticized the rabbis for getting involved in the issue. He said the same prohibition that bans smoking in Jewish law could apply to not wearing a hat in the sun and other issues in which rabbis should not intrude.
"Adults can make decisions for themselves," Schneller said. "Religious coercion will cause antagonism and backfire. I don't smoke and I wish everyone didn't but we have to protect the rights of both the non-smokers and those who want to smoke."
Labor MK Eitan Cabel, who until a year and a half ago was a heavy
smoker called the prospect of a voluntary ban on selling cigarettes in
Efrat "draconian" and "an edict that the public will not be able to
"I understand Rabbi Riskin's good intentions but it's undemocratic and
cannot pass the test of the courts," Cabel said. "It's also wrong to
take advantage of his public and religious position [in order] to put
pressure on the store owners who have done nothing wrong."
Knesset Education Committee chairman Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi)
defended the Efrat rabbis and said he did not understand their critics.
"I think it's terrific and I wish every rabbi did the same thing,"
Orlev said. "Smoking kills and what Rabbi Riskin is doing is saving
lives. As long as he is doing it with the power of persuasion, it is
legitimate and an important ethical step for the rabbi of a community."
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