World first at Supreme Court: No smoking on stage

Justices rule tobacco smoke as "freedom of expression" on theater stages in Israel is superseded by right to health.

December 4, 2012 01:01
2 minute read.
Actress smokes in play ‘Hamakom Mimenu Bati’

Smoking on stage 370. (photo credit: Haifa Theater)


Dear Reader,
As you can imagine, more people are reading The Jerusalem Post than ever before. Nevertheless, traditional business models are no longer sustainable and high-quality publications, like ours, are being forced to look for new ways to keep going. Unlike many other news organizations, we have not put up a paywall. We want to keep our journalism open and accessible and be able to keep providing you with news and analyses from the frontlines of Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World.

As one of our loyal readers, we ask you to be our partner.

For $5 a month you will receive access to the following:

  • A user experience almost completely free of ads
  • Access to our Premium Section
  • Content from the award-winning Jerusalem Report and our monthly magazine to learn Hebrew - Ivrit
  • A brand new ePaper featuring the daily newspaper as it appears in print in Israel

Help us grow and continue telling Israel’s story to the world.

Thank you,

Ronit Hasin-Hochman, CEO, Jerusalem Post Group
Yaakov Katz, Editor-in-Chief


To smoke or not to smoke on theater stages in Israel? The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that despite claims that puffing away is part of “freedom of expression,” it does not justify violating the laws that prohibit smoking in public places, which must be observed to protect the public health.

It was reportedly the first time in the world that such a precedent-setting ruling had been taken. A three-justice panel of Elyakim Rubinstein, Yoram Danziger and Zvi Zilbertal voted unanimously in the case of lawyer Einav Avrahami against the Haifa Municipal Theater and its owner, the Haifa Municipality.

Be the first to know - Join our Facebook page.

Last spring, a request to certify a class-action suit was submitted to the Haifa District Court against a theater for instructing an actress to smoke as part of her role. The request was filed by lawyer Amos Hausner, chairman of the National Council for the Prevention of Smoking, on behalf of fellow lawyer and frequent theatergoer Avrahami, who objected to famous actress Orly Zilbershatz-Banai smoking for about five-and-a-half minutes onstage in the play.

Highly praised by Israeli critics, the play is based on the work of American playwright David Mamet. Titled in Hebrew Hamakom Mimenu Bati, it tells the story of an American-Jewish man named Bobby Gold, who abandons his wife and home to return to the old Jewish neighborhood where he was raised. Zilbershatz-Banai played his long-suffering sister and delivered a long monologue during which she smoked.

The Haifa Municipal Theater used a large photo of Zilbershatz- Banai smoking a lit cigarette and talking to a fellow actor at the top of the play’s website. The theater did not deny any of the allegations, but claimed that it should be exempted from observing the no-smoking provision due to its claim of “freedom of expression.”

The theater, as a public place, is legally responsible for enforcing no-smoking laws in the city. This is a conflict of interest, argued Hausner in his application in the lower court, and asked to set compensation for damages to the theater audience at NIS 1,000 each, or a total of NIS 3.8 million, as he calculated that some 3,800 spectators had seen the play.

Avrahami said she was fighting for a principle – that smoking in theaters has been illegal since 1983, and that the health of not only the audience but the actors who performed several times a day was at risk, as they would be exposed to toxins. Because she was standing on principle, she said she personally was not asking for monetary compensation.


When Hausner took the case case to the Supreme Court as an appeal, the justices said that the principle of prohibiting smoking in public supersedes freedom of expression – even if the actual smoking was relevant to the theme of the play, which it was not in this case.

The court did not set a fine but did set down the principle; the justices thought that substitutes that did not violate the law could be found but that the prohibition of smoking still superseded it.

Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>

Related Content

August 31, 2014
Rioting resumes throughout east Jerusalem Saturday night