Smoking in a Public Area

Ask the Rov: Is there a halachic prohibition to smoke in a public area?

By Rabbi Chaim Hillel Raskin – Rov of Anash in Petach Tikvah

Even in the comfort of one’s home or yard, some things may not be done since they cause disturbances to neighbors. Shulchan Aruch lists four types of such damages: smoke, smell, dust, and shaking of the ground.1

If a person has interfered with his neighbor’s rights for some time, he generally develops a chazaka and can claim that his neighbor relinquished his right to object. However, with these four nuisances, Chazal established that they are intolerable and he must stop once the neighbor objects (unless the neighbor made a kinyan to accept this disturbance). A chazaka can’t be established for these damages because the damaged party may claim, “I thought I could tolerate it, but I can’t.

A factory that produces smoke which bothers nearby residents can be stopped. Even if the factory was there first, it would need to relocate (though, in that case, at the neighbors’ expense).2 Even if only one neighbor complains, they must stop.3

It follows that one is not allowed to smoke in a public area when this causes pain or discomfort to people in that area. In addition, it has been shown that secondhand smoke actually harms others as well.4 Even when people say they don’t mind, it is often not whole- hearted permission. Chazal say that causing nuisance and discomfort to others is something that Hashem brings to judgment.5

Areas that originally allowed smoking—e.g., workplaces—due to unawareness of the dangers may reverse their policy later based on current medical knowledge.6

Smoking in a shul carries an additional issue, as it falls into the category of kalus rosh, which is forbidden in a shul even when not a time of davening.7

It goes without saying that we are not discussing the halachic issues of smoking itself per se, which is the topic of a separate discussion.

See Sources (open PDF)

From The Weekly Farbrengen by Merkaz Anash

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