Ask the Rabbi: Tattoos, tobacco and a Frozen themed seder

Ask the Rabbi: Tattoos, tobacco and a Frozen themed seder

Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet answers readers’ questions in his weekly column, Ask the Rabbi.

Ask the Rabbi

On tattoos and tobacco

Dear Rabbi,

If tattooing one’s body is prohibited in Judaism, why isn’t smoking too? Both scar the body, albeit differently. Why explicitly prohibit scarring of the exterior but not the interior?


Dear Andy,

Who says smoking isn’t prohibited? Hundreds of years ago doctors believed smoking was healthy, to the point where they would even advise smoking to those suffering certain types of sicknesses. But, as time passed, it became increasingly clear that smoking was, in fact, very bad for one’s health.

At the beginning of the last century, Rabbi Yisrael Meir of Radin, the Chofetz Chaim, wrote that it is forbidden for a person to accustom himself to smoking. In more recent times, the dangers of smoking have become undeniable. The Torah is emphatic when it declares: “Only be careful and guard your soul greatly” (Deuteronomy 4:9), and “You must guard your souls greatly” (Ibid. 4:15).

Some might go so far as to argue that smoking could fall into the prohibition of “Thou shall not kill” because the death rate is much higher among smokers than non-smokers – with each inhalation you arguably bring your demise closer. That’s not something that can be said about tattoos. A further point to consider is “passive smoking”.

The Talmud (Baba Batra 23a) teaches us that even as you are doing something in your own property, which is your own business, you cannot adversely affect your neighbour as a result. All the more so when smoking in a public place, where you are adversely affecting someone else with your passive smoke.

Again, not something that can be applied to tattoos. For those who argue that the rules should be more relaxed for long-term smokers who are already addicted, I’d argue that statistics have shown it’s much easier to quit than first assumed. What with nicotine patches and electric cigarettes, there really is little excuse not to.

All this suggests you are better off having a cigarette tattooed onto your torso than putting one in your mouth! Coupled with the waste of money that goes into a packet of cigarettes – at a rate of two packs a week over 50 years, you could save nearly £50,000.

Think how much cholent you could eat for that kind of money. Of course, that raises another question about the Jewish perspective on obesity – but that’s for another time.

My seder night concerns

Dear Rabbi My mother-in-law is joining my family for our seder in Israel. I struggle to get along with her and worry something will be said that will ruin the event for everyone. Of course, I can’t air my objections to my wife, because that will cause all sorts of other problems. What to do?


Dear Kalman,

What to do? When you chew on your matzah, bite your tongue at the same time. OK, so maybe she’ll say something that’ll rile you. You can choose to respond or retreat into your happy place and let it ride. In short, you are in control as to whether it’ll ruin the seder or not. And, if it is of any help, while ingesting the bitter herbs spare a thought for her as well. Let the tears roll and that’ll help you get it out of your system. Come on! It is just a few hours for one night. If you can’t manage that, shame on you. Wishing you an enjoyable and meaningful seder.

No place for your prejudice

Dear Rabbi,

We are a very traditional family and my sister and her family are joining us for the seder. However, her son is gay and has a Jewish boyfriend, who he insists on bringing. I feel uncomfortable allowing him into my home with my young children. How do I express this to my sister?


Dear Rosanne,

You don’t. I don’t know why someone’s sexual preferences, whether you deem them right or wrong, has to come into play at a seder.

I don’t believe your children are going to be wondering as to the partner your nephew brings over, other than perceiving him as just a friend. In the Hagadah, we recognise that seder night is all about welcoming the four sons.

So whatever you might perceive your nephew to be, don’t just pay lip-service to what you are reading. If you think about it honestly, it is perhaps more your own prejudices that are kicking in here. Let it go.

Freeze a crowd at family seder

Dear Rabbi,

We are considering a Frozen theme for our seder table. Is this appropriate?


Dear Debbie,

I think you should urgently attend a class on the significance of Pesach and “how to make your seder meaningful.” Wow. And I thought I’d heard it all. Happy Pesach.

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