Can You Smoke on Yom Kippur Like Other Holidays?

Yom Kippur is considered the holiest of Jewish holidays, the Sabbath of all Sabbaths. It is also a solemn day of atonement. Therefore it is marked by self-denial or sacrifice of worldly pleasures. But can you smoke on Yom Kippur like on other Jewish holidays?

Though not explicitly stated, most say smoking is not allowed on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, which includes fasting and abstinence. Since smoking is harmful to one’s body and defies Jewish law against lighting fire, observers refrain from smoking on Sabbath/Shabbat all year.

As a Catholic, I am unfamiliar with day-to-day Jewish living and many of the intricacies of the Jewish faith. However, being Christian, I have some knowledge about aspects of Jewish holidays, feasts, and practices.

So it’s with that background that I’ve approached learning about Yom Kippur, and whether or not you can smoke on this day. In this article, I’ll share that with you.


Overview of Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur is first a day of repentance for Jews. It is also known as the ‘day of atonement.’ Some Jewish people even call it the saddest, happiest day of the year because it includes repentance and sacrifice, but also forgiveness.
Yom Kippur is an important ‘Holy Day’ holiday for Jews but also requires strict observance.

Traditionally it is said that the first Yom Kippur happened over 4,000 years ago after Moses brought the Israelites out of Egypt from slavery. Later, when Moses went up Mt. Sinai to talk with God, the Israelites made a golden calf to worship. After Moses returned, he smashed the stone commandments from God, chastising the Israelites for their sin. They repented and then, God forgave them.

atonement: reparation for an offense or injury


Now on Yom Kippur to show remembrance and true connection to God, people are required to fast for 25 hours, beginning at sundown and extending to through the following sundown. Yom Kippur expectations include all the same expectations of any Shabbat or Sabbath like not working or driving, but also five additional restrictions of fasting and abstinence.

These additional restrictions are to not eat any food; drink anything including water; bathe; anoint yourself with oil/perfume/deodorant/makeup; wear leather shoes; and last, have sexual relations.  

As a Catholic I found reading books about Jewish holy days like Aligning With God’s Appointed Times: Discover the Prophetic and Spiritual Meaning of the Biblical Holidays (at Amazon) inspirational and helpful in my studies.

As well, considering the solemnity of the day it’s expected that observers abstain from all kinds of pleasure. For instance, no electronics can be used or games and sports played. Remember Yom Kippur, though considered joyous and happy, is not a party or festival day; this is a time of reflection, repentance, and sacrifice.

Can You Smoke Tobacco on Yom Kippur?

It might surprise some people to find out about smoking on Yom Kippur, which some call the saddest, happiest day of the year.

During this day, it’s expected that you avoid extravagance and pleasure. One might wonder then if smoking is considered pleasurable.

Because Yom Kippur is a day of repentance, smoking is not allowed. This is because it’s thought that people smoke for pleasure, and pleasure is to be avoided on Yom Kippur. Not only smoking, people also abstain from other things such as all food and drink (even water) and wearing jewelry and makeup.

To be clear, though, this is a special requirement for Yom Kippur. Jewish laws permit tobacco use on other holidays and celebrations, even on days that require fasts. However, Yom Kippur is the most significant holiday and rules are more stringent especially regarding pleasure-type activities.

Some might argue that tobacco use should be permissible because it’s not food, and for some it’s not really about pleasure like eating dessert or having intimate relations. Smoking is more of a calming habit. However, most rabbis are of the opposite position and say that smoking on Yom Kippur and even Shabbat is not allowed.

Some even argue that because people are often addicted to smoking (according to a 2005 Psychopharmacology study, the need to use tobacco often is a result of repeated habits) and have difficulty abstaining from it on Yom Kippur is argument to not smoke on this holy day.

On Yom Kippur, Jewish custom is to abstain from anything ‘sustaining to life’ like food and water, so if smoking is sustaining to Jewish life (by addiction), then it is to be avoided on Yom Kippur.

But you can easily see why it is confusing. Since it is not explicitly addressed like other things, such as ‘not eating or drinking,’ then it is really left up to interpretation. This is exactly the kind of scenario where having trusted rabbis and synagogues you can count on are vitally important.

And it makes me thankful as a Catholic that we have the detailed Catechism as a resource for daily life and celebration etiquette and expectations.

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Can You Vape on Yom Kippur?

The use of e-cigarettes, often called ‘vaping’, is quite common among millennials to teens of all faiths, including Jewish people. Those who use e-cigarettes say that they do so to stop smoking cigarettes, as it’s considered a healthier option. And judging by reputable sources, it’s use has been on the rise each day (as reported by the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 2014).

Such being the case, Jewish users of e-cigarettes may develop some addiction to vaping, just like with cigarettes. The point then is that vaping is no different than smoking tobacco on Yom Kippur. For most, it seems then, again, that it smoking cigarettes or e-cigarettes is not permitted.

But then again, arguments can still be made that on Yom Kippur, there is no clear rule on whether one can vape (or smoke) in actuality.

Looking at the effects that e-cigars bring, then one can equate them to regular cigarettes. Some rabbis consider vaping the same as smoking. So, even if there is no defined rule on whether it is right to vape or smoke on Yom Kippur (or Shabbat/Sabbath), if you are really concerned, then you should avoid them.

As a Catholic, it seems similar to our practice of fasting at Lent or even going to confession for venial sins. If you feel ‘convicted’ or conflicted about it, then don’t do it.

Vaping, just like smoking, is addictive and has various health risks. In fact, I highly suggest using this time to quit smoking and try a product like this one on Amazon, Quit Smoking Aid. But regardless, even the relief of smoking a cigarette or vaping is akin to physical pleasure to the body, and during Yom Kippur, Jews are encouraged to avoid anything that brings physical joy to them.

So it will be wrong to vape or smoke during this Sabbath of all Sabbath days.

Can You Smoke Weed on Yom Kippur?

Smoking weed is not acceptable on Yom Kippur, just as one should avoid smoking tobacco and e-cigarettes. Yom Kippur should be focused on repentance and prayer. Practices of fasting and abstinence are part of that, including abstaining from pleasurable activities like smoking of any kind.

Therefore, you need to leave alone all the pleasurable things if you truly want to honor Yom Kippur.

If you use weed on this day to pleasure yourself, then it will be wrong. It does not matter whether you will be smoking it, wearing it as a patch or eating it from a cookie.

During this day, you need to be stable enough and have deep concentration. Therefore taking weed even without necessarily smoking will be wrong, too. Therefore to be safe, ensure that you are free from it to mark the day. Besides it is clear that fasting from food is required and smoking weed will make that even harder to follow.

Wrapping Up Smoking on Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur is commonly regarded as the holiest of all days on the Jewish calendar. It is a serious and solemn day of repentance. As such there are even more expectations than typical Shabbat to follow in order to give it the honor expected.

Such expectations on Yom Kippur are to fast from all food and drink; not bathe or ‘pamper’ oneself during this time; not wear leather shoes; and abstain from intimate relations. These restrictions are in addition to avoiding things like work, driving, play, sports and so on.

So to ask ‘can you smoke on Yom Kippur?’ almost seems silly and disrespectful. To me, a Catholic, it seems the answer is a clear no, but for someone looking for a loophole, it’s possible to argue that smoking is permitted. It’s not explicitly forbidden and some might also suggest not everyone who smokes does so for pleasure (if addicted, for instance).

To wrap it up then, I say, search in your heart and reflect on the question of smoking to find your answer. That’s the spirit of Yom Kippur!

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Sources: Chabad; PBS

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