The New “Haskallah Movement” in Our Yeshivos


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By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for

Haskallah was a movement that devastated our people a century and a half ago.  What is not so well known is that the movement had also entered into Klal Yisroel’s venerable Yeshivos.  That movement destroyed and devastated Klal Yisroel to the point that we had never fully recovered. Unfortunately, it was a movement that our Roshei Yeshivos were unable to eradicate.

There is a new “Haskallah Movement” that currently exists which is devastating a number of our Yeshivos.  In order to elaborate on this, let’s first picture the true story of a wonderful Bais Yaakov girl in her twelfth-grade year in high school.

We shall call her, “Shaina.”

Shaina is a wonderful student.  She involves herself in numerous acts of chessed.  She has like-minded good friends. She loves her Torah classes. She does well in Limudei Chol. Shaina often attends inspiring shiurim around the neighborhood and shares the inspiration with her family and friends.

Shaina has a life.

Shaina applies and is accepted to a wonderful seminary in Eretz Yisroel. Little does she realize, however,  that, not too far away, there is a Yeshiva with a “Haskallah-like” element that will help ruin Shaina’s life forever.


Let’s fast forward a few years. We see Shaina, our former Bais Yaakov girl, crying. She is carefully taking care of her soon-to-be deceased husband, “Chaim.”  Chaim is lying in the ICU section of Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in Manhattan.

Her two kids are at home, with a baby-sitter. This time it is a baby-sitter – instead of their grandmother. The grandmother is too fatigued from watching them this past two weeks.

At the Levaya, the Rabbanim speak about how wonderful her husband Chaim was.  It is all true. Chaim was a masmid.  He had good midos.  They do not mention that there was a policy in place at Chaim’s Yeshiva high school that helped contribute to Chaim’s death.


It is now a few years after the funeral.

Shaina is struggling financially.  Her children are suffering from the fact that she is one person parent.  They also suffer from the fact that neither parent was there for them while Chaim was sick.

Shaina needs to work hard to provide the bare essentials. Yes, she receives assistance from the community, but things could have been different. Our once vivacious and vibrant Shaina is now no longer vivacious nor vibrant. The toll of the past few years has left its mark.

Shaina’s life was changed by the new “Haskallah Movement” that the Roshei Yeshiva were unable to stop.


What was this “Haskallah-like”  element with such far-reaching repercussions for Shaina?

Let us first realize that Chaim, who attended the Yeshiva, looked up to older bochurim in the Beis Midrash.

These older bochurim smoked.

And the Yeshiva was powerless to eradicate this terrible influence.  It was “cool” to smoke, as bochurim in the Beis Midrash did it too.  The role models smoked.  That was the “Haskallah Movement” that helped contribute to both Chaim’s untimely death and Shaina’s current situation.


It is time for us to help the Yeshivos do something to to stop the madness.  It is time to no longer tolerate smoking among the “older bochurim” as well.

What is sad is that smoking is the largest preventable cause of mortality in the United States. It is also not bashert. Smoking is halachically considered a makom sakanah and one needs a lot of zchusim to remain healthy when one chooses to follow the appeal of smoking. Sixty percent of heart diseases are caused by smoking.  Ninety percent of lung cancers, rachmana litzlon, are caused by smoking.

A number of years ago, Reb Dovid Feinstein zatzal paskened that were his father alive today he would clearly have state that it is completely and entirely forbidden  to smoke from a halachic perspective.  Rav Elyashiv zt”l  ruled that there is now an addition prohibition of havara to smoke on Yom Tov because it is no longer halachically considered “ochel nefesh” – universal consumption.  The Gedolim of Eretz Yisroel forbade the practice – it was not just Reb Dovid Feinstein zt”l.  We would not tolerate the old Haskallah in our Beis Midrash bochurim – why are we tolerating this new one?

Notwithstanding all we hear about the deleterious effects of smoking, Yeshiva kids are smoking. The fact that high school kids are doing so is very disturbing since aside from the effects on the lung and heart, smoking actually reduces the rate of lung growth in teens. This ends up causing a number of other abnormalities.


Why are kids smoking?

There seem to be five factors:

  • The social influence factor.
  • The character and personality factor.
  • The role model factor
  • Parenting Style
  • Strong anti-Smoking message at home


In terms of the social influence factor, we must keep in mind one thing.  The most influential factor in why a kid begins to smoke is because his friends do it.  The experts say that if your friends smoke, you are twice as likely to start smoking by the next year.


The second factor is character strength.  It requires strength of character to avoid this influence.  And no matter how strong our kids feel they are, many just don’t have the strength of character to resist the peer pressure. There are also personality characteristics that make for a greater likelihood to smoke. If a child is a risk-taker or thrill-seeker he may be more likely to start smoking. Rebelliousness and poor school performance are also strong factors.


The third factor is the role model – if a parents, Rebbe, teacher, or other role model smokes. When parents smoke, the accessibility of tobacco is much easier. Sometimes it is merely an older person (four to ten years older than our children) who is modeling the behavior, such as a Beis Midrash bochur.

Often the accessibility issue is coming from the role model. Someone out there is giving our children cigarettes. Their rationale is, “Look, the kid will get it anyway, so I am just making it easier.” This enabler is wrong.


A fourth factor is parenting style. Authoritative parenting really does work to reduce smoking in teens. According to Dr. James Sargent, in Pediatrics (2005, Mosby) authoritative parenting is characterized by:

  • Combining behavioral control with supportiveness
  • Monitoring where your child is
  • Monitoring who your child is with
  • Validating and listening to your child, but at the same time having no problem making demands and setting expectations

If parents do not have an authoritative style, it is more likely that their child will smoke.  The problem is that when children are away all day or in a dormitory, it is very hard to monitor these things.


The final factor is whether or not there is a strong anti-smoking message in both the home and in the Yeshiva. Let’s look at some of the data:

According to the Monitoring of the Future Survey conducted a number of years ago:

  • 38% of white 12th graders tried cigarettes within 30 days of when the survey was conducted.
  • 14% of black 12th graders tried cigarettes within 30 days of when the survey was conducted.


Some experts feel that the reason is because black parents tend to be able to communicate their strong anti-smoking sentiments to their kids more effectively than white parents do. Clearly, we should tone up our anti-smoking message.  When a Yeshiva allows bochurim in the Beis Midrash to smoke – this entirely undermines the anti-smoking message.


So what can we do about it?

We must, of course, realize that there is something called Bechira – everyone has the freedom of choice ultimately to do as they want. We as parents and mechanchim can only do two things:

  1. We can educate and create the environment where hopefully our children will make the right decisions, but we cannot make decisions for them. This idea can be very frustrating to a parent.
  2. The second thing we can do is to create and manipulate the logistical aspect of the environment to minimize or eliminate the behavior. This actually can be effective, but we must remember that it does not always work, sometimes earning us a backlash. The logistical manipulation, however does severely reduce the incidence of many of the undesirable behaviors.


Concerned parents need to help effectuate this change.  We need to unite and effectuate the change.  One suggestion might be that any Beis Midrash bochur (and high school student) that smokes should be penalized with a $500 fine.  The fine or k’nas should, of course, be paid by the bochur – not the parent.  And it could be paid to the Yeshiva too.

Another change might be to help get the message out that Smoking = Haskallah.  Each movement has contributed to tje decimation of Klal Yisroel.

Perhaps this fine and the message should also be accompanied with a visit to a cancer ward and some Bikkur Cholim to be done.  The visit to a cancer ward would not be “bitul Torah.”  Research has shown that regularly smoking cigarettes on average takes some 11 to 13 years off a person’s life.  Imagine how much Torah could be learned during those years.

The fact that role models are engaging in a behavior that, on average, takes off 11 to 13 years of life is horrifying.  It is something that should not be brushed aside.  This is an issue where the Yeshivos and the parent body should work together in order to implement a permanent stop to the madness.

The author can be reached at [email protected]


  1. Each & every single puff is a new ביטול עשה ד”אורייתא ונשמרתם מאד לנפשותיכם
    Needless to say, any Yeshiva not enforcing wearing face masks & social distancing & obligating being vaccinated, is also part of the new Haskallah movement

  2. Aveira goreres aveira.

    When bochurim push off shidduchim and marriage (also a product of haskala, btw), they are very depressed. This leads many of them to start smoking (it might be better than the alternative!). Furthermore, if a seventeen year old bochur knew that he’s getting married soon, he wouldn’t dream of starting to smoke. But the way the situation is now, he realizes that shiddchim is seven years away, too distant a future to worry about. So why not start smoking, and worry later? Additionally, many bochurim stop smoking once they get married, so by delaying his marriage we are allowing bochurim to continue to violate issurei d’orraisa.

    Rabbi Hoffman, why aren’t you calling this out?

  3. Halivai this madness should end. This is a makas medinah all over. I have spoken to my sons menahel about this and he told me that this is a issue that I need to discuss with my son, as far as the Yeshiva is concern the boys should just not do it in public. Anybody that can do something about this will surely get a straight ticket to Gan Eden.

  4. Thank you so so much.
    I was asthmatic when I was in the Yeshiva system, and suffered from bocherim smoking, and the hanhalla ignoring it.
    I find it amazing how the yeshiva mussar movement asks for one to care for others, and to control our tievos, yet look the other way when one takes on a taavah that they are not born with and cause pain to others.

    And I have heard, when people see yeshiva bocherim coming home from Yeshiva smoking, how they view yeshivos as a negative influence, saying how better it would be if they would not go to yeshiva if this is what their outcome is going to be. Definitely not a kiddush Hashem. I would assume that many of these smokers do not care about Hashem’s kavod during heir time in yeshiva.

  5. Smoking is simply a (forbidden, as in multiple aveiros) combination of great stupidity and extremely foolish taava on many levels, not “haskallah”. Of course, it should not be tolerated in any bachur. Period.

    However, the modern-day version of Haskallah is, of course, “Modern Orthodoxy”.

  6. I never realized that young frum fathers with little children were dropping dead left and right in the Jewish community. I must’ve missed all the news stories of multiple such deaths every week.

  7. Thank you UJM for the breath of fresh air! I was reading the comments and I thought I had gone insane.

    While the problem of smoking amongst Yeshiva bochurim is real and worth talking about, this article is rather silly. Haskala? Really? Is there really a growing rash of deadly lung cancer in our Yeshiva kollelim today? Was there ever? And if (as is the case among many of my acquaintances and friends) most men pretty much stop smoking soon after they marry, how much of a health problem are we looking at anyway?

    I’m very disappointed by this article, and more so because I usually enjoy (not necessarily agree with though) the author’s postings.

  8. Don’t Smoke, rather vape like the aleph shiur bochurim do. Plus, I heard from my rebbe that you could get aids from smoking. Vaping is beneficial to a bochurs well being as it weaned me off taivas nashim. The issue with vapes though, it that they have microchips, but I am not worried about that, otherwise I wouldn’t be vaccinated. The issue is that vapes are too costly. We are working on ways to combat this, I am consulting with Dan’sDeals LLC to find ways for bochurim to purchase vapes for better prices. Plus, if anyone is wondering, my rosh yeshiva does approve of my askanus. I also consulted R’ Chaim about vaccines, and he encouraged me to promote vaccines, and also asked if I can spread vaping accross yeshivos, because I have connections. I also received a letter of support from Hagoan Harav Nachman Helbrans, who may start a vaad hatzedakah for me in Lakewood. I am reaching out to Akiva Nirhaus to get his support.

  9. @UJM @frumwhere

    The fact remains that I am not aware of any contemporary posek who states that smoking is permissible, just as I don’t know of any posek who holds that smoking on shabbos is permissible. If so, why is it incorrect to define such behavior as haskala?

  10. u are off your rocker.
    how do u compare a bad habit that claims a number of lives, as tragic as those loss of lives are, to a movement that has larger than holocaust like numbers of lives lost to the jewish nation, in every single generation since it started.
    haskalah has led to the millions of intermarriages that have taken place over the last few generations, and has decimated the jewish nation, and ruined it for many who still consider themselves jewish or even religious.
    the wishful comparison shows that u have no clue as to what haskalah has done to us, or that u are so affected by the haskalah, that u youself are one of its korbanos.

  11. @jewsforbiden
    I think what you are saying is very true. All the bochurim in Yeshiva should be vaping. In fact, all the jews in the world should be vaping.