Smoking, Cracking Knuckles, and Kivud Av V’Aim

By BJLIfe/Rabbi Yair Hoffman

Posted on 02/01/18


Recently, a young lady in high school posed the following question:  My mother doesn’t want me to crack my knuckles.  I certainly won’t do it front of her, but I am somewhat addicted to it.  Is it a violation of Kivud Av v’Aim to crack them when she isn’t around?

Recently, a young man in high school did not pose the following question:  My parents don’t want me to smoke.  I certainly won’t do it in front of them, but I am addicted to it somewhat.  Is it a violation of Kivud Av v’aim to smoke when they are not around?

The Shulchan Aruch (YD 240:25) cites a fascinating ruling of the Maharik (Shoresh 166).  The question the Maharik deals with concerns shidduchim.  What happens when a young man wishes to marry a young lady of whom his father disapproves?  Must the son listen to his father by virtue of the concept of Kivud Av v’Aim – honoring one’s parents?


The Maharik gives a three-fold response.  Firstly, he states that regarding the Mitzvah of Kivub Av – the obligation lies only with the father’s monetary funds – not with his own funds. Certainly, here where there is great personal pain where the son would have to marry someone else that he does not desire to marry as much as the first – there would be no obligation.

Secondly, the Maharik points out that there is a prohibition in the Talmud (Kiddushin 41a) of becoming engaged to a woman that one has not actually seen yet.  The reason is that the sages ordained that a person only marry someone that he desires and finds grace in his eyes.  Through listening to the father in this case, one may be in violation of this halacha.

Finally, the Maharik explains that the parameters of Kavod and Moreh apply to matters that pertain directly to the father or mother.  Thus, in regard to his father’s sustenance and personal needs – Kavod does apply.  In regard to his personal honor – Moreh – the issue of not sitting in his father’s seat does apply. 


It would seem, at first glance, from this Maharik that both the high school girl’s question and the high school boy’s question are answered.  Neither would be forced to listen to their parents’ view when it is not in front of them.  There may be a separate prohibition in regard to the smoking issue as can be seen from the Talmudic passages that forbid engaging in dangerous activities – see Shabbos 129b. 

For those who think that there is an exemption for smoking, the responsa of Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky (Achiezer Vol. I #23) discusses the parameters of the concept of “Shomer P’sa’im Hashem – Hashem watches over fools.”  He writes that this concept only permits dangerous things when the danger is not uncommon.  Since a little over half a million people die in this country every year from smoking and its related illnesses that means that, roughly, there is a 1 in 600 chance of dying each year from smoking.  Over a thirty year period the mathematical formula is  1-(599/600)*30th power.  This means that there is a five percent chance of smoking actually killing a person.  The halachic position of the Achiezer would certainly apply.  The Tzitz Eliezer Vol. 15 #39 also forbids smoking as does Rav Moshe Shternbuch in teshuvos v’hanhagos Vol. III #354. Our issue in this column, however, deal with the aspects of Kivud Av v’Aim – not other prohibitions.


For many years it was rumored that cracking knuckles causes arthritis.  Thus far, however, there is no evidence that cracking knuckles causes any damage to the knuckle-cracker even over a protracted period of time.  A study published in 2011 compared the hands of some 215 people between the ages of 50 to 90 and there was no indication whatsoever of any damage (Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine 24 (2): 169–174).


Rav Pinchas HaLevi Horowitz, author of the Sefer HaMikneh, states (Kiddushin 31b) that even in matters that do not apply to the father directly, there is still a concept of Moreh – that one is not permitted to contradict his father.  The Sefer HaMikneh understands the Maharik as only applying when it is such a serious issue as marriage, but regarding other matters, it would be prohibited. He cites further proof to this idea from the fact that the Maharik gave three separate arguments to make his point.

According to the Sefer HaMikneh, it would be forbidden for both the smoker and the knuckle-cracker to proceed – even if his father is unaware of it.


Rav Elyashiv zatzal’s view on the matter was that if it bothered the father, then the son was not permitted to smoke in front of him or in front of someone that might inform the father.  In other words, if the father would find out about it, it would be forbidden. This opinion is cited in the Sefer Hidur Panim by Rav Refoel Dinner (page 104) in the section of Kitzur Hilchos Kivud Aviv v’Imo.  Even then, Rav Elyashiv only permits it to the son if it will cause him great stress if he were to cease smoking.  Rav Elyashiv further qualified it by saying that if the father has some further reason why he does not want his son smoking it is still forbidden.  In other words, if the father’s reasoning is that the son has an additional risk factor then the son may not smoke even not in front of him.

Taking this view back to the knuckle cracker, it would seem that Rav Elyashiv would hold that, ideally, she should not crack her knuckles even not in front of her mother.  However, if this would cause her difficulty, then she may.

As an interesting aside, many Poskim have specifically said that one should not tell his son not to smoke because, very often these young men have no will-power and it is placing an additional stumbling block upon them of violating Kivud Av V’aim.  Just as the Talmud forbids punishing an older child physically – lest he hit his father back, it is likewise forbidden to cuase the son to violate Kivud Av v’Aim by stating directly that he is violating his parents’ will by smoking.

May Hashem enable all such children to make correct decisions by themselves.

The author can be reached at yairhoffman2@gmail.com