Here again, my article does not aim at elucidating the truth about vaping in the Jewish laws but to give an informed response, relying on personal knowledge, readings and the answers of some religious people who kindly offered their view on this topic. As you probably understood with the previous opus, religion is a complex topic. If a believer does what his spiritual guide allows him to do, everything goes perfectly. But as soon as someone tries to address theological aspects, everything becomes complicated.
From a Muslim point of view, it was complicated; from a Jewish point of view it is extremely complicated.
Judaism, a religion of exegesis
Among the major three monotheist religions, if one considers that Catholicism and Protestantism as one, it is easy to organize the complexity like this: the Christian -“what would God say?”,the Muslim -“What would the Prophet Muhammad do?” and the Jew -“Bring me some caffein and a tablet of acetaminophen!”
Judaism is based on exegesis, or hermeneutics, which is the critical interpretation of the religious texts. Of course there exists a Catholic exegesis and an Islamic one. Catholics have a Messiah, Jesus, the Muslims have a Prophet, Muhammad, both brought contemporary believers holy word. The exegesis, as the critical explanation of texts, does not address the content, the holy word of a divine intermediary, but its sources, transcriptions and translations.
Judaism has no Messiah, no Prophet to synthesize the Divine Word. Being a Jew is not only to be religious and share the texts, it is also to be part of a community, a nation and share community laws, customs, rituals or codes that are not necessarily religious.
The sacred texts on which rely the religious law, the Mosaic Law (from Moses) that religious people should follow are then the Tanakh, constituted of the Torah, the Nevi’im and the Ketouvim. An the work of Jewish theologians is to determine, base on these texts, what should be done or not. A part of it is simple and clearly expressed like Kosher cuisine. Another part is much more delicate and lead to the establishment of a specific science, the theological hermeneutic. And everything is challenged constantly.
Hence, answering the question of whether vaping can be Kosher, will not be simple.
The relative theological flexibility allows the coexistence of a Jewish Secularism society and of an Orthodox one. To make it simple, secular Jews fully experience the life of the century and look for, in each component, a way to apply the Kosher rules. In contrast, the Orthodox Jews stick to a rigorous interpretation of the Talmud. They consider that is one has to question about Kosher, it is because what is considered is not Kosher.
Hence, a Jew, Orthodox, won’t allow the e-cigarette because of only one aspect: it contains nicotine which is a poison. The Orthodox considers that using nicotine is putting himself in danger, which is strictly forbidden, except if it is for the common good. And it is forbidden even if the danger is uncertain, relative or whatever.
The Orthodox conception of religion will not only ban e-cigarettes but also smoking. And in this respect, it is not really a problem since no substitute for tobacco smoking is needed.
And it is the same for nicotine-free e-cigarettes: since the Orthodox are not able to determine whether any constituent of the e-liquid are Kosher, they will refrain from using it rather than exposing themselves to such a risk.
For the Secular Jew, the question is a bit more complex. Theoretically, he can use an e-cigarette if this latter is Kosher.
But what is a Kosher e-cigarette? Kosher food must not contain forbidden products, must not have been in contact with forbidden products nor with forbidden materials. In short, a Kosher e-liquid must not contain pork, scale insects and must not infringe the rules of forbidden mixtures. For example an e-liquid could never be Kosher if it contained something coming from an animal (gelatine) or milk product (in the flavor, for example). “You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.” is interpreted as an interdiction to mix milk products and meat.
In turn, if the e-liquid contain small dose of alcohol, it may not be a problem provided that alcohol is not hametz and does not come from the fermentation of one of the five grains, wheat, rye, barley, oats and spelt.
Finally, what about nicotine. The answer is simple: if the nicotine vaporized by the e-cigarette is considered not harmful (as demonstrated by some american studies), its consumption is allowed if the Secular Jew does not put himself in danger by using it. As an illustration of this last point, he/she will be required, for example, to wear gloves when refilling the e-cigarette.
If one however considers that there is a danger at inhaling nicotine, then its use will be forbidden and the use of nicotine-free Kosher e-liquids will be recommended.
A group recently developed a juice that meets the American Jewish community’s need for Kosher products, with the OK label. Chief Rabbinate of Israel, of Orthodox inclination, criticized this new line and estimated that the rabbi’s role is not to encourage vaping.