Chaim Ingram

ACUTE ANGLES: Unholy Smoke

Dear Rabbi. I was surprised to witness an Aboriginal “smoking ceremony” at a Jewish event in Melbourne recently. It seemed rather incongruous.  What would Judaism say about it?  Appreciate your time.  Adam W.

Dear Adam,

I shan’t mince my words. This ceremony has pagan (and therefore, in Jewish terms, idolatrous) overtones. It purports, often with the use of totems, to cleanse people or places of “evil spirits”.  It has no place in whatever form at a Jewish event!

I deem it significant that I am answering your question during Chanuka which, as you know, celebrates Jewish victory against pagan Hellenistic culture which sadly had infiltrated the Jewish masses.

It is ironic that, due to attempts to “universalise” Chanuka in our free, democratic societies by staging public lightings to which are invited civic and celebrity figures from the wider community, the erroneous message has somehow been conveyed that Chanuka simply celebrates the freedom to practice one’s faith, whatever that may be. This has further morphed into the celebration of “multiculturalism” – after all,  if Jews embrace their own freedom of religion  oughtn’t they also to embrace that of others?. This has in turn led to the phenomenon where Jews participate in the rituals of other faiths. Thereby the message of Chanuka has been turned on its head since this was the very kind of cultural assimilation against which the Maccabees so valiantly fought!

And so, sadly, there are Jews in Australia – as in similar Western democracies – who deem it ‘cool’ to indulge in Aboriginal smoking ceremonies display ghoulish skeletons on October 31st and place a gift-filled ornamental tree next to a Menora as December 25th.approaches. In so doing, they deny that they are in any way compromising their Jewish identity.  Then they wonder when their culturally-pluralistic sons and daughters go one step further and out-marry while ‘tolerantly’ proclaiming they will give their own  children the choice (but without the Jewish knowledge) to forge their own cultural path.

Due to past perceived wrongs done to the ATSI communities, the consciences of many do not allow the slightest criticism of anything indigenous. However, as Jews, while we can support and even work for the economic and social advancement of Aboriginal people, we cannot in any way embrace their (by our lights) idolatrous culture.

Promoting smoking ceremonies is, in Jewish terms,  playing with absolute fire!

About the Author
Rabbi Chaim Ingram is the author of five books on Judaism. He is a senior tutor for the Sydney Beth Din and the non-resident rabbi of the Adelaide Hebrew Congregation. He can be reached at