There’s an old joke in the Jewish community that for every 5 Jews, there are at least 6 opinions. So, buckle up! While the use of recreational cannabis is generally frowned upon by leaders of most Jewish communities, the medical benefits have been appreciated and enjoyed since ancient times.
Some Jewish leaders prohibit cannabis because it’s a violation of the Torahs commandment to guard one’s health (Deut. 4:15). So if by smoking weed you’re doing the opposite of guarding your health, you’re sinning? There are medical reasons to avoid inhaling smoke and the effects of cannabis can (like most intoxicants) lead to accidents but latest research shows that most methods of ingesting cannabis have no negative side effects and in many cases provide positive outcomes. Some leaders say cannabis can give one an increased appetite which may lead to overindulgence, which the Torah warns against in the case of the rebellious child. (Deut. 21:18) Cannabis creates other cravings and relaxes one’s moral guard, which breaks the commandment of “Don’t go after your hearts and eyes,” the injunction to keep our physical drives in check. One more issue is that halacha, or Jewish law, requires people to obey the laws of the land in which they reside. So unless you live in a legalized state, you’re out of luck.
So has cannabis been nixed by Jewish leaders in an attempt to prevent people from getting too high and sinning by accident? Not so fast.
Many Rabbis are more permissive, especially in the case of medical necessity which allows for nearly any measure to be taken to save a life. Rabbi Yosef Glassman, MD, CEO and CMO of Hadarta, points out that “the Talmud does discuss the growing of fields of cannabis, the Shulchan Aruch, Code of Jewish Law, mentions using cannabis for Shabbat wicks, and many sources talk about cannabis as a staple in Jewish clothing, since it doesn’t absorb spiritual impurity. Moses ben Maimon, commonly known as Maimonides, mentions its use as an effective medicine, and it was found to have been used in ancient Israel as an anesthetic, even during childbirth.”
Other notable mentions of the beneficial properties of cannabis can be found in the 13th-century Kabbalistic book “Sefer Raziel” in the form of a suggestion for warding off demons using a mixture of wormwood and cannabis. In the 16th century, Rabbi ben Solomon ibn Abi Zimra (known as the Radbaz), chief rabbi of Cairo, was firmly pro-weed when he proclaimed that, “Leaves of cannabis make one happy.”
“We have a moral duty to explore, perfect and provide any plant and every plant if it has medicinal benefits,” says Rabbi HaLevi. “It’s a mitzvah to alleviate suffering, heal and save lives. This is why it’s sanctioned even in the most halachically observant circles, as it is medicine. It’s why Orthodox Jews are heavily represented in the industry, and particularly within the R&D side of the industry.”
Rabbi HaLevi elaborates further “there is no such thing as a bad plant. All plants are deemed ‘kosher’ according to the simple reading of the Creation story, period…. Judaism views plants, just like money, just like most every ‘thing,’ as amoral. It isn’t moral. It isn’t immoral. The morality arises from how it’s used, why it’s used, when, where, by whom.” For example, grapes are a delicious fruit and their wine is used in many religious ceremonies but when it’s over indulged in it can lead to addiction, unseemly behavior and abandonment of one’s senses. However Rabbi HaLevi defends cannabis further, as “grapes have no medicinal capacity, unlike cannabis. Not to mention cannabis isn’t addictive. Cannabis can’t result in overdose.”
In more recent times, Professor Mechoulam, a scientist at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, was the first to isolate, synthesize and analyze Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD) in cannabis, now used as treatments for serious health issues like Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy in both adults and children.
Israel remains at the forefront of Cannabis research for pharmaceutical use and recreational use among the modern Israeli population is higher than most places in the world. The Rabbinical authorities have their opinions (and they’ll all evolve and they’ll all be different) but the popularity of recreational weed and medicinal properties of cannabis have spoken as well.