Cannabis and Judaism
In Judaism, there is debate but not accepted evidence that cannabis may have been used ritually in ancient Judaism, and the use of cannabis continues to be a controversial topic in modern Judaism.
Theories on ancient use
It is generally held by academics specializing in the archaeology and paleobotany of Ancient Israel, and those specializing in the lexicography of the Hebrew Bible that cannabis is not documented or mentioned in early Judaism. Against this some popular writers have argued that there is evidence for religious use of cannabis in the Hebrew Bible, although this hypothesis and some of the specific case studies (e.g., John Allegro in relation to Qumran, 1970) have been “widely dismissed as erroneous” (Merlin, 2003). The primary advocate of a religious use of cannabis plant in early Judaism was Sula Benet (1967), who claimed that the plant kaneh bosm קְנֵה-בֹשֶׂם mentioned five times in the Hebrew Bible, and used in the holy anointing oil of the Book of Exodus, was in fact cannabis, although lexicons of Hebrew and dictionaries of plants of the Bible such as by Michael Zohary (1985), Hans Arne Jensen (2004) and James A. Duke (2010) and others identify the plant in question as either Acorus calamus or Cymbopogon citratus.
In the United States, the Jewish population is overrepresented among the recreational cannabis using population. The reasons for this are thought to be their urban pattern of residence, the disproportionate association of Jewish residents in the academic milieu of the city as well as its avant-garde moments, and that Jewish families are thought to be less authoritarian and more tolerant toward “intellectual experimentation”. In Toronto, differences between Jews and Christians with regard to attitudes toward cannabis usage were detected in the high school population, in which surveys show that more than twice as many Jewish students have used cannabis as Catholic ones.
In 2013, Orthodox rabbi Efraim Zalmanovich stated that medical, but not recreational, cannabis is kosher. In 2016, Belarusian-Israeli rabbi Chaim Kanievsky declared that medicinal cannabis was kosher for Passover. In January 2016, the Orthodox Union certified some medical cannabis products made by Vireo as kosher, their first medical cannabis certification.
In the United States, the Jewish Social Policy Action Network in Philadelphia and Rabbi Eric Cytrin of Temple Beth El in Harrisburg, have supported medical legalization efforts for cannabis in Pennsylvania.
If smoked, under normal circumstances there is no reason cannabis would not be kosher, although some rabbis apply this only to medical cannabis, not recreational usage. However, this is excepting that smoking it typically involves lighting a spark, so it would not be appropriate for example after sundown on Shabbat. If cannabis is “eaten”, as edibles are, on the other hand, the issue is not as clear cut, as there may be small insects inside which are not kosher. For the observant it is recommended to only use brands that are certified as kosher. For cannabis grown in Israel, the plants must observe Shmittah, but this does not apply to cannabis from elsewhere.
- Dan Merkur The Mystery of Manna: The Psychedelic Sacrament of the Bible (2001); James D. Dure, Manna Magic Mushroom of Moses : Manna Botanical I.D. of a Biblical Sacrament (self published, 2000)
- Economic Botany M. D. Merlin Archaeological Evidence for the Tradition of Psychoactive Plant Use in the Old World – University of Hawaii “23 May 2011 – “.. Judaism (Dure 2001; Merkur 2000), and Christianity (Allegro 1970; Ruck et al. 2001). Although this hypothesis and some of the specific case studies (e.g., Allegro 1970) have been widely dismissed as erroneous, others continue”
- Rowan Robinson, The Great Book of Hemp, Health & Fitness, 1995, pag. 89
- Lytton J. Musselman Figs, dates, laurel, and myrrh: plants of the Bible and the Quran 2007 p73
- Warf, Barney. “High points: An historical geography of cannabis.” Geographical Review 104.4 (2014): 414-438. Page 422: “Psychoactive cannabis is mentioned in the Talmud, and the ancient Jews may have used hashish (Clarke and Merlin 2013).”
- Goode, Erich. “Chapter 2 — A Profile of the Marijuana Smoker”. Between Politics and Reason. ISBN 0-312-13297-2.
…Jews are far more likely to smoke marijuana than Gentiles, at least among young adults… Although it is possible that this over-representation can be entirely explained by Jewish dominance in academic and quasi-academic milieu in New York City (the groups to which I had readiest access), there are indications that lead me to suspect that there are social and cultural factors linking the Jews to activities such as marijuana use… Many of the avant-garde political and artistic movements today are associated with marijuana smoking, and the Jews are strongly over-represented in these movements… But it is to say that Jews will be more likely to be found among the more progressive artists and writers, and among the more radical and revolutionary political activists in America today. And it is precisely the political and artistic avant-garde that is most likely to smoke marijuana. However, we need not even concern ourselves with society’s most progressive and revolutionary members, since they form such a tiny percentage of any population. Even contrasting Jews in general ( not merely the most liberal among them) with Gentiles in general, it is clear that in many ways, Jews grow up in … a family ambiance with a lower level of authoritarianism, greater tolerance, and a respect for intellectual experimentation. (The Jewish family is, however, much more rigid in many other ways, such as the closeness of family ties.)… Whatever the reasons, Jewish youths do seem to experiment with drugs, particularly marijuana, more than Gentiles. A study was done by the Toronto Addiction Research Foundation, entitled A Preliminary Report on the Attitudes and Behaviour of Toronto Students in Relation to Drugs. Of the Catholic high school students, 7 percent had taken drugs (mainly marijuana), and 75 percent said that they would not take drugs. These figures were g percent and 74 percent for Protestants. Among the Jewish students, about 15 percent had taken drugs, and 64 percent said that they would not use them…
- Julian G. Jacobs (1993). Judaism looks at modern issues. Aviva Press. ISBN 978-0-9511560-2-5.
- Mitch Earleywine (2007). Pot Politics: Marijuana and the Costs of Prohibition. Oxford University Press, USA. pp. 218–. ISBN 978-0-19-518802-8.
- Fred Rosner (2001). Biomedical Ethics and Jewish Law. KTAV Publishing House, Inc. pp. 92–. ISBN 978-0-88125-701-4.
- Elsa Vulliamy (2016-04-22). “Marijuana is kosher for Passover, leading rabbi rules”. The Independent. Retrieved 2017-02-13.
- Abrams, Rachel (6 May 2016). “The Rabbis Are Here to Inspect the (Legal) Weed” – via New York Times.
- “Kosher for pain relief”. Jewish Chronicle.
- “Marijuana is Always Kosher, if you smoke it”. Haaretz.