Marijuana and Religion: Judaism
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Cannabis and religion are directly mixing these days in the Jewish faith. But that is not news. That has always been the case. Jewish people and cannabis have a long relationship that is specifically defined in the Torah (the first part of the Jewish bible). Israel pioneered the medical marijuana movement. And how Jewish people are interpreting cannabis use along the way is just as interesting.
As Israel has been consistently at the front of modern medical reform, it will come as no surprise that the “Father of THC” – Raphael Mechoulam – was originally a Jewish refugee from Europe.
His work has led the Israeli government to embrace the medical use of marijuana. The state religion of Israel is Judaism. Therefore official policy by the government has to also be in accordance with “Jewish law.” That is the reason for its existence.
How Orthodox Jews in Israel have adapted to this subsequently is a fascinating discussion. But how Jews elsewhere have also adapted, is quite intriguing too. Especially for non-Jews who do not understand the schisms and differences of the issue.
For example, there is a difference between an Israeli versus a non-Israeli Jew. Or the many splits and tributaries and decisions that come out of the same. Which also affect how cannabis is used and viewed.
HISTORY OF JUDAISM AND MARIJUANA
There is quite a lot of history between Judaism and cannabis. And there is a reason. Judaism is known as a living faith because its teachings actually do change quite a bit over time, particularly on the day-to-day issues that include modern developments. This includes the use of cell phones on the Sabbath, for example.
In general, there are a few basic rules impacting this. According to the Torah, Jews must have a clear and sober mind when engaged in prayer. No matter where they are. For some people that means not using cannabis. For others it can mean the opposite. This is just one place where Torah teachings are more than porous if not undefined to begin with.
Cannabis is also mentioned a great deal specifically in the Torah (or Jewish bible). It was used in holy annointments and oil. Many of the religious trappings of worship were also made from the hemp plant historically. This includes Shabbat candles, prayer shawls and special huts built for Jewish holy days.
Cannabis is also specifically classified as a “food” and further, as a result, specifically banned during Passover for one branch of modern Jews.
It was also apparently planted at King Soloman’s grave.
So yes, there is history with Jews and cannabis. Thousands of years of it, in fact.
OFFICIAL STAND OF JUDAISM ON CANNABIS
There are several stand and they are evolving. Judaism, like any faith, does change over time. However Jews tend to have a religious law that is a bit more flexible than other faiths. Why? There is so much about health and diet restrictions if not daily living that also comes with this. Orthodox Jews, in particular, are drilled from an early age on what they are allowed to eat. And further, they may not eat that food if not properly prepared. That is (broadly) what kosher means and is.
Cannabis, as a plant for human consumption, falls squarely into this territory. And for that reason, how the Jews, particularly in Israel, are adapting to cannabis is intriguing and an ongoing process.
There is in fact, no major religion except for Judaism, which has looked at the plant this way. The only other established religious group to do so is the Rastafarians. While comparisons of religion are never appropriate, it is fair to say that the Jewish faith is a bit more comprehensive on such matters.
It is also considered one of the “big ones.” Or at least “old ones.” Christian, Islamic, Buddhist and Hindu faiths, congregations and leaders are not responding to this issue as they are within the Jewish community worldwide.
JUDAISM AND CANNABIS IN PRESENT TIMES
These days, the God of Abraham seems to be increasingly clear. As of 2016, the Orthodox Union certified the plant as kosher. That means something is acceptable for human consumption. Prominent theologists (rabbis) in Israel are also publicly accepting that the plant has medical efficacy. That said, where this falls after that is up for debate.
While goyim (non Jews) are usually not aware of this, there are several splits in even modern Orthodox Jewish belief and practice. And this too influences where religious teaching meshes with practice about the plant. By way of explanation, there are just as many interpretations and splits in Jewish belief as there are in Christianity. Many of these debates are arcane to non-Jews.
For example, most people believe the Torah preaches that you are only Jewish if your mother was. Other interpretations believe that Jewishness comes from the father. In fact, in Germany, because of laws enacted after WWII, this has been even more confused bureaucratically. If either your parents or grandparents were Jewish during the Third Reich, this also means by definition, that you are also "Jewish." It gets confusing.
Beyond quibbling and diversions, however, the main two branches of formal Judaism today are Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews. Ashkenazi Jews are not allowed to consume legumes over Passover – Jewish Easter. And this is where it starts to get interesting. In Israel, at least, Ashkenazi Jews define cannabis as a legume.
Where exactly and how exactly just this debate will play out is going to have implications that continue to reverberate in the real world cannabis industry.
How cannabinoid medication beyond the plant will be defined is one of these questions. In a country if not faith where Orthodox believers put their light switches on timers over the Sabbath, what does that mean for how cannabis will be treated going forward?
On top of that, what will the implications be for all cannabis agriculture in the future? Particularly if those tech and grow solutions come from Israel?
The future if not answers to those questions may well be on America’s west coast. There is both a large and liberal Jewish population there, that has a pretty much relaxed attitude about the plant. This is also the easiest place in the world to find kosher cannabis. In fact, California’s shomer Shabbos Jews even have direct relationships with kosher brands and dispensaries. Production is super important, as is quality control.
And for that reason alone, it also entirely possible that the idea of “kosher” may well find its way into established government regulations if not grow facilities far from Israel.