The US government isn’t the only group changing its views on cannabis. Earlier this week, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky of Bnei Brak, a top Orthodox authority, announced that marijuana can be smoked or eaten during Passover, one of the most celebrated Jewish events of the year.
Sniffing for Clues
Under Jewish laws, cannabis is categorized under the kitniyot family of legumes, along with corn, peas and rice. Such foods are banned during Passover, which starts this Friday (at sundown) and ends on April 30. In order to clarify the proper classification of marijuana, it must first pass through the hands of Jewish leaders. Due to the widespread use of cannabis worldwide, Kanievsky wanted to offer a transparent ruling on the plant for the upcoming holiday.
While making the decision, the head rabbi was presented with fresh marijuana leaves. He touched the leaves and sniffed the plant, which led to a unified declaration that weed is considered kosher if used medicinally. The leaders, including Rabbi Yitzchak Zilberstein, explained that the buds had a vibrant healing scent.
“Anything that can be demonstrated to reduce suffering, especially of a bodily illness, or one of the mind, would be more or less kosher,” said Ajay Chaudhary, a Columbia University religious studies expert during an interview with Vice Media. “Well, I mean ‘kosher’ in the colloquial sense, in this case … If it’s going to save a life, or even alleviate suffering, or you’re dying of starvation, even a ham sandwich on Yom Kippur is OK.”
The Marijuana-Kosher Debate
Cannabis has always been closely scrutinized by the Jewish community. Previously, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein had conflicting views about the plant and banned people from smoking it, citing that it was harmful and addictive. But recently, numerous accounts of rabbis, and other prominent Jewish figures, declaring medical marijuana to be permissible have surfaced. The sudden shift in cannabis laws have caused some to question the religious acceptance of the practice. Normally, individuals associate federal law with religious guidelines– if a practice (like smoking weed) contradicts with federal law, it is usually forbidden on the other end as well.
But now that cannabis is gaining legal status, some rabbis are reassessing their grounds for banning the plant in the past. Leaders of the Jewish community are now concerned about the effects of marijuana and its medicinal properties. Interestingly, most have acknowledged its benefits for treating common illnesses, which was why in 2013, Rabbi Efraim Zalmanovich ruled medical marijuana as kosher.
Zalmanovich’s views coincide with Israel’s laws surrounding medical cannabis. Marijuana may be prescribed legally to patients living in the area who are suffering from crippling illnesses, such as cancer, chronic pain or Parkinson’s disease. With help from the Israeli government, the country currently hosts some of the most cutting-edge cannabis research facilities in the world. Its medical marijuana program services over 22,000 patients around the region.