Orthodox Rabbis Friendly To The Idea Of Kosher Marijuana

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Jonah Bennett Contributor
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As medical marijuana gradually becomes ubiquitous across the country, several companies have approached Orthodox rabbis in New York to obtain the kosher seal of approval. While the talks are preliminary, the rabbis appear quite open.

In fact, Orthodox rabbis seem to be taking a very strong interest in the medicinal side of the drug, The Jewish Daily Forward reports. However, as to the idea of recreational marijuana, most are skeptical and argue that it’s absolutely prohibited.

“I think it’s interesting that the Orthodox community is having this level of a conversation for a bunch of reasons,” Roy Kaufmann, co-founder of Le’Or, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating the Jewish community on drug reform, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“First, we’re talking about a plant, and plants can’t not be kosher, as far as I’m aware. And two, it’s a plant featured in the Bible as part of an anointing recipe for high priests. Beyond that, a large portion of the Jewish community looked at this issue 10-15 years ago. Really, the question is: does the plant bring relief to suffering? If yes, then it’s a done deal.”

The plant itself does not need kosher certification, according to rabbis, but because New York has chosen an idiosyncratic approach to medical marijuana, smoking the drug is still prohibited, meaning that other forms of ingestion, via capsules or food, will need certification in order for Orthodox Jews to consume them. The main reason why this debate is happening now is because medical marijuana will most likely be available for sale in 2016.

But not all rabbis have taken an official stance on medical marijuana, and in the past, the standard has been to point to the negative health effects as a reason for forbidding the drug. However, as more and more academic literature appears to indicate the benefits of marijuana, opinions in the Orthodox community have gradually started to shift. (RELATED: Study: Marijuana Appears To Be Safer Than We Thought)  

Rabbi Moshe Elefant, chief operating officer for the Orthodox Union, stated that the organization “would not have a problem certifying” marijuana for medicinal purposes. Certification would follow Israel’s lead, where 11,000 people are already permitted to receive medical marijuana and can purchase kosher-certified products.

The Rabbinical Council of America and Agudath Israel of America, however, have declined to take an official position on the issue. In the meantime, rabbis will continue to debate the issue, while others in the Jewish community are more active.

“Interestingly, Jews are by and large one of the most supportive demographics when it comes to ending marijuana prohibition,” Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, told TheDCNF. “Given its significant medical benefits and relative safety compared to most prescription drugs, there is no logical reason why marijuana in its natural form should be viewed as an unacceptable form of medication. Marijuana is safer than Manischewitz, and it should be treated that way.”

Kaufmann agreed, pointing to the different approaches taken by Orthodox and Reform Jews.

“There has been a hesitation to broach the subject because of the stigma around the subject,” Kaufmann told TheDCNF. “But Reform Jews, who take a more holistic approach to understanding what it means to be Jewish, have tended to take a more active interest.

Additionally, since so much of our prison system is made up of nonviolent offenders, and so many of them are black or brown, not white or Jewish, there’s a need to talk about marijuana prohibition. After the events which took place in Ferguson, we definitely started to see a current running through the progressive Jewish community that these issues around racial justice, sentencing and prisons, are things that we need to be taking seriously.”

While many rabbis are keeping silent on the issue until an official position is staked out, the trend seems relatively clear, meaning that Orthodox patients in New York stand a good chance of having access to kosher-certified medical marijuana products by next year, if licenses to grow marijuana roll out according to the state’s timeline.

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Jonah Bennett