Judaism, Israel and Medical Marijuana

Many consider Israel to be among the most progressive countries when it comes to medical marijuana. There are about 14,000 patients with medical marijuana prescriptions that they acquired from one of 20 doctors allowed to prescribe it, according to a December Haaretz report.

“I’d say Israel is an example of a country that is doing what’s right, with the government behind opening up the program,” said David Borden, executive director of StoptheDrugWar.org, an organization working to end drug prohibition around the world. He noted that the country is also moving forward with marijuana research.

Israeli patients suffering from cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, Tourette syndrome, other terminal illnesses and post-traumatic stress disorder have been prescribed marijuana. Israel’s Health Ministry is hoping to certify 10 more doctors to prescribe medical marijuana in the first half of 2014, according to Haaretz. The number of patients is expected to grow to 40,000 by 2018, the newspaper said.

With concerns in the medical community about regulations of a drug some feel needs to be studied more, a bill was introduced that would replace distribution centers supplied by local growers, where patients currently get their marijuana, with distribution at pharmacies only, according to Haaretz.

While there is debate in the medical community, several rabbis have deemed medical marijuana “kosher,” including Orthodox Israeli Rabbi Efraim Zalmanovich in Mazkeret Batia, who said distribution and smoking for medical purposes is kosher, according to The Huffington Post.

Rabbi Jeffrey Kahn, owner of a Washington, D.C., dispensary, said taking care of one’s health takes precedence over other Jewish laws, noting that one is not required to fast on Yom Kippur if sick.

“Relieving suffering, bringing healing to the sick — that’s an incredible mitzvah and one that counteracts and overrides many, many others,” he explained.

Some even think the plant may be mentioned in the Bible. Yosef Glassman, a Boston-area doctor, mohel and former Israel Defense Forces lieutenant, claims to have found several biblical references to cannabis.

“It does say that it was used extensively in clothes making, which makes sense because the fiber itself is very useful for fabrics,” he said.

Glassman determined that it was forbidden to be eaten on Passover by Ashkenazi Jews (the seed is a good source of protein).

“If they mentioned it can’t be used for that, it must have been used for something,” he stated.

Numerous other references point to “keneh bosem,” which translates to sweet cane, which Glassman and others think might be cannabis.

“I think the main thing that this can open for the Jewish community, maybe the community in general, is it’s not something that should be stigmatized,” he said. “I think it’s really overblown in terms of the stigma.”

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