Getting baked on Passover not just for matzah, rabbi rules
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Getting baked on Passover not just for matzah, rabbi rules

Leading ultra-Orthodox authority blows away the haze, plants seed for marijuana use over the festival of freedom

Raoul Wootliff covers politics, corruption and crime for The Times of Israel.

Getting baked on Passover is no longer just for matzah, a leading Orthodox rabbi ruled, after sniffing (but not smoking) some cannabis leaves recently.

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, widely considered the leading living ultra-Orthodox halachic authority, ruled that marijuana is kosher for Passover and can be either eaten or smoked over the eight-day Jewish festival, during which strict dietary laws apply, according the pro-Cannabis online magazine cannabis.org.il.

Kanievsky gave the ruling in response to a question from the pro-marijuana group Siach, meaning both plant and conversation.

Kanievky stipulated that in normal circumstances the plant is considered a member of the kitniyot group of legumes and pulses that are banned on Passover among Jews of Ashkenazi origin. But, he said, if used for medical purposes, cannabis is permitted for Jews from all backgrounds.

Kitniyot include rice, corn and beans. They have always been permissible to Sephardi Jews on Passover, but have been banned by Eastern and Central European rabbis since the 1200s when they were sometimes mixed with wheat. Refraining from the consumption of wheat products is among the central facets of the Passover holiday

After smelling the leaves of a cannabis plant, Rabbi Kanievky and Rabbi Yitzchak Zilberstein, another leading Orthodox authority, decided that the plant had a “healing smell” and made the blessing for fragrant leaves.

Rabbi Kaniyevski smelling the leaves of a cannabis plant. (Screenshot from YouTube)
Rabbi Kanievski smelling the leaves of a cannabis plant. (Screenshot from YouTube)

 

In 2013 Rabbi Efraim Zalmanovich, the rabbi of Mazkeret Batya, a town southeast of Tel Aviv, ruled that distributing and smoking medicinal marijuana is kosher, but using weed for fun is “forbidden.”

Zalmanovich’s ruling modified an opinion by Rabbi Hagai Bar Giora, head of kitchens, bakeries, factories, catering and events at the Chief Rabbinate, who had told Israel’s Magazin Canabis in early 2013: “If you smoke it, there is no problem whatsoever.”

Zalmanovich, the author of a book on alcoholism in Judaism, said: “Taking drugs to escape this world in any excessive way is certainly forbidden.”

Efraim Zalmanovic (photo credit: JTA)
Efraim Zalmanovich (JTA)

However, if the drug is administered to relieve pain, then the person giving it is “performing a mitzvah,” and the person using the drug is using it “in a kosher fashion.”

In January, Vireo Health of New York announced that the Orthodox Union, one of the largest kashrut agencies in the world, was certifying its medical marijuana products, which come in three forms: pills, oils and vapor. Vireo is one of five medical marijuana providers selected to participate in a New York state medical marijuana program that goes into effect next month; none of the others have been certified kosher.

Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of the OU’s kashrut department, said in a statement at the time that Vireo’s medical cannabis products “were developed to alleviate pain and suffering in accordance with the New York State Compassionate Care Act.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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