TEL AVIV — An Orthodox rabbi ruled that distributing and smoking medicinal marijuana is kosher, but using weed for fun is “forbidden.”

Efraim Zalmanovich, the rabbi of Mazkeret Batia, a town south of Tel Aviv, made the distinction in a recent halakhic ruling, NRG, the news site of the Maariv daily reported on Friday. Leading rabbis frequently weigh in on matters of reconciling halacha, or religious Jewish law, with modern living.

Zalmanovich’s ruling modifies an opinion by Rabbi Hagai Bar Giora, head of kitchens, bakeries factories catering and events at the Israeli chief rabbinate, who in March told Israel’s Magazin Canabis: “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 Zalmanovic (photo credit: JTA)

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

Some 11,000 Israelis use medicinal marijuana, including people with posttraumatic disorders and Parkinson’s disease, according to the Israeli health ministry.

Israel’s Health Ministry recently completed drafting new guidelines regarding the prescription and use of medical marijuana. Health Minister Yael German last month fended off critics who argued that the list of illnesses for which patients could receive cannabis was “arbitrary and discriminatory,” thus leaving some some who really needed it out in the cold.

Israel distributes more medical marijuana than any European country, German said in a recent Knesset meeting.

Contrary to popular misconceptions, “Israel distributes nearly 880 pounds (400 kilograms) of cannabis per month,” she said. “The Netherlands in comparison only provides a small portion — 330 pounds (150 kilograms) — per year.”