It has been brought to my attention by a friend outside of Israel that some of the ‘goings on’ that are taken for normal here are, in fact, noteworthy.
Specifically, Orthodox Jews who smoke pot.
I guess I’ve just been here too long to think of it as strange. But yes, there is a significant sect within the religious population who do not view the use of cannabis as contradictory to religious behavior, and sometimes even in line with the service of God.
These people, this group, is made up largely of old-school hippies who were followers of a certain famous, influential and controversial rabbi, and members of the younger generation who found religion through nature, hippy ideals and following Phish. These groups are primarily located in the small village established by the followers of this rabbi that still thinks it’s 1973, and in the enclave of Nachlaot in Jerusalem.
This is hippy-religious Israel. Musicians, artists and rabbinical students. These people are all serious about God and Torah and living Halachic lives. Some are raising families, a few have jobs, many study in Yeshiva.
Within this group, not only is marijuana occasionally used as a recreational drug, it is also brought into the realm of the spiritual experience. Much like the innocence of drug-experimentation in the American 1960s, many view it as an exercise in ‘Tuning in’ and achieving higher consciousness. Sacrilegious? Not in this Chevre.
I was doing some field research for this article on a rooftop in the Old City the other night. I sat there, looking at the stars over Jerusalem, contemplated the month of Elul and the absolute awe of looking out over Har ha Bayit. Then the discussion turned to the tragic decline of the fries at Burgers Bar and how good Reeses Peanut Butter Cups would be. But nonetheless, once our munchies subsided with some (regular) brownies, we decided to be quiet and try to hear the worlds prayers as they flowed through us on their way to the spot where they ascend to heaven.
I consulted with a Kabbalist for his take of the issue. With the right kavana (intentions), he told me, there is nothing wrong with doing what you need to do to connect into the divine energy flow, as long as you are keeping with Torah values of not screwing with anyone else and not messing yourself up. Everything with love and moderation.
Another Rabbi told me that it can be used as a source of revelation for our time, to show us small openings into deeper worlds that we can then incorporate into our consciousness, and then asked if I had any contacts, cuz his supply was running low.
Every opinion I got in favor of it stressed personal responsibility and self honesty. The question you have to ask, they concurred, is “is this bringing me closer to or further from God, is this giving me clarity or confusion?” If by smoking you are going to become lazy, forget your learning and ignore your responsibility as a citizen of the world, then it is forbidden for you. But the same should clearly be true of drinking which bears no such stigma.
The main source people point to against it is a Tshuva by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, who, I assume has never tried the drug. Based on whatever information was given to him he groups marijuana in the broad category of “drugs”, and assumes that its users will quickly become addicted and do anything to maintain their habit in a sweeping generalization reminiscent of 1930’s anti-marijuana propaganda. He also brings up the issue that it causes distress to parents, but what about for those of us whose parents do more drugs than we do?
As for the argument of bodily harm, there is something to be said for keeping smoke out of your lungs. But you cannot single out this smoke as worse than nargila, tobacco, or liver damage caused by too many L’chaims, all of which are allowed. And there is always the option of eating it (hash hammentashen anyone? I’m not even kidding).
The only solid argument against it I have encountered is dina deh malchutei dina (the law of the land is the law) which nobody I talked to really has a solid answer for (thanks for killing my buzz “rabbi” ck). Although the one that was the most intersting is the opinion that the real law in the land of Israel is the Torah, and by Torah law, according to this opinion, it is not forbidden. Some even hold that it may have even played a part in the ancient service of God, as the original hebrew in Parasha Perek (30, pasuk 23) might imply.
This group of people I am speaking of is comprised of mainly Baal Tshuvas, who as one friend pointed out are really the truest modern day hippies. Flowy skirts, rainbow kippas and vegetarianism aside, these are a group of people who have left behind the misguided social value system of their parents to pursue truth peace, love, justice and world redemption through Torah. They bring with them the good remnants of original hippydom – passion, brotherhood, and “kind bud” when they come from British Columbia or that coveted stopover in Amsterdam, and incorporate it into a sect of Judaism that seems to be evolving into a modern-day neo-Hasidic movement.