From the Israeli Press: Weed and wisdom

A state should attempt to interfere as little as possible in the lives of its citizens, but still, governments forbid certain dangerous activities and behaviors. Is danger the real issue in smoking cannabis?

Rabbi. Chaim Navon, | updated: 13:44

הרב חיים נבון
הרב חיים נבון
Jonatan u

Once we used to get a good laugh here in Israel when thinking about Switzerland and how that country is so boring that all they have to fight about at election time are the parking restrictions. Our elections, in contrast, have always been over questions of life and death. But wonder of wonders – we have turned into Switzerland. Moshe Feiglin and his Zehut party have managed to change the main topic of the elections into the legalization of cannabis.

A state should attempt to interfere as little as possible in the lives of its citizens, but still, governments forbid certain dangerous activities and behaviors such as driving without a seatbelt, and most of us agree with that. Why? Perhaps because if someone drives without fastening his seatbelt and is hurt, he expects the public to come to his aid, cover some of his medical expenses, and in some cases, grant him a disability pension. We do all this readily, even if he drove carelessly before his accident, but if we have taken upon ourselves to care for one another, we also have the right to demand avoidance of clearly dangerous behavior from one another.

Enthusiastic reports about the harmlessness of smoking pot give me pause – and give rise to a certain level of doubt as well. We are warned constantly about the ordinary, accepted things we consume unthinkingly:  Sunlight can cause cancer, the air is polluted, water lacks magnesium, sugar is poisonous, milk products are meant only for calves. It seems that only cannabis is danger-free, completely natural, pure and benign.

A good many people claim, however, that smoking cannabis is fraught with danger, especially for young people. Even if we suppose that marijuana lovers exaggerate somewhat when describing its benefits, does smoking marijuana (or, as one is expected to say nowadays: "cannabis usage") pose a danger comparable to driving without a seat belt? That is a question for the experts to debate, and I am not going to address it.

Suppose then, hypothetically, that we have overcome that hurdle, and become convinced that soft drugs are not terribly dangerous, so that the state does not have to make them illegal. This still does not mean that using them Is a pursuit in which one should engage – and that is a much more important question. The law does not forbid anyone from staying locked in his house for an entire year watching a marathon of Netflix series, but this is still not to be recommended as a way of passing time. Even if cannabis does not have unequivocally destructive results, I am not at all enthusiastic about its supposedly positive effects.

There are, of course, sick people who say that cannabis is a savior, and we are obviously not talking about them. The question is not about medical use of marijuana, but about marijuana as entertainment.


Rabbi Feinstein realized more or less what the problem was,  It was hard for him to accept the fact that young men want to bring themselves to a state, even temporarily, where they are 'high' and not fully aware.
In 1973 the head of a yeshiva turned to the great halakhic decisor, the late sage Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, and told him that there are students in the yeshiva who smoke marijuana. "They claim it is permissible halakhically - what can I tell them," he asked? Rabbi Feinstein stated a list of transgressions of which marijuana  smokers are guilty.

I think, however, that the main problem was not a halakhic one, but the psychological state that smoking pot brings about. Even without the word satla (for being high) it seems that Rabbi Feinstein realized more or less what the problem was,  It was hard for him to accept the fact that young men want to bring themselves to a state, even temporarily, where they are 'high' and not fully aware. A Jew is supposed to be vigorous and ready, always dedicated to his values and responsibilities. "Even though there are healthy people who are not harmed much," he wrote, "still, it spoils the mind and they are unable to understand things properly, which is even worse."

Israeli public opinion has changed on the topic of cannabis. It seems that this is not because new research has suddenly shown that there are no problems involved, but for a different reason. Once the "high" of temporary bliss achieved by smokers was seen by most of us as a reprehensible way to spend leisure time, while today it seems attractive, even cool.

I shudder when I hear young religious adults talking about it affectionately as "satlan" even though I know that the strongest thing most of them have ever inhaled is the smoke from the slogan set afire at the end of their youth group's anniversary Shabbat, but I am not comfortable with their use of the term. They sometimes use the insult "sachi" (straightedge) which refers to someone who abstains from drugs. It is odd that there is a derogatory term for someone clear-headed enough to avoid drugs, and that too, reveals a lot about us. I look at these young people and I see that they are great and also "sachis," in the best possible meaning of the world. Why do I get the feeling they are a bit embarrassed by that?

I am not talking about substance abuse and drug addiction among religious youth. We all agree that those are terrible problems  and that it is imperative to deal with them, but that is not the subject of this column. I am discussing the question of the ethical code of mainstream religious youngsters This is more important than the question of legalizing substances. The police are not supposed to set the tone here, parents and educators are those who should – who must. And they must ask themselves if they are going to make their peace with the change in values of Israeli society,  once characterized by aspirations (not inhalations) of a totally different character.

Appeared in Hebrew in Makor Rishon, translated with permission by Rochel Sylvetsky, Senior consultant and op-ed editor, Arutz Sheva..




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