With all the discussion, in the last few years, about the legalization of marijuana, one might have wondered what is the traditional Jewish perspective. It is, not surprisingly, a rather complicated topic about which Jewish Treats can only provide the most basic insights.
Until recently, the question of marijuana use was infrequently discussed since it was clearly defined as an illegal substance by the government. The Jewish perspective regarding civil law is dina d’malchut dina, the law of the land is the law, as long as it does not conflict with Jewish law.
When Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the leading halachic (Jewish legal) decider in the United States in the late 20th century, was asked about the use of marijuana as a recreational drug in 1973, he ruled that it was prohibited. His legal argument referred to "the rebellious son," (Deuteronomy 21:18-21) as defined by the oral Torah, who robs and steals from his parents in order to fulfill his cravings for physical gratification. A rebellious son can be liable to the death penalty, thus one should not lead oneself into a potentially addictive situation. He also argued about the inability of a person to study Torah or recite prayers properly while under the influence of any type mind altering substance.**
With the expanded access to medicinal uses of marijuana and the changing attitude, both culturally and legally, to its recreational use, the question has resurfaced with a new nuance. Jewish law places a tremendous priority on making a sick person comfortable, and there is new research that debates whether marijuana effects a person in the same way as other “drugs.” Because each case is individual, all questions regarding marijuana use should be presented to one’s rabbi.
**This includes being drunk.
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