Doctor Cannabis

Yosef Glassman Is an Amateur Historian of Biblical Weed Use

Ancient Roots: A drawing of a marijuana plant from 500 C.E.
lewenstein/wikimedia commons
Ancient Roots: A drawing of a marijuana plant from 500 C.E.

By Susie Davidson

Published December 07, 2013, issue of December 13, 2013.
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“Also, one will beautify [Shabbat candle lighting] when the wick is made from cotton, flax or cannabis…”

That’s right, cannabis.

This dictate, found in the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law), piqued the curiosity of Boston geriatrician Yosef Glassman when he was reading about Sabbath rituals on a religious quest nearly two decades ago.

The future doctor decided to embark on a project to learn whether cannabis was also used for medicinal purposes in ancient Jewish times. At first, he proceeded hesitantly — the federal ban on marijuana stigmatizes even library research on the drug, he said.

But in recent years, with medical marijuana’s legalization in several states, Glassman felt more comfortable delving in. What he found was a wealth of references in the Bible and beyond. Marijuana usage, he contends, is an aspect of Jewish law and tradition that had long been buried, and one that deserves “resurfacing and exploration.”

Yosef Glassman
Courtesy of Yosef Glassman
Yosef Glassman

“There is no question that the plant has a holy source, God himself, and is thus mentioned for several ritualistic purposes,” said Glassman, who is also a mohel and a former Israel Defense Force lieutenant. He lives in Newton, Mass. with his family.

Glassman also found many references to nonmedicinal uses of marijuana. “It is clear that using cannabis for clothing and accessories was very common, according to the Talmud,” he said. It was used for making tallitot and tzitzit, as well as “schach” (Sukkot roof coverings). Glassman also found that cannabis fit into the category of kitnyos on Passover, meaning that Ashkenazi Jews were prohibited from using it on the holiday. “One thus might assume that it was also consumed, perhaps as food, during the remainder of the year,” he said, noting that hemp seeds are a nonintoxicating form of protein.


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