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.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 3)

Glassman first presented his findings in late October during grand rounds — a medical teaching session — at the New England Sinai Hospital in Stoughton, Mass., where he is a physician. He has since gone on to give the same lecture to lay and medical professional audiences. “The goal is to educate practitioners on the rich cultural history behind the use of cannabis as a medicine, explain its mechanism of action, and dispel myths about its safety profile,” he said at one such presentation open to the public in Brookline, Mass. in November.

He explained that he had received no commercial support for his research, that no exhibitors were present, and sorry, but there were no free samples. “Not even in those brownies in the back?” joked one audience member.

In the talk, Glassman described finding several biblical references to the herb that include Book of Numbers 17:12-13, where Aaron the High Priest, “no pun intended,” probably burned marijuana as an incense offering “during a time of turmoil.” Other passages include God’s instructions to Moses to “take for yourself herbs b’samim” — herbs of medicinal quality — and instructions in Exodus to “take spices of the finest sort, pure myrrh, five hundred shekels, fragrant cinnamon, and ‘keneh bosem,’” which literally means “sweet cane,” but possibly refers to cannabis, said Glassman. “Keneh bosem” is also mentioned in the Song of Songs 4:14, Isaiah 43:24, Jeremiah 6:20 and Ezekiel 27:19. Another pronunciation is the Aramaic “kene busma,” which, perhaps unsurprisingly, is also the name of a modern reggae musician.

Glassman’s research revealed that cannabis may have been used as an anesthetic during childbirth in ancient Israel; he described an archaeological discovery of hashish in the stomach of the 1,623-year-old remains of a 14-year-old girl in Beit Shemesh. Maimonides was also an advocate of using cannabis oil for ailments such as colds and ear problems. “There are complex laws of plant mixing and hybridizing from the Talmud, which Maimonides comments on,” said Glassman. “Cannabis specifically was taken especially seriously in terms of mixing … and could, in fact, incur the death penalty. This shows me that apparently, cannabis was treated quite seriously.”

Ancient Jews weren’t the only people to use cannabis medicinally, of course. In his lecture, Glassman noted that cannabis has been used in Chinese medicine, as one of the 50 fundamental herbs, for 4,700 years; ancient Egyptians used it in suppositories and for eye pain; and Greeks made wine steeped with cannabis and used it for inflammation and ear problems.

Today, public support for medical marijuana has increased. Twenty-one U.S. states plus the District of Columbia have legalized the herb in some form, and recreational use of marijuana is legal in Colorado and Washington. Medical conditions such as cancer, Parkinson’s disease and HIV are commonly treated with medicinal marijuana, yet Glassman said that physicians are still reluctant to recommend it, because federally it is still illegal.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.