Cannabis Goes Kashrut: Israel and Orthodox Conversion

Shemita is now being applied to cannabis products in Israel and is poised to dramatically increase the Orthodox community’s use of cannabis.
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Israel is the most advanced medical cannabis market in the world thanks to the ground-breaking research of Israeli scientists. There are over 100,000 patients with valid cannabis licenses. Beyond this, there is evidence that Jews have used cannabis for religious reasons for thousands of years

But so far, modern Orthodox, or even slightly less observant Jews—both in Israel and beyond—have been leery of taking cannabis, even as medicine. And when it comes to these kinds of decisions, it is usually Israel that has the final say.

The reason? Cannabis as medicine had not been certified as kosher—or kashrut—before in Israel (although burgeoning attempts exist in the U.S.). The term “kosher” refers to regulations that prohibit observant Jews from eating certain foods and require that others be prepared in a certain manner—in other words according to Jewish law.

This has now changed. A kashrut certification for Seach Medical Group was issued—and further was discovered as the company listed on the stock exchange. While this has not helped the performance of the company’s stock, it may well herald a new day in Israel and beyond for medical cannabis brands with the right certifications and market reach. Namely, more Jewish people—including those who are Orthodox—may be inclined to use medical cannabis. If a product is kosher, they can consume it even on Shabbat (holy days) and other religious holidays.

Is Cannabis Kosher?

This is a big issue on the cannabis front (and not just in Israel). It is also complicated because of the grey areas created by legalization. For example, some observant Jews would not take any cannabis—particularly if it had any THC in it on Shabbat (the weekly holy day that exists from sundown on Friday until Sunday morning). In life or death situations, Jewish law does not require that medicines are designated as kosher, but it is usually preferred and recommended that any medicine is certified as such.

Now that a cannabis company has been certified as kosher in Israel, the doubt can end. 

Not only will this (of course) increase the use of medical cannabis domestically, it will also begin to open the discussion outside of the country as well. Starting with the U.S.

Type the words “kosher” and “cannabis” into your browser, and you will see that there is already a trend in the U.S. (starting with California). This is also a conversation in New York.

How might this certification be added to create a different but highly accurate test for purity and healthiness? Not to mention create a unique branding and market entry opportunity?

Does Cannabis Need Kashrut Certification?

As a plant, cannabis is not something that would typically require kosher certification. This is a stamp of approval granted by a rabbinic agency, which will check ingredients, the production process, and the production facility. Consider it a kind of Talmudic GMP meets ISO.

It is usually applied to meat and places where food is processed. However, it is also applied to medicine.

The significance in Israel, of course, is that both the medicines and edibles market can now be certified as kosher. This will undoubtedly drive additional sales as large new percentages of the population can partake. According to the most recent reports released by the Israeli government, the majority of the country identifies as religious. Forty-two percent of the population identify as secular.

In the United States, this means that beyond any state (and presumably federal when it comes) certifications for cannabis, any company hoping to reach the Jewish market in states like New York will also do well to consider this kind of certification.

The Global Jewish Cannabis Market

Walk into any mainstream German grocery store these days and you will find a special kosher section. Indeed, Jews all over Germany import New York state manufactured wine for use in their ceremonies.

There is a huge global niche market for kosher products—and with just a few destination points outside of Israel.

This starts with the U.S. (and just behind them, the U.K.).

In the U.S., 2.4% of the population is Jewish, and 21% of New York identifies as such—the largest concentration of Jews outside of Israel. California comes second with about 1.5 million Jews, with Florida, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania rounding out the top five states.

This is a targetable population. And now, thanks to the rabbinical approval in Israel of a cannabis medicine, that conversation can happen globally.

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  1. Hi
    I usually don’t reply to articles but as a cannabis enthusiast and religious Jew living in Israel I felt obligated to briefly clear up a few things in this article.

    Although cannabis has a rich historical role in Judaism (most recently explored on : https://yivo.org/Cannabis), its use has fallen out of our tradition over the past two thousand years of diaspora.
    There are many Jews (particularly those connected to the counter-culture movement) that have so to speak “brought it back.” However, its role in very-religious communities is still divided due to misinformation and cultural taboos about drugs.

    There a couple of points about Jewish traditions mentioned here that need clarification in order to understand the intent of the original article cited in this article:

    1. Shabbat:
    Shabbat (shabbas) is the Jewish day of rest every week from Friday night until Saturday night. This holy day is a special time to reconnect with the divine, ourselves and our community. One of the reasons that enables this day to be so special is the restriction on working and certain types of labors including lighting a fire.
    Because we cant light a fire on Shabbat, we can’t smoke on Shabbat. In the words of Walter from the Big Lebowski “I don’t roll on Shabbas!”. Religious stoners that keep the Shabbat and still want to enhance it with weed, have the option to make or obtain edibles and other tinctures before the Shabbas to use on Shabbas.
    There is no blanket permission given to smoke cannabis on Shabbat, and there won’t ever be. However, someone in a severe medical situation could receive special exemption to use their medicine on shabbat in a smoked form. As mentioned below, edibles in food would require special kosher permission to be used anytime.

    2. Kosher – To emphasize a diet that is giving us energy to do spiritual good in this world, all of our food is kosher. For example no pork, no mixing meat and milk. All processed and cooked foods, as well as meat and dairy products, that are purchased need reliable kosher certification (kashrut) to ensure the facilities are following the laws while preparing the food.
    MOST raw fruits and vegetables outside of Israel are kosher regardless.
    Smoking products never require any kosher certification.
    Medicines outside of Israel generally do not have or require special kosher certification (although sometimes preferred to stay away from gelatin). Medicines here, usually do as a formality and to gain use in the religious sector.
    Cannabis is a plant and a medicine and does not innately require any kosher certification. Most religious jews are lenient with pure oils and extracts but would still like to see what is going into their edibles.
    Although Kosher certification today has turned into a big business (like everything else), it is still necessary nowadays because you don’t always know where your food is coming from and what it went through.

    3. Shmita and other agricultural laws of the land of Israel
    The land of Israel is subject to special agricultural laws. As a permaculture farmer, these are of special interest to me.
    All vegetables purchased in Israel will usually have a kosher certification confirming that they were grown in accordance with these laws.
    Cannabis grown in Israel as a food (eg. hemp seeds) would need certification but cannabis grown as medicine would not (as most medicines). (However, any edibles are also food and would need to be kosher.)

    The real news:
    The original article quoted as the beginning of this article spoke about one Israeli company (Seach pronounce see-ach) that got Kosher certification for Shmita.
    Not to be confused with weekly Shabbat, Shmita refers to the commandment to refrain from working the land every seventh year. It is known as a “Shabbat for the land”. In general, planting and harvesting is forbidden, and anything that is still growing is ownerless and shared. Fresh produce is either imported or grown using various exemptions (goes beyond the scope of this article but includes selling the land temporarily to non jews or growing in a container indoors not connected to the ground.
    This article is about a certain company of medical cannabis here that has obtained kosher certification for the Shmita year because they follow one of these exemptions (growing in containers). Religious Jews that are strict regarding shmita may be more likely to purchase medical cannabis grown by this company. However, they could always relay on the numerous imported strains or the assumption (don’t quote me on this) that most (if not all as required by law) medical cannabis in this country is grown in containers in greenhouses.

    To sum this up, Cannabis is innately kosher as a plant but its growth or preparation could be subject to some religious guidelines. Its acceptance in all denominations is left to be determined (due to other factors) but having medical legal by civil law and the approval by rabbinical organizations are very helpful. However, this acceptance does not allow Cannabis to be smoked on Shabbat.

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