L’Chaim to Chanukah: How Cannabis Can Be Kosher
Chanukah commemorates the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days in the Holy Temple. It was thought to be a miracle because there was only enough oil to burn for one day. That oil is a focal point of Chanukah may explain why so many people infuse cannabis into this 8-day celebration. Some even joke that Chanukah has become an unofficial “high holiday.” (Recall the “menorah bong” that became an internet sensation a couple of years ago.) Given the popularity of fusing Chanukah with cannabis, many people wonder if (and how) cannabis products can be kosher. To address this issue, let’s start with a little background.
As both patients and physicians, Jews have long had an intimate connection to health and healing. While many religions historically have viewed medical treatment as heresy, Judaism has largely viewed medical treatment not just positively, but as an obligation.
The most revered Jewish philosopher, Maimonides (Rambam), argued medical care is part of one’s duty to heal (based on Deuteronomy 22:2: “and you shall return it [whatever was lost] to him”). Maimonides argues that this verse connotes a Biblical commandment that every person—according to their ability—restore the health of their fellow man (or self). We must, in fact, aggressively restore one’s health through whatever reasonable means (including medical treatments).
In other words, if cannabis is used for healing, rather than recreational purposes, there is no conflict whatsoever between medical cannabis and Jewish law. Using medical cannabis products recommended by a physician should not be regarded as an averah עבירה, a transgression, but rather as a mitzvah, which literally means a “commandment.”
That’s why it is not surprising that the Orthodox Union has certified all of Vireo’s medical cannabis products kosher. In doing so, they were not adopting Jewish law for the modern era, but rather adhering to a long-held belief of the importance of healing.
Not only is cannabis a powerful medicine with a track record of efficacy stretching back before recorded history, it’s an objectively safe and natural treatment for a wide and growing list of chronic conditions and diseases.
But kosher usually refers to food, right? So how can cannabis be certified as kosher? First, let’s define what kosher actually means, as most people—Jews included—don’t fully understand what constitutes kosher.
What does kosher mean?
Some believe kosher refers to the prohibition of cruelty towards animals in producing a food. Others believe it connotes that a food was held to a higher standard than other foods. While others believe it simply means the food was “blessed by a rabbi.”
In simple terms, all that kosher means is that a food is “fit”—which means it satisfies the requirements of kashrut (a set of Jewish religious dietary laws). Kashrut is comprised of numerous laws including the commandment to slaughter animals according to shechitah; that the food is free of ingredients from non-kosher animals, milk or meat, or other material prohibited by Jewish laws; and prohibitions on the consumption of certain animals (e.g., pork, shellfish) and most insects.
Though the laws originate in the Torah (primarily from Leviticus and Deuteronomy), they don’t involve blessings, per se.
Why do some Jews keep kosher?
You’ve probably heard the saying, “two Jews, three opinions” (meaning it’s rare that we find unanimity among Jews). The saying certainly applies to reasons why we keep kosher. Some argue that keeping kosher ensures we consume food with mindfulness of our Creator. Others claim that kosher laws were designed to ensure food safety, sanitation, and compliance with Jewish laws and traditions. I’ve even heard the argument that the purpose of keeping kosher is a safeguard against loss of Jewish identity. Bottom line: there are many valid reasons.
What’s the process to certify a product as kosher?
The process for kosher certification is more straightforward than one might assume. When an organization requests kosher certification for a product, it provides representatives of the kosher certification agency with a complete list of not only all ingredients used in the preparation, but all the products they might come into contact with during their production, such as the cleaning agents used on food-processing machinery.
Next, representatives from the agency visit the processing plant for an inspection. This encompasses every step in the production process, including storage facilities, packaging and transportation practices that might compromise kosher status. Once all these requirements have been verified, the product can carry the symbol of the kosher certification agency.
How can cannabis be kosher?
While there are spirited debates over technicalities, such as how and when it is consumed, one important facet of kosher certification is the requirement that all foods be completely free of insects. This dovetails perfectly with the production of cannabis products: being an all-natural product, they are subject to the same natural parasites as are all plants. Likewise, in extract-only states like New York, it’s not uncommon for medical cannabis products to come in a gel cap form, which are often filled with treif טרײף (non-kosher) ingredients.
Are all of Vireo Health products certified kosher?
You bet! Vireo contracts with the Orthodox Union kosher certification agency for our strict kosher inspections and certification. At Vireo, we believe that kosher certification not only serves the dietary needs of the New Yorkers—which includes the largest Jewish population in the United States—but conforms to our goal of providing our clients the safest, cleanest, and most expertly handled medicine possible.
Why did Vireo get its products certified as kosher?
Not only did we want to be able to serve our patients who keep kosher, but we also wanted to combat stigma.
“Being certified kosher by the OU will not only help us serve the dietary needs of the largest Jewish community in the United States but also combat unfortunate stigmas associated with medical cannabis,” said Ari Hoffnung, Chief Executive Officer of Vireo Health of New York. “By getting our entire product line certified as kosher, we send an important message to New Yorkers of all faiths and backgrounds that using medical cannabis to alleviate pain and suffering does not in any way represent an embrace of ‘pot’ culture. Patients should never feel guilty or ashamed for using a product recommended by their physicians.”
While we were the first company to get its products certified kosher, we’re delighted many others have followed in our footsteps. For further insights on this topic, read the following:
- Press Release: Vireo Health Of New York’s Medical Cannabis Products First In World Certified As Kosher By The Orthodox Union
- New York Times: The Rabbis Are Here to Inspect the (Legal) Weed
- Forward: How An Orthodox Mom Made Marijuana A Mitzvah
- CBC News: Kosher Designation for Gatineau Pot Products Arrives in Time for High Holiday
- New York Daily News: Kosher Cannabis: New York Medical Pot Grower Says Products Are Certified by the Orthodox Union
- Orthodox Union: Vireo Health of New York’s Medical Cannabis Products Now Certified by OU Kosher
- Food & Wine Magazine: Oy Vey! There Is Now Kosher Certified Marijuana
- Chabad: Is Marijuana Kosher?