Put that in your pipe and smoke it!
This column recently featured a letter written by a reader who expressed concern about the alarming rise of marijuana abuse in our frum communities by those with the “mistaken notion that the use of marijuana is, firstly, not against halacha, and secondly, not harmful to one’s health.” (Chronicles Aug. 10)
The writer cited the position of Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (as documented in Igros Moshe, Yoreh De’ah Vol. 3, Siman 35) who held that smoking marijuana is in violation of many of the basic laws of our Torah since it causes physical harm to the user and is detrimental to the mind and thus affects one’s performance of mitzvos.
The following letter was submitted by a young man in response to Concerned…
Rabbi Moshe’s teshuvah is, I believe, addressed to yeshiva students who need to keep their minds sharp, though I’ll admit the reasons stated for prohibiting marijuana would apply equally to most Jewish teens. To note: The Torah does not forbid marijuana use, but Reb Moshe does — based on the reason that it is disruptive to a healthy Torah lifestyle. If the reasons underlying that assumption fall, then the issur falls.
The argument that marijuana disrupts kavanah, thereby rendering a user unable to study Torah or perform mitzvos, is highly contentious and something that ultimately only good medical research, that unfortunately does not yet exist, can set straight. A parent’s aggravation is unfortunate, but the fact is that many teenagers – probably not unlike their parents before them – engage in behavior their parents often find disappointing.
In the case of marijuana, the degree of concern warranted is not clear, but one thing is: the more you fan a flame, the stronger the fire gets. Marijuana will not destroy you child’s brain. Most Americans have smoked marijuana and the American who has not ever done so is the exception to the rule. Good or bad, it’s a fact.
Parents who say “We are Jewish, this isn’t our way…” are completely right, but smell the coffee; it’s 2012 and we’re in America. If you can raise a child away from marijuana, away from a computer, and away from a TV, more power to you. If your child has been exposed repeatedly to television, computers, and cholov akum then taking a puff and chasing the dragon fits right into that list.
That’s not to say marijuana can’t be a detriment. It can, and with an unhealthy person, especially one with the usual instability of a teenager, it is a real concern. Many people say marijuana is not addictive. That’s a lie. Maybe not like heroine, but it most certainly can and often does develop into an addiction, and no addiction – besides maybe a Torah addiction – is healthy.
Even here the real concern is not so much the effect the marijuana has on the body or mind but more so the affect it may have on the person’s behavior. Most people in America smoked marijuana and most are not addicted by any measure. Often the person experimenting with marijuana, especially the teenager, is of a fragile nature and will likely respond to conflict by fighting back and digging deeper into the cycle of experimentation.
Better not to fuel that fight and to focus on positive goals. In my opinion the subject of marijuana should be addressed only as far as goals and an otherwise normal lifestyle have been impacted by its use. I humbly advise parents who would like help in dealing with what they believe is a problem, namely a teenager engaging in marijuana smoking, to take the issue to a doctor and rabbi (trusted by both parent and teen) to openly discuss it, with the teen and without. If you don’t have a rabbi and doctor, this could be the first problem and certainly is your first step to reconciliation.
If your teen is smoking marijuana you may think it is a big deal and you may be right, but it probably didn’t start here, it won’t necessarily end here, and you can overreact and make things worse. Try to create a real connection with your child. Take joy in simple things, like preparing food for Shabbos together and eating together. On Shabbos let your worries melt away. Indulge in family togetherness, good food and wine, and read the parshawith the commentaries. Even your estranged teenager is apt to join you in such an environment. Shabbos is an ideal time to reignite the light of love and friendship. Be patient but resilient and see if your problems won’t slip away.
A Frum Realist
Dear Frum Realist,
Thank you for weighing in with your thoughts. First off, you can be sure that Rav Moshe zt”l, a preeminent Gadol of his generation, did painstaking research and consulting and delved deeply into the subject before proscribing the use of marijuana.
You furthermore opine that the Torah does not prohibit marijuana use. Actually, in essence, the Torah does just that — when it commands us to be very heedful of our health (ushmartem meod es nafshosechem).
Intriguingly, you convey mixed messages as you vacillate between downplaying the dangers of smoking pot – “the degree of concern warranted is not clear” – and concurring with the opinion that it is a “real concern” (especially for the teenager).
Despite the ever-evolving nature of research and discovery, what’s remained a certainty is that marijuana is a drug that interferes with the workings of the mind. (This is aside from the addiction factor and physical harm from prolonged use.)
Even in the best-case scenario, where supposing the disruption of memory retention is temporary and wears off with the cessation of use, the loss of time and memory incurred by the user in the interim is permanent and can never be regained.
Your portrayal of Life in America in 2012 is quite accurate, and your suggestion to focus on the spiritual substance of our existence in this world is right on. In point of fact, life is what you make it — and in that context, parents mindlessly puffing away should not expect their children to give it up.
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About the Author: We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to email@example.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.
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