NEW YORK (JTA) — Here’s a fifth question for this year’s seder: What makes this herb different from all others?
The Green Leaf Party, a small Israeli political party that supports legalizing pot, announced Tuesday that marijuana may not be kosher for Passover.
The reason, they say, is that marijuana seeds are kitniyot, which Ashkenazim traditionally don’t consume on Passover. Sephardim do eat kitniyot.
“You shouldn’t smoke marijuana on the holiday, and if you have it in your house, you should get rid of it,” Green Leaf spokeswoman Michelle Levine told The Associated Press.
Levine told the Jerusalem Post that the party was warning Jews not to eat anything containing hemp, which comes from cannabis plants cultivated for industrial purposes.
“We are considering announcing a ban on everything containing hemp just to be on the safe side, ” she said. “We are going with the rabbis on this. People should remove all cannabis and hemp from their homes. “
The announcement did not set off much of an uproar in Jerusalem, according to Dan Sieradski, editor of Jewschool.com, who has been working for six years on a book about Jews and drug use and the possibility of shamanic incorporation of drugs into Jewish religious practice.
Sieradski likened the Green Leaf announcement to a Purimspiel. Jews may be kashering their pots and pans for Passover, but he said he wasn’t aware of anyone throwing out their pot.
But even on a religious level, Sieradski, an anarchist who is studying at an Orthodox yeshiva in Jerusalem, said the argument that pot is kitniyot and should not be used by Ashkenazim is a pipe dream.
Kitniyot, generically called legumes, include rice, corn, beans, peas, lentils and seeds. The traditional ban among Ashkenazim, which is not rooted in halacha, began in medieval times from fear that kitniyot could come into contact with banned grains while in storehouses.
“The question is, who is holding by kitniyot?” Sieradski asked. But “for those who are machmid, ” or stringent, about kitniyot, “it could be an issue. But if they’re really that observant, they probably don’t smoke weed anyway.”
Perhaps it’s something on which the Orthodox and Reform could smoke a peace pipe: No herb — not on Passover or any other time.
“Marijuana is not kosher all year long,” Rabbi Moshe Elefant, chief operating officer and rabbinic coordinator of kashrut for the Orthodox Union, told JTA.
According to Elefant, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, one of the leading North American rabbis of the 20th century, “said that even smoking cigarettes is prohibited because it is not healthy. … Certainly marijuana we can certainly agree is not healthy.”
Elefant said he was aware of the announcement from the Green Leaf Party, which has no rabbinic authority, but that he had not even started to consider whether pot was indeed kitniyot because the drug is illegal.
But Elefant noted that if the marijuana is used for legal medical purposes, it would be acceptable on Passover, as are all medications.
He said he has not received any phone calls from O.U. members about the matter.
“People call about kitniyot all the time, but no one has called about pot, ” Elefant told a JTA reporter. “I guess no one has the chutzpah — aside from you. You won.”
Elefant’s Reform movement counterparts took a similar position.
“The law of the land is the law,” Rabbi Eric Yoffe, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, told JTA. “That’s an acceptable halachic principle and an accepted Jewish principle. If it’s illegal to use marijuana, we certainly don’t sanction the use of it.”
A representative from Temple 420, a Judeo-Christian congregation in California that holds the Ten Commandments as sacred and pot as a sacrament, could not be reached for comment.
But an informal JTA survey of 10 Jewish pot smokers — no JTA staffers among them — revealed a general ambivalence as to whether or not pot is kosher for Passover.
Some are nevertheless careful. One habitual smoker said she would smoke during the holiday only if she knew that her weed had been grown in a kosher-for-Passover environment and had not come into contact with chametz during the production process.
Luckily she has an Orthodox Jewish friend who kashers the flower pots he uses to grow marijuana indoors at his Long Island home. The process, she said, involves carefully removing the plant from its flower pot, boiling water in the empty pot for an hour, then putting the plant back in.
Another smoker said she had never asked her rabbi if pot was kosher for Passover because — like other natural products that are not grain-based — she assumed it was fine.
“There’s no such thing that dill is kosher for Passover, ” said the woman, an Orthodox mother of two in her late 20s who lives in Manhattan. “Either way, you’re not eating it, you’re just smoking it.”
If she did consult a rabbi over this, the woman said, she would consult the most lenient one she could find.
And if that rabbi told her pot was illegal for Passover, “I would just have to double my prescription for Xanax,” she said. “There’s always a replacement.”
The woman is surprisingly accurate in her halachic assessment, said Rabbi Zushe Yosef Blech, who specializes in kashrut supervision of odd foods – including a non-barley-based, kosher-for-Passover beer. Even if marijuana does turn out to be kitniyot, Blech said, Ashkenazi Jews would only be prohibited from eating it. Smoking pot or wearing hemp would hypothetically be okay because prohibitions on kitniyot are not the same as those for chametz, he said.
One man, a 31-year-old independent consultant from Brooklyn who is a habitual smoker, said the Green Leaf announcement was an overreaction. He added that if the problem is the presence of seeds, it shouldn’t be an issue for any self-respecting smoker or grower who avoids pot with seeds because it’s a sign of low quality.
So will he smoke on Passover?
“Absolutely, ” the consultant said.
JTA Staff Writer Ben Harris and intern Armin Rosen contributed to this report.