Editorial - September 2004
Rosh Hashanah 5765
• Self-Discipline – Respect - Hope
• Antisemitism in 3-D
• The Moment of Truth
• State and Nation
• Protection and Defense
• Gaza first ?
• Gideon Sa'ar
Medicine and Halacha
• Sex - Morality - Law
• Witness of his times
• Pinchas Tibor Rosenbaum
• Hungarian guilt
• Jewish Education in Hungary
Ethic and Judaism
• Whose mind is it ?
By Rav Shabtai A. Rappoport
P. is a sixteen year old high school student, who to his parents' utter consternation informed them that he started smoking marijuana. Far from being embarrassed and secretive about it, he said that he found the experience so pleasant and relaxing that he is convinced that it benefits him greatly in his studies and social life. Furthermore, P. researched Jewish sources dealing with the use of alcohol, and to his amazement discovered references that recommend such use even on daily basis. It is well known that Halacha even dictates drinking wine on Shabbat, the Festivals, and especially on Passover night and Purim. Upon discussion of possible side effects of marijuana use, P. argued that three decades of extensive research show that the side effects and dangers of alcohol abuse generally surpass these of marijuana, and nevertheless, drinking alcoholic beverages is not prohibited in Halacha and Jewish custom, as long as moderation is practiced, why should not marijuana be even more permitted?
The noted Torah authority of the Twentieth Century, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe Vol. 6, Yoreh De'ah Part III, 35) rules that marijuana smoking is forbidden because of six reasons. A. this habit could cause severe health and psychological damages; B. it clouds one's cognitive state, making him unable to properly fulfill one's obligations to G-d and fellow men; C. it is sinful to become addicted, either physiologically or psychologically, thus being subject to a new powerful desire and lust to a habit, which unlike eating is not required for normal life, also one may sink to criminal activity in order to finance this lust; D. it aggravates the somker's parents who rightfully object to this practice; E. we are required to minimize our gratification from worldly pleasures, as pointed out by Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (Nachmanides) in his commentary to the Torah (Lev. XIX, 2), and definitely not create new indulgences; and F. this habit may relax the user moral standards and inhibitions, thus causing him to transgress Torah commandments.
These reasons sound very impressive, but according to these the usage of wine or alcoholic beverages should also be prohibited. Does not the fact that the usage of wine is permitted, or even encouraged in Halacha, show a weakness in these arguments?
Considering the Sages attitude to drinking wine, one can find similar objections to this habit.
The Gemarah (Berachoth 40, a) cites Rabbi Meir who holds that the tree of which Adam ate was the vine, since "the thing that most causes wailing to a man is wine", as it says, (Gen. IX, 20-21): "And Noah began to be a farmer, and he planted a vineyard) And he drank of the wine, and became drunk; and he lay uncovered inside his tent". According to this opinion, repeated several times in the Talmud and the Midrash under various names, wine – or alcohol – and its mind altering effect is the original cause of all that is bad and lamentable in human society. It was the reason of the downfall of the Adam, the first father of the human race, and that of Noah, its second father, just as the world was granted a second chance following the Flood. The insight comprised in Rabbi Meir's commentary is all that is evil in man's thought, or in actual deed, could only be attributed to some sort of delusion created either by a chemical substance, or by man's own imagination. For as long as man's faculties are clear and his perception of the world around him is unbiased, rational judgment will set his concepts and actions in accordance with G-d's will. Hence, mind altering phenomena, either chemical or psychological are responsible for all evil and all wailing in the world. It reminds us of the main arguments cited above against smoking marijuana.
By the same token the law regarding a young man who is considered to be a future felon mentions the drinking of wine (Deuteronomy XXI 18-21). The Mishnah (Sanhedrin 70,b) says that a boy "does not become a stubborn and rebellious son thereby, unless he eats meat and drinks wine". The Mishnah (ibid. 71, b) goes on to say that "a stubborn and rebellious son is tired on account of his ultimate destiny, let him die innocent and let him not be guilty (of felony and murder)". That is because drinking wine will completely cloud one's moral judgment until he knows no limits in order to fulfill his lust.
Since Halacha objects so strongly to a potential addiction and alcohol abuse why then does Jewish law require us to drink wine on the Shabbat, and on the Festivals? How can the following quote (Pesachim 109, a) be justified: "It was taught, R. Judah b. Bathyra said: When the temple was in existence there could be no rejoicing save with meat, as it is said, 'And thou shalt sacrifice peace-offerings, and shalt eat there; and thou shalt rejoice before the Lord thy God' (Deut. XXVII, 7). But now that the Temple is no longer in existence, there is no rejoicing save with wine, as it is said, 'and wine that maketh glad the heart of man' (Psalms CIV, 15.). It is true that wine produces a feeling of relaxation by which one enter a pleasant mood, but it also decreases attention and memory even in low to moderate level of use.
In order to address this apparent contradiction, we can observe another similar antinomy. One may not endanger his life (Maimonides Laws of Murder and Safeguarding Life chapter XI, 5), and if he disregards this law he is liable to a punishment of flogging. Still, one may engage in an activity which may involve danger to life, if he earns his livelihood through this occupation (Bava Metziah 112, a Iggerot Moshe Choshen Mishpat part I, 104). Does the need to earn a living justify a disregard of human life?
The answer is that once the activity is socially acceptable as a way to earn a living, it does not consist of disregard to life. Safety procedures are created; secure modes of operations are developed to minimize possible risk. Since Adam was evicted from Eden, real life became unsafe, and supporting oneself entailed difficulty. There is an acceptable and permissible risk in some occupation, but reckless and needless endangering one's life, for a feel of adventure, or due to plain carelessness is strictly forbidden. It is also forbidden to work even for a living at a place where standard safety rules are not observed.
In the same vein we may address the seeming contradiction regarding the drinking of wine. Man's mind is not always at its prime of clarity and moderate joy. Man may get confused and depressed by the rush of life around him and by his circumstances. Wine may help alleviate such pressures and enable one reach his true proper state of consciousness, as drinking coffee in moderation may help keep the mind sharp and cleare. However, indulging in a drinking habit that may cause inebriation consists of recklessness in regarding one's mind. Such a habit may result in an altered state of mind, which is associated with lust and evil. The proper and socially acceptable use of wine is defined by the framework of time honored tradition and trustworthy Jewish social habits. This framework contains safety procedures by social adherence to moderation, and by the Torah ideals of moral judgment and rejoicing in G-d.
Outside this framework, regular wine consumption by an adolescent child, that is "stubborn and rebellious" and does not abide by the tradition brought down through his parents, or similar social or lone alcohol drinking not within Jewish custom, amounts to alcohol abuse that brought wailing to the world. That is why smoking marijuana is strictly forbidden because of the reasons state above.