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Discovering the Rebbe

The Problem With Drugs

The Problem With Drugs


I once heard from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, in a private audience, an observation about drugs.

He was speaking about the effect on a person taking drugs. He was, incidentally, very careful about not saying anything negative about anybody. He said that the opinion of the Torah in general is that the person should be the master over his or her self, and enslavement of any sort is wrong.

Can a person still be the master over himself when involved with drugs and other addictive substances?

The problem with using any kinds of drugs or almost anything that has a little bit of psychoactive material is the same. Indeed, almost everything is psychoactive, including bread. If one fasts and then takes a piece of bread, it is possible to see how many changes are made in one's psyche.

The specific problem, however, with drugs is that people come relatively fast to a point of no return. In truth there is never a point of no return; but one quickly reaches a point from where it is very hard, almost impossible, to return...

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz is internationally regarded as one of the leading rabbis of this century. The author of many books, he is best known for his monumental translation of and commentary on the Talmud. To learn more visit his website.
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Discussion (36)
September 9, 2014
Hemp does not get you high. Eating the essence of hemp will actually block the effects of marijuana. Can we move on now?
Yaakov Mark
Los angeles
October 10, 2010
Having looked into this, and having found that translation in various places including the Encyclopoedia Britannica, I asked a rabbi.

The word is kitana, or kuttonet (not kara, the pumpkin or squash which confused you). It is usually translated as "flax", "linen", "tunic", "garment" and so on. Flax and hemp are similar, both physically and in their products - seeds for oil and for food, and strong cloth. Given also that hemp was one of the most common fabrics in the ancient world (hence shared etymology of "cannabis" and "canvas"), and given that Hebrew is famously vague in the meanings of its words, I think we have fairly good reason for giving the Encyclopoedia Britannica more credence than your opinion (though I invite you to substanitiate it).

The real question is what benefit Rav Yehuda was worried that illiterate men might derive. Makes you think...

Whilst on the subject, if you have a quality bible from before the 1930s, the chances are it is made of hemp.
Mr. Danny Nemu
October 6, 2010
Hi Danny
I don't think the Nedarim transation is accurate.

You're correct about the acacia wood. It can be translated as "craziness". Obviously this is intended in the good sense, i.e. that we have to serve G-D in an unlimited fashion. Though, i must say, i never saw it as referring to drugs but rather working hard to go beyond one's limitations.

In short I haven't seen any Toarh source that says one took drugs.

G-D bless,
September 28, 2010
Where did you look them up?
Thankyou for bringing this discussion back to sources.

I'm not a Hebrew scholar, so I am relying on translations, but many texts translate it as noted. See 'Hebraic Literature' by Maurice H. Harris, in Google books, p. 75. Or google: "Nedarim, fol. 49, col. 1 hemp". Perhaps someone more learned can comment on the accuracy - any rabbis listenning?

Leaving canabis aside, acacia, from which the tabernacle was made, and which is saluted (Abodah Zarah 24b), contains DMT, (and apparently the Hebrew word derives from the word 'nonsense', but again, my Hebrew is poor). See 'Biblical Entheogens: a Speculative Hypothesis', by Prof. Shanon of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Time and Mind, Vol. 1, No 1, March 2008 , pp. 51-74), which describes his theory in detail.

A hembane design on the High priest's hat? (Josephus Antiquities of the Jews 3.7.6)

Finally, a respectful note to the editor: I haven't tried mandrakes, but many published descriptions note their psychoactive properties.
Mr. Danny Nemu
September 27, 2010
Dear Danny Nemu
sorry but i looked up your sources in Torah and they don't exist. Nedarim 49a talks about pumpkins not hemp!

please post reliable sources.

wishing you all the best,
September 26, 2010
If you can condone drug use for recreational purposes then moralistically or not, in my opinion, you are giving yourself permission to be an addict.
ny, ny
September 25, 2010
drugs in torah
The consensus here, that pain justifies drugs, and anyone else steer clear, sounds like 21st centuary moralising rather than scholarship.

Kaneh Bosem fragrant cane, linked to kannabis, Scythian word for cannabis, by etymologist Sula Benet. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan marshalls evidence in Living Torah

Rabbeinu Be'cha'yei ben Acher: psychedelics are the purest of foods, and the tree of life and manna were the best of them (quoted by Shanon in Biblical Entheogens: a Speculative Hypothesis in Time and Mind, vol 1, pp. 51-74)

Zohar: There is no grass or herb that grows in which G-ds wisdom is not greatly manifested and which cannot exert great influence in heaven

Rav Yehudah: good to eat the essence of hemp seed; but it is not lawful to mention this in the presence of an illiterate man, because he might derive a benefit from the knowledge not meant for him
Nedarim, fol. 49, col. 1
Danny Nemu
London, UK
September 20, 2010
Opium poppies
Gerson, I am not sure why, but when I was reading this parsha (weekly Torah portion) in "The Living Torah" translation by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan back on Shabbos HaAzinu, that's the strong association I remember taking away. I looked in that text again before I posted my 1st post here and didn't see any supporting commentary there.

Heroin, like many drugs is an alkaloid, alkaloids tend to be bitter. The bulb of the poppy from which the syrup is harvested is green and looks like a big green grape. The way the cut is made to harvest the poppy -- how the bud is held -- is similar to who one holds a poisonous snake to milk its venom. The milky sap that comes out is similar to the venom that is milked.

Why would it be this passage have to interpreted only allegorically?

I also note that when I read the parsha that day, it was very scary to me as every passage of rebuke resonated strongly with our times. And yet I also had a sense that the rebukes are not rebukes at the deeper levels, they are ...
Wahsington Crossing , PA
September 20, 2010
fear not Cathy - there is a lot of good out in the world. Good shall win very soon.

Fear not! trust in G-D!
September 20, 2010
Of course the Rebbe is speaking of illegal drugs or legal drugs that are not taken as prescribed. We live in a world of drugs. Prescribed drugs used properly has helped and saved many a life. However, the use of recreational drugs, I believe have destroyed many more lives. Drugs in the baby boom has escalated and is now going on for generations. I never took drugs but some of my friends in the late 60's have been in prison, divorced, and destroyed lives. My cousin is a heroin addict and my other cousin went to live in Haight Ashbury during the 60's never to be heard of again by his family. Today .teens take drugs still and become addicted and get into car crashes. etc. The world is in flux directly as a result of people not wanting to deal with the hardships of life and solving them. Instead they get high and live for the moment. I really can't imagine how addictions like this can ever end. The addict will always be the addict, and slowly the world gets darker.
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