There would be no samples, he explained with a smile.
I had stopped by the former Holiday Inn conference room in Brookline a while back to hear Rabbi Dr. Yosef P. Glassman speak about biblical references to marijuana. I wasn’t looking for any samples anyway, but nonetheless, his presentation, “Medical Cannabis: From the Bible to Boston,” was mind-blowing on its own.
These days, Glassman continues to give the multimedia presentation globally, at hospitals, synagogues, conferences, schools, and other sites.
Glassman, a former Israeli Army lieutenant and combat physician, was ordained as a rabbi in 2016. He is now the chief rabbinical and medical officer of the International Jewish Cannabis Association (theijca.org).
His presentation begins with a Torah passage in which God tells Moses, “Take for yourself herbs b’samim – herbs of medicinal quality.” In another citation, incense ingredients included frankincense, myrrh, cassia, spikenard, saffron, costus, aromatic bark, cinnamon, “and a small amount of smoke-raising herb” called keneh bosem.
Glassman also displays Exodus 30:23, which states: “Take spices of the finest sort, pure myrrh, five hundred shekels, fragrant cinnamon, and keneh bosem.” Keneh bosem appears as well in Song of Songs 4:14, Isaiah 43:24, Jeremiah 6:20, and Ezekiel 27:19.
With medical licenses in Massachusetts and Israel, Glassman has taught at the medical schools of Tufts and Harvard. A Sharon native, he lives in Teaneck, N.J., and currently practices on Martha’s Vineyard, in Lakewood, N.J., and in Israel.
Glassman recommends medicinal cannabis use to his patients, especially his geriatric patients in their 90s, for conditions such as pulmonary fibrosis, agitated dementia, and debilitating arthritis. A recent Israeli clinical study of 2,736 patients over the age of 65 conducted at Hebrew University and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev found the therapeutic use of cannabis to be both safe and effective among the elderly population, and that its use may decrease the need for other prescription medicines, including opioids.
“Cannabis has been shown to be both safe and efficacious in the over-65 population,” said Glassman. “The study of over 2,500 patients showed that while dizziness and dry mouth can be a concern in a small minority, in most cases cannabis was well tolerated and met its treatment goals.”
He is far from the first to prescribe it, as he has found biblical references regarding the application of medicinal cannabis, even by the Hebrew sage, rabbi, and physician Maimonides (1135-1204) in the Holy Book. In his writings, Maimonides prescribed cannabis oil for ear and respiratory conditions that included the common cold. He also wrote about its proper planting in his “Mishneh Torah” of law based on the Talmud.
In medieval commentaries on the Talmud, Glassman learned that cannabis was used in tzitzit worn by religious men because it did not absorb ritual impurities, and that it was therefore also used in Sabbath candle wicks.
How did his unique focus come about? As a medical student and reggae fan, he was intrigued by the religious reverence for marijuana held by Rastafarians, who believe they are descendants of the Israelites and often, like Bob Marley, belonged to The Twelve Tribes of Israel religious group founded in Jamaica. Many do not know that Bob Marley’s father was Jewish, and that his grandmother was a Syrian Jew.
Glassman soon located this Talmudic passage: “If one’s field was sown with cannabis or lof [Solomon’s lily], one must not sow on top of them, since they produce crops only after three years,” and many more references to keneh bosum, which can have slightly variant spellings that all echo the word cannabis.
His presentation highlights Israel’s groundbreaking role in the development of medicinal cannabis, which has been legal for many conditions there since the early 1990s. A bill to decriminalize cannabis use in general was approved by the Knesset in July 2018, and took effect this April.