image
Community members attend a recent Torah class at Fair Lawn’s Congregation Shomrei Torah. Photo by Rabbi Andrew Markowitz

Just because 22 states have legalized medical marijuana, does that make it completely kosher in the eyes of Jewish law?

This timely topic will be one of the issues explored during “Torah, Text, and Tradition: An Evening of Learning and Sharing,” set to take place from 7 to 9:45 p.m. on January 31 at Fair Lawn’s Congregation Shomrei Torah, 19-10 Morlot Avenue.

Nine members of the Orthodox congregation are offering lectures grouped into three time slots. There are three choices in each slot, providing a smorgasbord of options free of charge to men, women, and teenagers from the greater community.

The idea for the evening came from Rabbi Dr. Wallace Greene, a retired Jewish educator and communal leader who joined Shomrei Torah in 1971. He will present “Medical Marijuana in Halakha,” a subject he has been writing and speaking about for the last two years as part of his greater interest in Jewish bioethics.

“When medical marijuana was starting to be legalized, I wanted to explore it from a halachic perspective,” he said.

His analysis raised many questions, for example about the conflict between American and Jewish law, the permissibility of using medical marijuana – or any other medication – on Shabbat, and how far the role of the doctor as healer ought to extend.

As with many other modern-day conundrums, surprisingly, the Talmud has plenty of light to shed on the issue. Rabbi Greene cites a Talmudic discussion from nearly 2,000 years ago concerning the pros and cons of marijuana-type, habit-forming substances known to have positive medical effects. He approaches the discussion in the same way, citing scientific evidence on the medical efficacy of cannabis versus its side effects.

“It has been documented that marijuana is an analgesic for sufferers of nausea related to chemotherapy, appetite, and weight loss related to AIDS, migraine headaches, Alzheimer’s, muscle spasms, fibromyalgia, arthritic pain, glaucoma, and other conditions,” he wrote in an article in the Jewish Standard in April 2012.

“Even where marijuana has been legalized, do its dangerous side effects militate against its use? Does compassion for the patient override concerns of possible long-term harm? Under which circumstances may a patient put himself into a potentially harmful situation? If the non-medicinal properties of marijuana promote a feeling of well-being so that a patient feels relief, does that constitute a valid reason to prescribe it?”

The evening program at Shomrei Torah has another medical-related talk scheduled: Dr. Adam Karp, an internal medicine and geriatric specialist, will present “Unconventional Remedies.”

Dr. Karp says he plans to discuss whether the allowance for taking conventional medications from a non-kosher source, or on Shabbat, applies as well to complementary and alternative medications that have not been proven scientifically to be effective. He will also explore the halachic permissibility of wearing amulets such as a red string around the wrist.

The remaining topics cover a broad range.

Rabbi Shmuel Leifer, who works for the New York Port Authority, will talk about issues relating to the scribal arts. Dr. Howard Nuer will address the halachic ramifications of the “two Jews, three opinions” phenomenon in deciding points of law.

Rabbi Howard Gershon, the shul’s recently retired gabbai, is to reveal the rationales for standing during the recitation of the 10 Commandments in the Torah portion of Yitro, to be read in synagogues worldwide on the following Shabbat. Rabbi Martin Rosenfeld, an attorney and divorce mediation specialist, will explore “The Role of Midrash in Rashi’s Commentary.”

Clinical psychologist Dr. Yael Mayefsky is to address the mitzvah of visiting the sick, while Aliza Strassman, an elementary-school teacher at Ben Porat Yosef in Paramus, will talk about differentiated instruction in the Torah. Zach Stern, a recent graduate of the Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Baltimore, will delve into the mystery of “The Lost Ark and its Contemporary Relevance.”

Rabbi Greene says he based the structure of the program on a successful Jewish Federation “Evening of Learning” several years ago, featuring public lectures by members of the (non-Orthodox) North Jersey Board of Rabbis. The round-robin night of classes proved quite popular, and he envisioned a similar event drawing on the talents of Shomrei Torah congregants.

“In our shul there is a lot of Torah learning going on all the time, every day and night,” he said. “We have many members scholarly enough to give classes, so I thought it would be nice to share some unusual topics from a Torah perspective with our shul and our community. I hope that people who haven’t been to our shul before might want to take a taste.”

He pledges that there will be no speeches or appeals. “We’re only interested in spreading Torah,” he said. But there will be refreshments and socializing in the ballroom after the last session.

For more information, email Rabbi Greene at wmg14c@gmail.com.