Story of Jews and Cannabis at YIVO Opens in New York Tomorrow |


The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research is launching a new, in-person exhibition called Am Yisrael High: The Story of Jews and Cannabis on May 5 at the Center for Jewish History building in New York City. The event will also be livestreamed for remote viewers.

Running from this week through the end of the year, the exhibit highlights the largely overlooked connection between Judaism and cannabis throughout history. While it’s well known that there are religious connections to cannabis, specifically in the Judo-Christian tradition, Rastafarians get most of the press coverage relating to sacramental usage of the coveted holy herb.

Courtesy of YIVO. 420=עשן. Art by Steve Marcus, 2022. YIVO Archives.

According to the exhibit’s press release, references to cannabis appear in the Bible (a fact many Christians know as well), the Talmud, and numerous other Jewish texts. Rabbis have written on the subject, and cannabis has been used for medicinal purposes and during rituals.

There are also celebrations to be had of Jewish contributions to the world of cannabis and medical sciences, which are also highlighted in the exhibit. It also features famous counterculture icons in cannabis and businesspeople who fall under the Jewish umbrella. One can follow the history of the plant, along with the history of Jewish cannabis enthusiasts.

The exhibit also features cannabis-centric art from the culture, including menorah bongs, an item that sounds like it might make its way into a Hanukkah celebration in the near future.

“While activity in the many realms of cannabis involves all kinds of people, not only members of the tribe, many Jews have played significant roles in a number of aspects related to cannabis and their connection warrants inquiry,” said Eddy Portnoy, YIVO’s academic advisor & exhibitions curator and author of Bad  Rabbi: And Other Strange But True Stories from the Yiddish Press according to a press release. “The story of Jews and cannabis begins in ancient times and connects to religion, science, medicine, and law. It’s a story that continues to evolve.” 

Portnoy is a specialist on Jewish popular culture who currently serves as Academic Advisor for the Max Weinreich Center and Exhibition Curator at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. In addition to his writing and research, he has curated other exhibits for YIVO in the past.

Am Yisrael High will kick off with an opening night event at 7:00 p.m. (ET) featuring a panel discussion moderated by Portnoy. Panelists include horticulturist, educator, and legalization activist Ed Rosenthal; attorney Adriana Kertzer, Rabbi/Dr. Yosef Glassman; and journalist Madison Margolin. Their discussion will consider the many connections of the Jews to cannabis—religious and spiritual, historical, scientific, and more. 

Courtesy of YIVO. Illustration for “Hemp” entry in Dr. Paul Abelson’s English-Yiddish Encyclopedic Dictionary, Hebrew Publishing Company, New York, 1924. YIVO Archives

“While many cultures and religions engage with cannabis in a variety of ways, the Jewish connection has its own unique features,” Pornoy told High Times in an email. “From ritual use to recreation, and from science and medical research to the legalization movement, Jews have been deeply involved in cannabis culture. Combining visuals and artifacts, this exhibit tells the story of the Jewish connection and contribution to the world of cannabis.”

The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research is dedicated to the preservation and study of the history and culture of East European Jewry worldwide. For nearly a century, YIVO has pioneered new forms of Jewish scholarship, research, education, and cultural expression. This new exhibit will join the institute’s physical and digital database of online and in-person courses, global outreach, and resources including an over-400,000-volume library.

Now those who would like to learn how the Jewish tradition connects to cannabis can access a wealth of knowledge on the topic.

To tune in remotely to the exhibit, click here.


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