December 10, 2018

New Hagaddah ‘sparks up’ a Passover conversation on the drug war

There are simple rules to throwing a cannabis seder, according to a new hagaddah invented for that purpose:

Provide ample buds.

Get a sitter.

The Official Le’Or Cannabis Passover Seder Haggadah, released in March on the web, serves as a practical almanac as well as a spiritual document.

“For thousands of years, cannabis has been a piece of the Jewish — and human — spiritual experience,” it advises. “This is an opportunity for us all to ‘spark up’ a new conversation and let our ru’ach [spirit] burn bright!”

The premise of a cannabis-themed seder (available for $4.20 at is simple enough.

“Cannabis at any event always makes it a lot better,” said David Bronner, the scion of the Dr. Bronner’s soap dynasty who is the lead donor for Le’Or, the organization that wrote the ritual guide and which is dedicated to bringing a Jewish voice to legalization efforts.

Like its more traditional counterparts, this haggadah also has a message. When it comes time to lament the Ten Plagues inflicted on Egypt, guests are meant to recite ten plagues of the failed drug war, running from “one, the criminalization of nature”
to “ten, the perpetuation of violence by those sworn to protect us.”

The text emerged out of a seder hosted by Claire and Roy Kaufmann, a couple who live in Portland with three young children and who together form the entire team at Le’Or. They hosted the very first cannabis seder last year, when only prescribed patients could legally partake in Oregon. Since then, the state has legalized recreational marijuana and the Kauffman’s put their haggadah up on the web.

Releasing the hagaddah during a year when pot measures are on the ballot in 20 states was no accident. Whereas questions of legalization once scored only laughs from political candidates, it’s an issue Roy Kaufmann feels is now being taken more seriously. Just look at Bernie Sanders, he says, the Democratic presidential contender who’s regularly calls to treat marijuana in the law the same way alcohol is treated.

The seder is a way to spark up some serious conversations on the issue, pun intended, he said.

“I’m happy with the pun,” he said. “Once you work in this policy long enough, the puns almost start to strengthen you.”

By inviting friends and family to cannabis seders across the country, he thinks hosts can encourage their network to think seriously about how marijuana laws feed prison populations of disproportionately Black and Latino men.

For the most part, Roy wrote the Hagaddah while Claire focused on “event production.” At the inaugural cannabis seder, they rented a venue for 40 guests, including Bronner.

“Family, friends, love, good times,” said Bronner, who lives in Encinitas, describing the event. “It’s basically, ‘Let’s just turn up a notch on all that.’ The herb is a sacrament that helps us really enjoy our loved ones and family and the moment of time, this creation we’re in.”

The Kauffmans decided to spread the love this year by editing the hagaddah and making it downloadable as a pdf file.

As a text, the hagaddah is both spiritual and political. At one point, it suggests that the word “cannabis” may have arisen from “qaneh-bosm” an herb mentioned in the Torah as a component of the anointing oil for High Priests. At another, it quotes from “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” (2010) by Michelle Alexander, which quickly became a canonical work on race theory.

The ceremony is an exercise in putting the Kaufmanns’ mission into action by making cannabis a Jewish issue. Of course, it took a little bit of repurposing: the blessing for spices associated most often with the Havdallah service on Saturday evening is recited over each bowl — a pipe or bong packed with buds. Throughout the evening, four bowls are smoked.

And as they smoke, the people of Israel are asked to remember others who are enchained even as they sit as a free people.

“How many of us have consumed cannabis with no consequence or suffering?” it asks. “How often have we thought about those who’ve suffered for making the same choices we’ve made?”

If even a handful of serious conversations happen around these and other questions it poses, Roy said: “Dayenu — that’s an outcome that would be amazing.”