January 21, 2019

Orthodox Leaders Discuss Marijuana, Torah Values, Day School Tuition and More

Addressing a room of more than 70 men and women, Rabbi Dr. Zev Wiener found himself at the intersection of Jewish law and a contemporary sociopolitical issue on Dec. 3 as he discussed halachic views on marijuana.

The question at hand: What are the potential consequences when the drug becomes legal in California next year?

Appearing at Learn L.A, an Orthodox Union (OU) West Coast event, Wiener, a Los Angeles psychiatrist, presented Jewish wisdom on the subject, ultimately offering more arguments against marijuana than for it.

Jews should treat their bodies with respect, he said, rejecting the secular view that people are allowed to do whatever they want with their bodies.

Motivational speaker Charlie Harary

Since marijuana can impair memory, it can affect one’s Jewish learning, Wiener said —  a risk he said one should consider before using the drug.

There is no proven correlation between smoking marijuana and negative mental health outcomes, he said, but some data suggest that young people who smoke the drug while their brains still are developing might experience schizophrenia and other forms of mental illness.

While many people say marijuana relieves their anxiety, he said, much anecdotal evidence suggests that it can actually increase anxiety.

Learn L.A. drew more than 100 members of the Orthodox community and beyond to Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills. The event concluded the Nov. 30-Dec. 1 OU convention, a weekend of teaching and discussion.

Simultaneous L.A. Learn discussions focused on “Current Controversies in Halacha,” “Strengthening Our Torah Values” and “New Insights in Tanach.”

Rav Herschel Schachter of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, Yeshiva University’s rabbinical seminary, discussed “Halachos of Tuition: Who Pays? How Much? And with Whose Money?”

He cited the challenges facing observant families who want to send their children to religious day schools but can’t afford the tuition. He said Jewish law forbids schools from turning away families that cannot pay tuition, lamenting how many borderline-observant families opt for secular schools because yeshiva tuition is so prohibitive. That said, the Shulchan Arukh — Jewish legal codes — says a yeshiva may refuse a child if the parents have the means but don’t want to pay tuition, Schachter said.

“Success is not being who you want to be. Success is being who you are meant to be.” — Charlie Harary

About 100 people listened as Schachter, a father of nine, said yeshivas should do whatever they can to accommodate families of all financial backgrounds. The alternative — public school — would be “a disaster,” he said, so if a family can’t foot tuition, others of greater means should help.

Motivational speaker Charlie Harary followed with a discussion called “Seeing the Invisible: The Power of Torah on Your Perspective.” Harary said the core of success is being connected to other people and that the majority of communication is the ability to listen. And if this applies man to man, he said, it also applies man to God.

A member of the OU leadership board, Harary invoked the story of Joseph, who, he said, would top a list of Forbes’ “most successful Jews.” Joseph experienced many ups and downs throughout his life, he said, eventually becoming one of the most powerful people in Egypt.

“Success is not being who you want to be — success is being who you are meant to be,” he said. “And only God can get you there.”

Harary’s discussion fused spirituality, psychology, science and Jewish wisdom. He told personal stories about his family and argued for the importance of training oneself to see how God communicates in invisible ways.

He discussed the “schema,” or one’s preconceived ideas, and said you can expand your schema by training yourself to see things invisible to everyone else.

“The whole purpose of learning is to train your brain to see the invisible,” he said.

Among the attendees was Elizabeth Thaler, a civil litigator and member of the Beverly Boulevard-La Brea Jewish community who was earning continuing education credits for attending. Speaking to the Journal after Wiener’s discussion on marijuana, she said was interested in the day’s variety of halachic teachings.

Michael Anton, a Pico-Robertson resident who works at a logistics company in El Segundo, said he thought Wiener had taken a position on the topic of marijuana despite stating that he wouldn’t speak for or against its use.

“I think it was slanted, but I don’t disagree with it,” he said.

Still, Wiener displayed deep knowledge on the topic of marijuana, making his talk relevant to contemporary ways of consuming it. During his 45-minute discussion, he discussed how eating edibles such as brownies made with marijuana is popular on Shabbat, since Jewish law prohibits smoking on the Sabbath.

But the potency of edibles, which often induce a stronger high than smoking cannabis, should give people pause before they decide to eat a brownie or any other food with marijuana in it on Shabbat, Wiener said.

While eating edibles may be permissible on Shabbat, he said, it is “playing with fire.”