Jewish Art Exhibit in New York Explores Judaism's Love of Weed
From the Book of Exodus to Bob Dylan’s High Times cover, you’ll want to see this.
Published on February 17, 2023

In need of some cannabis culture? An important multimedia historical exhibition in New York illustrates the connection between marijuana and the spiritual, cultural, and political history of the Jewish people. 

The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research’s “Am Yisrael High: The Story of Jews and Cannabis” draws references from both the Book of Exodus and Bob Dylan’s High Times cover—what’s not to love?

For curator Eddy Portnoy, who says he’s been working on expanding the YIVO Institute’s weed paraphernalia collection since 2020, the exhibition is largely about giving the Jewish individuals their due who helped to push for decriminalization and an end to Drug War stigmatization of cannabis.

“With the passing of new legislation across the country, we’re seeing that the people who gave their lives to the movement, who fought for legalization and faced jail time, are largely being forgotten,” the curator said to Hyperallergic.

There’s no denying that cannabis has long been a feature of Jewish culture. The 2020 discovery of a 2,700-year-old Jewish temple all but cemented the fact that weed — and potentially, its psychoactive uses — has been part of the faith’s religious practices for millennia. “Am Yisrael High” traces this ancient pot history across Africa, West Asia, and Europe.

Even the Torah — otherwise known as the Old Testament — backs up the Jews’ long-running relationship with reefer. Some experts hold that mentions of cannabis use appear five times in the original Hebrew text of the holy book, though the drug’s moniker has been mistranslated in some earlier editions of the tome. 

Exodus 30:23-25 even details God’s recipe, as told to Moes, for a sacred anointing oil that includes 250 shekels (6.34 pounds) of pungent cannabis!

Let us not forget that in any historical era, weed is kosher — a fact that the makers of Kosher Kush are set on reminding their customers.

Deep-cut Jewish weed references are in full effect in “Am Yisrael High,” but so too is marijuana’s impact on modern-day Jews. Indeed, the exhibition highlights a host of 420-friendly Jewish people from more recent times. These include jazz era dealer and clarinetist Mezz Mezzrow, whose product was so renowned among fellow musicians that “mezz” became slang for quality loud.

That’s not the only moment that Jews impacted cannabis nomenclature. The Bayuk Brothers were the founders of Phillies Blunts, the cigar brand whose wrappers would famously be appropriated to house nugs, resulting in the beloved accoutrement we now call simply, the blunt.

The show also calls up much less pleasant memories surrounding the convergence of anti-Semitism and prohibitionist thinking, as typified by a wall quote from President Richard Nixon. It entails him questioning why so many Jews are pro-cannabis legalization (as if that’s a bad thing?) in a thoroughly bigoted manner.

Raring to see this show? You still have time to book those NYC tickets — "Am Yisrael High” runs through April at the YIVO Institute. Be sure to pick up a copy of the imminently collectable exposition poster, which features a smoking temple in ancient Israel by High Times illustrator Steve Marcus.

Follow Caitlin on Instagram, and catch her Spanish-language podcast Crónica on Spotify and Mixcloud.

Cover image via

Caitlin Donohue
Caitlin Donohue is a Bay Area-raised, Mexico City-based cannabis writer and author of She Represents: 44 Women Who Are Changing Politics and the World. Her weekly show Crónica on Radio Nopal explores Mexican marijuana culture and politics in the prohibition era. Follow Caitlin on IG @byrdwatch.
Share this article with your friends!
By using our site you agree to our use of cookies to deliver a better experience.