The straight dope: YIVO’s new exhibit is all about Jews and weed and New study: Face mask usage correlates with higher death rates and These Israeli Food Tech Firms Use Surprising Ingredients To Make Cultured Meat and The Portion of Emor -this week's synagogue reading
Yehuda Lave is an author, journalist, psychologist, rabbi, spiritual teacher, and coach, with degrees in business, psychology and Jewish Law. He works with people from all walks of life and helps them in their search for greater happiness, meaning, business advice on saving money, and spiritual engagement.
The Three are Rabbi Yehuda Glick, famous temple mount activist, and former Israel Mk, and then Robert Weinger, the world's greatest shofar blower and seller of Shofars, and myself after we had gone to the 12 gates of the Temple Mount in 2020 to blow the shofar to ask G-d to heal the world from the Pandemic. It was a highlight to my experience in living in Israel and I put it on my blog each day to remember.
The articles that I include each day are those that I find interesting, so I feel you will find them interesting as well. I don't always agree with all the points of each article but found them interesting or important to share with you, my readers, and friends. It is cathartic for me to share my thoughts and frustrations with you about life in general and in Israel. As a Rabbi, I try to teach and share the Torah of the G-d of Israel as a modern Orthodox Rabbi. I never intend to offend anyone but sometimes people are offended and I apologize in advance for any mistakes. The most important psychological principle I have learned is that once someone's mind is made up, they don't want to be bothered with the facts, so, like Rabbi Akiva, I drip water (Torah is compared to water) on their made-up minds and hope that some of what I have share sinks in. Love Rabbi Yehuda Lave.
The straight dope: YIVO's new exhibit is all about Jews and weed
By Andrew Silow-Carrol
A glass bong in the shape of a menorah is featured in "Am Yisrael High: The Story of Jews and Cannabis," an new exhibit at YIVO opening May 5, 2022
— Not to be a buzz kill, but I've never been much of a pot smoker and don't intend to start.But I do love Jewish material culture and learning about unexplored byways of Jewish history, which is why I am excited about a new exhibit at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research dedicated to Jews and cannabis. "Am Yisrael High" (see what they did there?) displays texts and artifacts tracing the connections — some speculative and most very real — between Jews and weed, and how an often taboo subject and substance has intersected with religion, politics, crime and science.
On Friday I spoke with the curator, Eddy Portnoy, who is the academic advisor for YIVO's Max Weinreich Center and its exhibition curator. Portnoy also maintains one of my favorite Twitter feeds, in which he shares unusual and sometimes wacky artifacts from YIVO's archives – which, like the weed exhibit, never fail to remind viewers like me of the strange, unexplored possibilities of being Jewish.
The exhibit opens May 5 at the Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th St. in Manhattan.
Our conversation was condensed and edited for length and clarity.
New York Jewish Week: We should get this out of the way first: Is weed kosher? What is the traditional Jewish attitude towards intoxication and psychoactive substances? Eddy Portnoy: It depends on whom you speak to, but in the main, at least as far as Orthodox Judaism is concerned, recreational use of cannabis is not acceptable. However, medicinal use is. This goes along with cigarettes in that smoking is bad for you, and you're not supposed to harm your body. But because legalization is a relatively new phenomenon, that ultimately changes things. The principle is "dina d'malchuta dina" — obedience to the civil law of the country is religiously mandated. So some rabbis will say, if this is legal to do, this is acceptable.
So it is more about health than an aversion to altered states?Scholars believe that certain Kabbalists in Morocco, in North Africa, did use hashish because it was considered to have elevated their consciousness in some way. But it was for a religious purpose. It wasn't for recreation. What got you started on this? And by this I mean, an exhibit devoted to Jews and weed.
I smoked a lot of pot in college, but stopped after I had kids. I didn't think it was responsible to be high around little kids.About two years ago, I stumbled across a glass bong in the shape of a menorah. It's like a sculpture. Obviously, you would never really think of smoking eight bowls, but I thought to myself, I work at a historical research institute, and YIVO has been collecting Jewish material culture for almost 100 years. And this object brings together both Jewish religious culture and contemporary cannabis culture in a way that I had never really seen before. So I contacted GRAV, the company that makes it. And once it was in my office, I asked myself, is this just a kitsch item, or is there a real history behind Jews and cannabis?
So let's go back in history with a term featured in the exhibit. What is kaneh bosem?It appears in Exodus [as an ingredient in "sacred anointing oil"], it appears in a number of different traditional texts and rabbinic literature. It is typically translated as "fragrant reed" or aromatic cane, and sometimes as calamus. In the Mishneh Torah, [the medieval sage] Rambam translates kaneh bosem as Indian hemp, which is cannabis. Kaneh bosem even sounds like cannabis. There's a scholar who claims that the word comes from the Scythian word for cannabis, and the Scythians were known to have used cannabis in their religious rituals, as did multiple ethnic groups throughout the Middle East for thousands of years.
To skip ahead a bit, you display a purchase order for pot found in the Cairo Geniza, the synagogue storehouse that dates to the 12th or 13th century.There are a number of documents from the collection of the Cairo Geniza that reference hashish. This one is a note in Judeo-Arabic that confirms that an "esteemed elder" received "two carats of ingot silver," to be used to "obtain hashish for me with them." It's the 13th-century version of someone Venmoing someone and saying, "Please get me some weed," indicating that Jews were using hashish, for whatever reason – recreation or medicine.For the exhibit I realized I had to go where cannabis was part of the general culture, and that meant the Middle East and North Africa. One Israeli scholar of Moroccan Jewry told me that it was a tradition for Moroccan Jews to sprinkle hashish in the couscous at wedding parties. A document recovered from the Cairo Geniza (12th-13th centuries CE) thanks a traveler for acquiring hashish for the letter writer. (Alliance Israelite Universelle, Paris)You also have artifacts from Ashkenazi culture, like a Yiddish-language book called "Hashish."That is a 1911 translation of an 1879 German novel, a kind of "One Thousand and One Nights" Orientalist fantasy. It was translated by Rudolf Rocker, a well-known anarchist who wasn't Jewish, but learned Yiddish so he could, you know, do kiruv [recruiting] among Jews for anarchism.But the reality is, in Yiddish culture and Eastern European Jewry, pre-World War II there's not much connected to cannabis use. Moyshe Nadir, the well-known Yiddish satirist [1885–1943], has a short story called "Hashish" in which he visits a Jewish artist in Greenwich Village who smokes hashish. Occasionally in the Polish Yiddish press, sometimes the American, you'll find an article about a drug bust in which Jews are involved.
There is one guy [Yoseph Leib Ibn Mardachya] who wrote a book called "Cannabis Chassidis," and one of the arguments that he makes is that all the early Hasidic masters smoked pipes, and their acolytes all wrote that when they smoke their pipes, they went into ecstasy. I don't know how much evidence there is to prove that. Vladimir Jabotinsky wrote an ode to hashish in 1901 when he was a student in Vienna. It's an anomaly, but it is in the exhibit. "Hashish" is a 1911 Yiddish translation of an 1879 German novel. (YIVO)But the Jewish connection is really strong starting in the 1960s, when marijuana is deeply tied up with the counterculture.One of the items we have in the exhibit from the 1960s is a press release from an organization called LeMar, which stands for "Legalization of Marijuana," an organization that was co-founded by poet Allen Ginsberg, who was really a central figure in both cannabis advocacy and the legalization movement. LeMar was the first legalization organization created in America. Ginsberg participated in legalization rallies in 1964, long before anyone started to do this.Jews seem to play an outsized role in the counterculture. The Yippies were founded by five Jews: Abbie Hoffman, his wife Anita Hoffman, Nancy Kurshan, Jerry Rubin and Paul Krasner. I had no idea what a central issue marijuana legalization was for them. In virtually every issue of The Yipster Times, their newspaper from the 1970s, there are articles about cannabis. Their official flag is a black flag with a red star that has a marijuana leaf embossed on it. It's not clear that there was any Jewish content in that regard, religious or cultural, but Jews were at the forefront of this counter-cultural movement and this is one of the things they promoted. You also deal with the serious side of cannabis, specifically the medicinal side and the Israeli researchers who are at the forefront of the science. Raphael Mechoulam is an Israeli chemist who was the first scientist to isolate THC as the component that produces euphoria, and CBD as well. This was in the early 1960s. He's worked on cannabis his entire life, and in the 1990s he and his colleagues discovered the endocannabinoid system, which regulates homeostasis – a significant discovery how the human body deals with cannabinoids. I read an interview with him where he says that because he was in a small country, he would have to find a niche that other people weren't working in.
Lester Greenspoon was a Harvard University psychiatry professor who in the late 1960s set out to do research on cannabis when there was a significant taboo on doing research in this area – it was the "reefer madness" era. And yet Greenspoon decided to do research to determine whether cannabis was detrimental or beneficial. And his research indicated that it was not only not detrimental, but it could have medicinal benefits. He produced a book in 1971 called "Marihuana Reconsidered" and it was published by Harvard University Press. I have to add that to a certain degree Greenspoon was influenced to both work on cannabis and also to try it by his close friend, the Jewish astrophysicist Carl Sagan, who was a huge pot smoker. Both Carl Sagan and his wife Ann Druyan were very much advocates for cannabis. Sagan wrote the introduction to "Marijuana Reconsidered," although under the name "Mr. X." A rolling tray from Tokin' Jew, which borrows its design from the seder plate, is featured in YIVO's latest exhibit, "Am Yisrael High: The Story of Jews and Cannabis." (YIVO)YIVO is associated with preserving the culture of Eastern European Jews and remembering what was lost in the Holocaust. At any point did your bosses say, "This exhibit is just not who we are?"No one said that … exactly. But when I described the idea and explained that it would be contextualized historically, they thought that this would be an acceptable way to present this. I mean, it's legal – not in all states, but that seems to be the trajectory. It's a multi-billion dollar industry. It's becoming part of the general culture. The focus is really on Jews in a particular industry. It could be the film industry, it could be the comic book industry. If an exhibit is contextualized adequately, you could do virtually anything. I want to ask you something a little bit off topic, but I think it relates: your Twitter feed. You present all kinds of oddball Yiddish and Jewish objects, which I think may have the same intent as this exhibit, which is opening up an audience's eyes to the possibilities of Jewish culture and a deeper understanding of who the Jewish people are.Because I work at YIVO, I'm constantly coming across fascinating and unusual images or objects connected to Jewish history. And sometimes these weird things that I find in YIVO collections wind up taking off in ways that I don't anticipate. It's a great benefit because it helps people understand what this place is and what it has.
The opening of "Am Yisrael High: The Story of Jews and Cannabis," will feature a panel discussion, in person and via Zoom, moderated by Eddy Portnoy and featuring Ed Rosenthal, Adriana Kertzer, Rabbi Dr. Yosef Glassman and Madison Margolin. Thursday May 5, 7 p.m. ET.
New study: Face mask usage correlates with higher death rates
Using data from 35 countries and 602 million people, peer-reviewed study confirms previous research and cautions use of face masks "may have harmful unintended consequences."
A new peer-reviewed study entitled: "Correlation Between Mask Compliance and COVID-19 Outcomes in Europe" has demonstrated that use of face masks, even widespread, did not correlate with better outcomes during the COVID epidemic, based on data from 35 European countries with populations of over one million people each, encompassing a total of 602 million people.
The study noted that the average proportion of mask usage in the period investigated (October 2020 until March 2021) was 60.9% ± 19.9%.
Governments and advisory bodies have recommended and often mandated the wearing of face masks in public spaces and in many areas mandates or recommendations remain in place, despite the fact, the study notes, that randomized controlled trials from prior to and during the epidemic have failed to show a benefit to the wearing of such masks with regard to COVID transmission.
"Positive correlation between mask usage and cases was not statistically significant," the study also found, "while the correlation between mask usage and deaths was positive and significant (rho = 0.351, p = 0.039)." That is to say, more mask usage correlated with a higher death rate.
The study used a variety of statistical methods to study correlation but "none of these tests provided negative correlations between mask usage and cases/deaths ... Surprisingly, weak positive correlations were observed when mask compliance was plotted against morbidity (cases/million) or mortality (deaths/million) in each country."
The study also noted that the public may have gained the impression that masks could be helpful due to the fact that mandates were usually implemented after the first peak of COVID cases had passed. However, it became evident that masks were not in fact helpful later that same year, when widespread mask usage does not appear to have mitigated the severity of the COVID wave of winter 2020.
"Moreover," the study concludes, "the moderate positive correlation between mask usage and deaths in Western Europe also suggests that the universal use of masks may have had harmful unintended consequences."
The Portion of Emor -this week's synagogue reading in Israel
Our portion discusses the "representatives" of the people of Israel- the "kohanim" (priests) and their special degree of holiness. The Torah lists in detail what they are allowed to do and to what special prohibitions they must abide, from avoiding the impurity of one who is deceased to the limitation of whom they may marry.
There are seven categories of women whom a Kohen may not marry: a convert, an emancipated slave, a freed captive, a woman who has been accused of infidelity (sotah), a divorcee, a woman whose father was a desecrated Kohen and a woman who was freed from being married in a levirate marriage (chalutzah).
The unusual way the letter "zayin" is written in the word "zonah" (harlot) alludes to these seven women. Additionally, the numerical value of the letter "zayin" is seven.
(Sefer Rokeiach on the Torah)
These Israeli Food Tech Firms Use Surprising Ingredients To Make Cultured Meat
Israeli startups in the alternative protein sector raised a sizable $623 million in 2021, a 450 percent increase from $114 in 2020, with $507 million specifically going to cultivated protein and $91 million going to plant-based protein, according to the sustainable food system non-profit A Good Food Institute (GFI) Israel in a report that came out last month.
The cultivated meat industry itself accounted for 36 percent of total investments in the sector last year Names like Future Meat, the company that raised $347 million – the largest funding round ever for a clean meat firm – and Aleph Farms, the lab-grown meat firm that sent its creations to space with Israel's second-ever astronaut as part of Israel's Rakia mission, topped the list and have been highly regarded in the field over the years, along with companies like 3D-printed alt-steak firm Redefine Meat, cultivated chicken meat firm SuperMeat, and cultured meat company MeaTech.
Meanwhile, there are a number of other Israeli companies that are eager to answer the demand for alternative meat products. Although they may not be household names like America's Beyond Meat just yet, they stand out for their unique ingredients and a commitment to making sure their cultured meat products have the realistic, look, feel taste, and smell of real meat, without the use of animals.
NoCamels is highlighting two of those companies below:
More Foods More Foods is a Tel Aviv-based company dedicated to eliminating the use of animals in the food system by creating "amazing main meal experiences that people can cherish and enjoy," the company's founder and CEO Leonardo Marcovitz tells NoCamels. They do this by creating products that "bring a similar experience" that animal ingredients bring to the plate — by using plant proteins.
"If you look at the meat alternative market, most products in the market are using these three main ingredients – soy, seitan, and pea proteins. The soy protein and the seitan are major allergens and have a somewhat negative perception, while the pea protein has a strong off-flavor which needs to be quite processed in order to remove it. Meanwhile, when consumers hear the word meat alternative they assume it's highly processed," explains Marcovitz, "So what we did is we took these challenges and we found a solution for them. The way we do that is that we use ingredients that no one else has ever used to create meat alternatives. Those ingredients are pumpkin seed flour in combination with sunflower seed flour."
The company upcycles pumpkin and sunflower seed side streams from the food oil industry in a process that is not common to the field of alternative proteins.
"Sunflower oil is a large industry. What happens when they press the seeds is that the oil comes out. That's major commercial value of the product. Then you have this side stream, which is the solid residues of the seeds. So at More Foods, we figure it out and our IP surrounds taking those side streams from there to an actual final product. And that makes us price competitive with pea proteins," Marcovitz explains.
The number one reason that people shift to alternative meat products is health, he adds. More Foods creates a minimally processed alternative protein that is rich in protein (27 percent) and fiber (7 percent.)
"It has high levels of iron, higher levels of iron than meats. It also has high levels of calcium and potassium. Obviously, it doesn't have cholesterol, like animal meats. And because we don't rely on soy, our product contains no major allergens as well," Marcovitz says.
More Foods was founded by Marcovitz in 2020, who studied biomedical engineering and has already spent a decade not eating animal meat out of ideology and compassion for animals. Six years later, he decided he wanted to use his energy and knowledge to help eliminate the use of animals in the food system.
The company has recently closed co-ops with a variety of restaurants and chains based in Israel that have stated pilots serving More Food products. These include Mexicana, a Mexican restaurant, Pita Basta, a Mediterranean restaurant, Butti, a coffee shop, and others.
"We already see that our product can be used in many different applications," Marcovitz says, "The plan is now to focus on foodservice. Foodservice means restaurants, hotels, coffee shops, bars, etc. That's the first focus right now. And then in the next six to nine months, we're also going to start pilots in retail. And then we're going to expand to Europe — and in Europe, we will also start food service pilots as well."
BioBetter In recent years, the tobacco plant hasn't been favored, thanks to its connection with smoking and chewing tobacco. One Israeli-based food tech firm is aiming to change that, thanks to its newest innovation, which shows that the plant has huge potential to become a key component in the future of food.
BioBettter has developed a plant-based protein expression platform to produce complex growth factors for use in cultivated meat. In other words, the Kiryat Shmona-based company is repurposing tobacco plants to create growth factors for the cell development of alternative meat. The company says this groundbreaking achievement is cost-effective and can "significantly reduce the cost" of cultivated meat.
"BioBetter does not manufacture cultivated meat, but growth factors – regulatory proteins and hormones that constitute a vital component in the cell culture media," Amit Yaari, CEO of BioBetter, tells NoCamels, "Cultivated meat manufacturing requires large quantities of expensive growth factors. Existing (mostly fermentation-based) production technologies and infrastructures are not suitable for providing growth factors in sufficient production volumes and at costs low enough to support commodity-scale production of cultivated meat."
This genetically modified tobacco plant naturally produces the proteins necessary to create a cell growth channel that companies can use to make products like meat and fat through cell cultures.
"There are multiple advantages to using Nicotiana tabacum (tobacco) as a hardy vector for producing GFs of non-animal origin," Yaari said in a statement. "It is an abundant crop that has no place in the food-and-feed chain due to its extremely bitter taste and content of undesirable alkaloids.
BioBetter was founded by Prof. Oded Shoseyov, a serial entrepreneur and researcher at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem; Dana Yarden MD, MBA, a biotech business expert; and Avi Tzur, an industrialist, who also was the first investor in the technology.
BioBetter has harnessed those advantages by turning them into bioreactors for expression and large-scale production of proteins. Plant bioreactors use renewable energy and fixate carbon, where inorganic carbon, usually in the form of carbon dioxide, is converted into organic compounds by living organisms. The compounds are used to store energy and as structures for other biomolecules.
"BioBetter turns tobacco plants into bioreactors by instilling within their cells the molecular machinery that produces growth factors (Insulin, Transferrin, FGF2, etc.). The DNA constructs are inserted into the plants genome and are carried and expressed in the plants and their progeny, which can be propagated by seeds. By using tobacco plants grown in open fields as self-sustained, animal-free, renewable energy-driven 'bioreactors', combined with a proprietary purification method, our technology enables unparalleled cost efficiency and production scale of complex proteins," Yaari explains.
The startup says it applies protein extraction and purification technology that enables it to exploit nearly the entire plant while delivering a high purity product.
The company currently sources tobacco plants from local growers but the goal is to eventually source the raw material from tobacco growers globally. Based on cultivation in open fields and BioBetter's proprietary purification technology, the cost of growth factors production is dramatically reduced, finally bringing cost efficiency to cultured meat production.
"The rapidly evolving Cell-Ag technology aims to replace animal based agri-products (such as meat, dairy, eggs, seafood, leather, and many more), and concomitantly increase efficiency and decrease dependence and exploitation of scarce natural resources," says Yaari. "It also creates many challenges, one of which is a large demand for 'food-grade' growth factors…that will be required at commodity scales and costs. Overcoming this challenge might pave the road for a myriad of technologies and applications that current protein production solutions are simply to expensive for.
The disruptive technology provides virtually unlimited production capacity at ultra-low-cost (<1$/gram), which can support the growth factor requirements of the future food market, he adds.
"We support the cultivated meat companies by providing them the growth factors they need for their production process. We aim at making it possible for them to become economically viable," Yaari says.