From Rabbi Lieberman

  • Why I support Ballot Question #4 – Legalizing Recreational Marijuana

    Posted ‍‍יב תשרי ה תשעז - October 14, 2016 By in Rabbi's Thoughts, Uncategorized With | Comments Off

    israel-mmj-flag[1]In one of my High Holy Day sermons this year, I explained my support for Massachusetts Ballot Question #3, which would prohibit certain methods of farm animal containment, a measure fully in consonance with Judaism’s command that we not inflict unnecessary suffering on animals.

    In that same sermon I made passing reference to my support for Ballot Question #4, which would legalize recreational marijuana for individuals at least 21 years old. I want to take this opportunity to articulate my reasons for supporting this ballot initiative.

    I came of age in the ‘60s and ‘70s. It was when I entered college, in 1971, that I first experimented with “soft” drugs: marijuana, Quaaludes, LSD. I was an experimenter, never a regular user, but I am glad for my exposure to those substances and those experiences. For me, they were part of the process of maturization, of learning to make decisions on my own about what was in my best interests.

    Fast forward to 2016, the year in which I read Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari, an eye-opening account of the tremendous and unnecessary toll that the criminalization of drug-use has taken on our society and our world. It lifts up for examination, and shatters, many an assumption about the nature of addiction, U.S. federal drug policy, and the ever-increasing price we pay for treating drug-use as a justice issue and not a public-health issue.

    The increasing number of states authorizing the medical use of marijuana is encouraging, even if Massachusetts is dragging its feet in establishing an appropriate number of dispensaries. I know, personally, a number of people whose lives are made easier and whose suffering is diminished, through their use of marijuana.

    Ballot Question #4 has a broader goal: the legalization of marijuana for purchase and consumption by adults over 21. Massachusetts would join Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon, and Washington D.C. in adopting such a policy. What has been learned from the experiences of those other localities?

    Here are some facts worth noting:

    • Marijuana arrests have plummeted in the states that legalized marijuana, although disproportionate enforcement of marijuana crimes against black people continues.

    • Statewide surveys of youth in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon found that there were no significant increases in youth marijuana use post-legalization.

    • Tax revenues in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon have all exceeded initial revenue estimates, totaling $552 million.

    • Legalization has not led to more dangerous road conditions, as traffic fatality rates have remained stable in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon.

    • Prescription drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. Many of these overdoses are related to the increasing number of people taking opiate-based medications for pain related conditions. Marijuana has been shown as an effective treatment for pain, and has a better safety profile than opiates with less risk for dependence and no risk of fatal overdose. States that have passed medical marijuana laws have seen a decrease in opiate related mortality, and medical marijuana patients are claiming that the use of marijuana as a substitute for opiates is resulting in relief without the worries about dependence.

    [Source: ]

    One of the more compelling reasons to legalize marijuana is to remove it from the hands of criminal enterprises, thereby reducing and helping to eliminate the violent crime to which that illicit drug trade gives rise. Our nation’s experience with Prohibition offers stark evidence that the legalization of substances that people will use, whether legal or not (i.e. alcohol and tobacco), is a far better option for society than prohibition. Moreover, the harm done by alcohol and tobacco, both of which are legally consumed, is well-established and substantial. The harm associated with marijuana use is, largely, anecdotal and pales by comparison with that of alcohol and tobacco.

    There are certainly legitimate questions about the implementation of marijuana legalization, if the ballot question passes. But those questions and practices will be left to the legislature to craft, just has been done in other localities, to best address the needs of our Commonwealth. I urge you to make the time to research this topic for yourselves and to bring the knowledge you gain with you into the voting booth on November 8th.

    Reb Elias

  • The arrival of flannel-shirt weather….

    Posted ‍‍יא תשרי ה תשעז - October 13, 2016 By in Rabbi's Thoughts, Uncategorized With | Comments Off


    Helen Hunt Jackson

    Bending above the spicy woods which blaze,
    Arch skies so blue they flash, and hold the sun
    Immeasurably far; the waters run
    Too slow, so freighted are the river-ways
    With gold of elms and birches from the maze
    Of forests. Chestnuts, clicking one by one,
    Escape from satin burs; her fringes done,
    The gentian spreads them out in sunny days,
    And, like late revelers at dawn, the chance
    Of one sweet, mad, last hour, all things assail,
    And conquering, flush and spin; while, to enhance
    The spell, by sunset door, wrapped in a veil
    Of red and purple mists, the summer, pale,
    Steals back alone for one more song and dance.

    Helen Jackson’s poem serves to remind me how fortunate I feel to be a Jew! Just when nature’s cycle here in the Northern Hemisphere brings us shorter days, longer nights and the beginning of the hunkering down for what winter will inevitably bring, the Jewish calendar launches us boldly into a new year! And though Autumn is my favorite season, I simultaneously appreciate the new beginning that comes with a new Jewish year. The fall holy days come in such swift succession…Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Simchat Torah (like passing boxcars glimpsed at a railroad crossing)…that we experience a surfeit of spiritual high points. I’ve often wished these holy days were spaced a bit more evenly though the year that I might savor them more deeply in my anticipation of their arrival.

    With respect to the secular calendar, Rosh Hashanah is “late” this year (though, in fact, it arrives right on time…on the 1st of Tishri!) This means that those of us privileged to celebrate the High Holy Days on Cape Cod may begin to see foliage beginning to turn, a harbinger of fall-in-earnest. We will balance an awareness of the season’s turning with an understanding that for us, the year is just beginning, ripe with potential for growth and change.

    While I always relish the arrival of weather cool enough to justify wearing a flannel shirt, I look forward to the arrival of the Jewish year 5777 on the evening of October 2nd.
    May the new year presage healthy change and development for us as individuals, for our community, our nation and our world. L’shanah tovah tikateyvu….may you be inscribed for a new year of health and contentment!

    Reb Elias

  • Like summer lightning…..

    Posted By in Rabbi's Thoughts, Uncategorized With | Comments Off

    6a0105371bb32c970b01b8d124f16a970cSeveral years ago I wrote a song whose chorus runs like this:

    Like summer lightning
    Beyond the horizon
    You know the storm is coming
    You just don’t know when…..

    That’s the way I’m feeling at this moment….unsettled, expectant, fearful of a storm of hitherto unknown proportions which may break over our heads on the night of Tuesday, November 8th, 2016.

    During my vacation I read Larry Tye’s marvelous and captivating new book, Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon. As one who came of age in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, I came away from my reading of that work with an intense sense of loss. RFK, like most politicians (like most people), was a complicated mixture of ambition, self-interest, insecurity, idealism, commitment to family and patriotism. It’s fascinating to read about the political wheeling-and-dealing of that era. As undemocratic as it is revealed to have been at times, it stands in sharp contrast to the ideologically-inspired gridlock that passes for Congressional action today.

    Tye chronicles Kennedy’s growth as both a public servant and as a human being, making his untimely death all the more painful to contemplate. We are left with so many “what ifs” attached to the truncated lives of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr.,Robert F. Kennedy, Malcolm X and too many others.

    More than ever before, I find myself thinking about the Jews of Germany in the 1930s and the storm-clouds of fascism they saw–or refused to see–massing on their horizon. The parallels with our current situation are inexact but they are highly suggestive. Are we experiencing a paralysis of will fed by denial, as many of our brothers and sisters in Germany did? Have we imbibed the “Kool-Aid” of American exceptionalism that suggests “it can’t happen here”?

    Jews have all-too-often been the “canary in the coal mine”. The vitriol, scape-goating, and vicious demonizing that have been unleashed in the course of this presidential campaign should feel disturbingly familiar to us as Jews and should serve as a dire warning of the price of complacency. It should also remind us of that most fundamental of Jewish admonitions, given voice by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810), “The entire world is a narrow bridge; and the most important thing of all is not to let your fear overwhelm you!”

    Between now and November 8th, I will endeavor to hold my fear-of-the-storm in check…because, between now and then, there is important work to be done.

    Reb Elias



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