Magic mushrooms are all the fad. However are they Jewish? | Judaism


On 10 January, simply because the solar was setting behind the Rocky Mountains, uniformed narcotics officers raided an industrial storage facility in Denver’s north finish, in a business strip between a espresso wholesaler and a plumbing provide retailer. There, they discovered scales, petri dishes, develop tents and a number of white miniature freezer models, jam-packed with a number of kilos of magic mushrooms.

The power was linked to Benjamin Gorelick, a rabbi who leads the Sacred Tribe, a multi-faith membership-based non-profit, which Gorelick calls a “synagogue”. The Sacred Tribe counts about 270 members and Jewishness is just not a precondition of membership. (In keeping with its web site, they even welcome “rascally atheists”.) The Sacred Tribe celebrates the Jewish excessive holidays, hosts breath-work seminars, and routinely congregates for a “sacred sacrament”, by which the mushrooms characteristic.

Gorelick, 43, was raised Jewish, in New Mexico. He left the south-west (and faith) behind in his late teenagers, decamping to Alaska to show mountaineering. Within the mountains, he reconnected together with his spirituality. He sought a deeper connection to his group and to God. In 2018, he started rabbinical coaching. He was ordained in 2019. In pictures, Gorelick sports activities a spiky blue mohawk hairdo, bisecting his cranium like a punk rock dorsal fin. His fingernails are painted sparkly silver and black. Positively – and, one will get the sense, fairly intentionally – not your bubbie’s rabbi.

Whereas coaching, Gorelick additionally had his first psychedelic expertise. “That was the primary time after I felt, in my physique, God and oneness,” he tells the Guardian, talking from his residence in Broomfield, Colorado, about 15 miles north of Denver. The Sacred Tribe is his method of facilitating such experiences with others. The group is donations-based, and he maintains that 90% of its members have by no means given him a lot as “a skinny penny” for something, together with entry to psychedelic medicine.

Gorelick (who asks to be known as “Rabbi Ben”) has been charged with felony possession of a Schedule I managed substance with intent to distribute. The Denver district legal professional sees him as a narcotics producer. Rabbi Ben insists that his sacraments are (or must be) protected by the primary modification’s non secular protections. At an upcoming court docket listening to this Monday, he faces a minimal of eight and most of 32 years in state jail. “We didn’t commit a criminal offense,” Gorelick insists. “That is a part of 2,300 years of Judaism.”

Sacred Tribe attendees stretch out throughout a breath work train after most took the sacrament, psilocybin mushrooms, at a sacrament ceremony. {Photograph}: Andy Cross/Denver Put up

In the US, non secular teams have secured the correct to make use of psychedelic medicine, underneath the primary modification’s safety of spiritual freedom. A unanimous 2006 supreme court docket dominated {that a} New Mexican Christian church, the União do Vegetal (UDV), might legally host ceremonies that includes DMT-containing ayahuasca. In How To Change Your Thoughts, his bestselling 2018 chronicle of the present “psychedelic renaissance”, Michael Pollan known as the ruling a “watershed occasion”. It made crystal clear that the federal government was in no place to impinge on “honest train of faith”.

“He’s practising within the lane of what looks like honest non secular perception to me,” says Danny Peterson, a DC-based legal professional advising on Gorelick’s case. “The query is just not whether or not Ben’s actions represent violations of managed substance legal guidelines. They do. The query is: is the federal government committing a brand new crime by imposing these legal guidelines towards him? And they’re.”

Gorelick’s fellow vacationers appear equally honest. Yehuda, 24, flew to Denver to partake within the Sacred Tribe’s psychedelic sacraments. (“Yehuda” is a pseudonym.) He was raised Jewish and had nurtured an curiosity in Jewish mysticism, together with the Kabbalah. He had by no means taken a psychedelic earlier than congregating with Gorelick and different members of the Sacred Tribe. “The rationale that I used to be motivated to do it,” he says, “was as a result of it was being executed as a Jewish non secular ceremony.”

A few of the Tribe’s members are extra Kabbalah-curious. Sofia (additionally a pseudonym), 33, identifies as culturally Lutheran and theologically Unitarian, and works at a multi-faith group heart. She, too, was interested in Gorelick’s exploration of the Kabbalah by psychedelic means. She sees Gorelick’s psychedelic exploration as falling squarely inside the first modification’s non secular protections. She drank wine when she was 10, at her first communion – a Christian sacrament that contravenes consuming age legal guidelines. “I see that as very analogous,” she says.

Rabbi Ben Gorelick talks to folks at a Sacred Tribe community dinner at the Synagogue, his home.
Rabbi Ben Gorelick talks to of us at a Sacred Tribe group dinner on the Synagogue, his residence. {Photograph}: Andy Cross/MediaNews Group/The Denver Put up/Getty Photographs/DP

Some exterior of Gorelick’s direct orbit wince at the concept psychedelic medicine are a part of some age-old Jewish apply. “It’s simply not the case,” says Rick Strassman, analysis pharmacologist and writer of DMT and the Soul of Prophecy. “The one intoxicants talked about particularly within the Hebrew Bible are sturdy wine and liquor. That’s it.”

Nonetheless, the entwined histories of psychedelia and Judaism run wild with hypothesis. Strassman’s personal analysis compares biblical mysticism to psychedelic states. He theorizes that sure prophetic visions – like Ezekiel’s description of a many-faced cherub, its wings bedecked with whirligig wheels – are attributable to endogenous DMT, produced naturally within the human physique. Others theorize that the burning bush, which commanded Moses to liberate the Israelites from Egypt, was fabricated from acacia, a DMT-containing shrub. Nonetheless others marvel how Moses might have inhaled sufficient vaporized acacia to journey out, with out dying of asphyxiation.

Rabbi Ben Gorelick measures out a precise amount of sacrament during Sacred Tribe Sacrament ceremony.
Rabbi Ben Gorelick measures out a exact quantity of sacrament throughout Sacred Tribe Sacrament ceremony. {Photograph}: Andy Cross/MediaNews Group/The Denver Put up/Getty Photographs/DP

On a Fb web page for the Jewish Entheogenic Society, a dialogue group organized by the Bay Space rabbi Zac Kamenetz, some query Gorelick’s interpretation of Jewish texts and their validity. Even in a faith as decentralized and numerous as Judaism, Gorelick’s strategy appears non-doctrinaire. “There are numerous, many paths,” Kamenetz says. “However for the previous 2,000 years, we’ve favored to indicate our sources.”

The American group of Jewish psychedelic fanatics is fairly tight-knit. And Gorelick had, till lately, a minimal presence in that group. Natalie Ginsberg, a coverage lead on the Multidisciplinary Affiliation of Psychedelic Research (Maps) and co-founder of the Jewish Psychedelics Summit, had by no means heard of Rabbi Benjamin Gorelick till his arrest. “I used to be a bit stunned,” she says, “That I had by no means come into contact, or heard from him, or labored with him.”

Gorelick’s arrest has thrust him into the highlight. He has retained Grasslands, a Denver-based hashish advertising and marketing company, to handle his communications. He’s arrange on-line petitions and crowdfunding campaigns. He’s being positioned as “the Mushroom Rabbi”: a sufferer of spiritual persecution and a spokesperson for Jewish psychedelia. A GoFundMe to “Assist R Ben Defend Non secular Use of Psychedelics” says that the Sacred Tribe’s “common operations” have been placed on maintain, a declare which is very suspect. Yehuda, for one, took half in a psychedelic sacrament in March, after the grow-up raid. Gorelick clarifies that ceremonies haven’t stopped. However membership, and energetic participation, has declined.

Gorelick’s authorized workforce doesn’t appear bothered by his picture as a newcomer, or perhaps a little bit of a pariah, within the Jewish psychedelic group. “His model of sure rituals isn’t actually related to the authorized query,” Peterson maintains. “It doesn’t matter if folks don’t like the best way he talks about it. Or his haircut.”

However no one is grousing about Gorelick’s hairdo. His credentials bear extra severe scrutiny. Gorelick skilled on the Jewish Non secular Leaders Institute, a one-year, on-line “cyber-synagogue”, whose graduates should not acknowledged by many main organizations, equivalent to Central Convention of American Rabbis (CCAR). In an e-mail assertion, a spokesperson for the CCAR says, “The depth and breadth of a rigorous rabbinic schooling is just not attainable in only a yr.”

Sidestepping extra conventional, Torah-based teachings, Gorelick’s pursuits are nearly purely mystical, and Kabbalistic. Referred to as “a mysterious and sacred science” by the Nineteenth-century French-Jewish thinker Adolphe Franck, Kabbalah was lengthy thought to be an superior course of examine, undertaken solely by these with an exhaustive data of the Torah. Kabbalah was revived in America within the Nineteen Sixties, alongside the primary wave of psychedelia, and the reignited western curiosity in Buddhism, Hinduism, occultism and rising “New Age” practices.

In 1968, theologian Arthur Inexperienced pseudonymously revealed Notes From The Jewish Underground: Psychedelics and Kabbalah, which analyzed “the superior implications of drug use for non secular considering”. Extra lately, clinicians at Johns Hopkins and NYU have put Inexperienced’s heady thesis to the check. In 2017, they dosed two dozen clergy (together with rabbis) with psilocybin. They have been learning the connection between psychedelics and mystical experiences, which, in response to veteran Hopkins researcher Invoice Richards, “appear to be on the origin of most religions”. Nonetheless, in such research psychedelics are seen as a chemical precursor to experiences that have been historically spurred by intervals of intense meditation, fasting and prayer – a non secular catalyst, or performance-enhancing drug.

Rabbi Ben Gorelick, measuring psilocybin mushrooms, the Sacred Tribe’s sacrament, for a Sacrament ceremony.
Rabbi Ben Gorelick, measuring psilocybin mushrooms, the Sacred Tribe’s sacrament, for the ceremony. {Photograph}: Andy Cross/MediaNews Group/The Denver Put up/Getty Photographs/DP

Given the alleged hyperlinks between psychedelic use and Jewish mysticism, it’s a little bit of a thriller why a problem like this has not arisen earlier than. Gorelick is candid on this level. He might not be the primary rabbi to make use of psychedelics. However he was the primary to get caught. “We all the time knew somebody would come knocking at our door.”

Definitely, such first modification defenses are inclined to emerge, properly, defensively. The supreme court docket choice on ayahuasca got here after 30 gallons of the psychoactive brew have been seized by US customs brokers. Historic as such rulings are, some activists regard them as a bit outdated hat, particularly in gentle of broader decriminalization efforts. “It may be dangerous if persons are not working in coordination with the larger motion,” says Maps’ Ginsberg. “Implying that sure use must be protected over different use? That’s the place I see issues.”

However Gorelick can appear to be a casualty of that current decriminalization patchwork. In 2019, Denver grew to become the primary US metropolis to successfully decriminalize psilocybin. The regulation itself is a bit peculiar: whereas the drug stays unlawful underneath federal regulation, native police have been prohibited from allocating assets to prosecute use or possession. Nonetheless, promoting shrooms stays a felony. Such piecemeal approaches produce legislative inanities: how are folks supposed to acquire the psychedelic mushrooms, that are permissible to hold and eat?

In November, Coloradans will vote on a poll measure legalizing psilocybin, whereas additionally offering a framework for licensed psychedelic “therapeutic centres”. (An analogous measure was efficiently handed in Oregon in 2020.) “We’re together with retroactivity in our measure,” says Kevin Matthews, an activist main the cost. “Any particular person who wouldn’t have been in violation of what’s included within the measure, can truly actively petition to have the file sealed.”

So, in a couple of months, Gorelick’s case might be outdated information. But he’s nonetheless pursuing his explicitly non secular campaign. “They’re attempting to create a secular, medicinal, therapeutic construction with the poll initiative that’s popping out this fall,” Gorelick says, “However it’s not the place the place we’re trying to have safety.”

Gorelick’s workforce thinks his case and cut-and-dried sufficient to be diminished to a misdemeanor, or be thrown out of court docket altogether. He’s, as Peterson, Gorelick’s co-counsel, phrases it, “a church of 1”, even when his credentials or approaches might increase a couple of eyebrows. In fact, a non secular exemption could be opportunistic, even when it’s completely honest. “Decriminalization, legalization … all these different paths are essential,” says Peterson. “However proper now, none of these maintain Rabbi Benjamin out of jail.”

Those that are working to develop authorized psychedelic use for everybody, no matter religion or affiliation, don’t need to see Gorelick imprisoned, even when they take subject together with his techniques. “As somebody who cares deeply about Jewish psychedelia, I don’t need to see anybody in jail,” Ginsberg says. “I do consider we even have a historical past of use.”


In early June, I meet up with Gorelick in New York, a couple of weeks earlier than his court docket date. Seated on a luxe leather-based couch within the foyer of a midtown lodge, his once-defiant mohawk has grown shaggier, tufting out from underneath a kippah, as if wilting underneath the strain of his present authorized woes.

He’s in Manhattan, he says, to attend a Shavout dinner with a bunch of Hasidic Jews. Shavout is a standard vacation celebrating the harvest, which, in some orthodox circles, additionally marks the event of the Torah’s revelation to Moses. These specific orthodox Hasids – followers of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, a Nineteenth-century Kabbalah revivalist – had been conducting their very own experiments with psychedelics to discover the religion’s extra mystical, further-out dimensions. Gorelick was not there to grace them with viewers with the Mushroom Rabbi. He got here to study from them, and their traditions. “I type of invited myself,” he admits.

Whilst others strain Gorelick to indicate his work – to level out the place in Torah, or in Kabbalah, or wherever in rabbinic teachings, mind-expanding medicine are justified, and even explicitly talked about – he’s assured in his authorized standing and in the way forward for Jewish psychedelia. “By exhibiting folks what is feasible within the psychedelic house,” he explains, “it makes it extra conceivable to attain these insights in each day life.”



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