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Disability and Judaism: Society’s Influence on Halacha – Summary January 29, 2010

Posted by jewishdisabilityunite in Short and Simple.
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There is a story in the Talmud which teaches us something about the way people see people with disabilities. Once a great rabbi called Rabbi Simeon met “an ugly man” as he walked home from studying Torah. He was so shocked to see the ugly person after learning beautiful words, that he said “How ugly this idiot is!” The man, who was certainly not an idiot, was very hurt. He said, “Why don’t you go and tell the Artist who made me [that is, God] what an ugly thing he’s made!” Rabbi Simeon realized what a stupid thing he had said, and begged the man to forgive him.

This story shows us that each of us is made as we are by God. If we keep this in mind we will see that nobody is perfect, but nobody is ugly.

All the same, people with disabilities have always had different rights and responsibilities in Jewish Law than others. As society changes, so the law develops. Sometimes the rabbis see a change in society and change the law, and sometimes the law itself makes a change in Jewish society.

In ancient times, deaf people could not learn to communicate, and so they were treated like people who cannot understand. In the last two hundred years, we have learnt ways to educate deaf children, and they can fully take part in society. Slowly, rabbis responded to this and gave deaf people a bigger part to play in Jewish life.

Blind people, on the other hand, could always communicate by speaking. Jewish Law always protected blind people and insisted that they should be treated with respect, just like everyone else. In this way, Jewish Law was ahead of its time.

The attitudes of people in the Jewish community affect the way the law develops to include more and more people. This is very important if we want the Torah to remain an inspiration for ourselves and other people.

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