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Meet the Rabbi – Shaul and Yossi Anvari February 4, 2010

Posted by jewishdisabilityunite in Ask the Rabbi, Society, Uncategorized.

Rabbi Shaul Anvari is researching Jewish Law as it applies to many dilemmas that face people with disabilities. We will be publishing his responsa and welcome any halakhic questions you may have on living a Jewish life as a diffently abled person. Please send your questions to jduinfo@googlemail.com. Here Rav Shaul and his father Yossi (in italics) tell the story of what brought him to this point.


Shaul, 42, suffers from cerebral palsy and lives in the religious kibbutz Sdeh Eliahu, Israel.

My name is Shaul Anvari, and I was born in Kibbutz Sdeh Eliahu in the year 5727, on the 11th of Av. At birth I was submerged in ambiotic fluid and could not breathe for a long time. The result was serious damage to my four limbs and my speech. My parents immediately knew that there had been damage but only saw the signs of it after a number of months when I could not turn over from my back onto my stomach.

When Shaul was a year old we understood that he and we would face difficulties throughout our lives, and we decided that this was to be the challenge of our lives.

Everyone pulled together to help me – my parents, my family and the kibbutz. The kibbutz provided me with a full-time carer. They understood from the beginning that I have no intellectual disability, and that I had to be in the company of people my own age. I took part in all the children’s activities. When we played football they let me be in goal, on hikes they carried me on their backs, at work I joined the other children cleaning the kibbutz kitchen for Passover, working in the vineyard or looking after the children’s garden.

Shaul was completely integrated in the education system, with an additional carer to help with his special needs, so that we, his parents, could work and continue to live our lives in the kibbutz to the full.

Everyone worked with me on my independence: from dressing, washing and cycling to independent thinking and decision-making. From grades 1 to 6 I studied in a special school in Tel Aviv and lived with the wonderful Feldman family who adopted me and gave me as much warmth and love as if I’d been a member of the family.

When we went to the adventure playground in Tel Aviv we met a woman with a little boy. When the child asked her, “What’s wrong with him?” his mother said Shhh… When we began playing, some children came up to us and asked, “What’s wrong with him?” I explained to them in a couple of sentences and the children began playing with him in the sand, speaking to him completely freely.

When I came home at weekends and in the vacations, I was assigned a carer and I went to join the children, and even visited the classroom in the Shaked School. From grade 7 to grade 12 I studied there. On the first day I came to the class with a carer. Before the first lesson, my classmates took me and we “drove” the broken-down car in the playground. That year, children from the nearby villages Beit-Yosef and Yardena also joined the class, and they were not invited to join this game… In those years I still did not know how to read. They had to search for a way to teach me.

The psychologist we consulted with suggested that we flash words and short sentences in front of Shaul’s eyes. In those days the first PC’s, such as the Apple 2, had just arrived, and the idea came up that we could build a computer programme which would flash words up onto the screen. While Shaul sat by the computer and his carer, Gadi Raz of blessed memory, worked at entering the words into it, we noticed that Shaul was much more interested in, and understood much better, how the programme itself worked, than anything that that was happening on the screen. From then on, Shaul moved on to programming and using the computer himself, something which completely changed his life.

We needed to find a solution to allow me to work the computer – my hands aren’t able to type. I found that the limbs that function the best for me are my feet. For me to run a computer with my feet, and to learn to read, a team was needed to build a whole system to allow me. A team got together and worked for many hours with no payment at all. All these volunteers came from within the kibbutz.

At that time, a feature on Shaul was broadcast on television, on the only channel Israel had. Many people and families called us up after that; some of them came to visit us on the kibbutz, and I went to visit others with Shaul. Then we realized what an enormous difference it makes for a family with a disabled child to have the good fortune to receive support from its society. This support allowed us and Shaul to make progress and achieve, while families who have to get by alone sometimes run out of strength along the way.

When I reached my school final exams, my papers had to be laid out as multiple-choice tests, because my way of writing is very slow. All the teachers applied themselves to this, and some went beyond themselves and prepared more difficult papers for me than the Ministry of Education’s. When I left school I went and studied at the Yeshiva of the Religious Kibbutz Movement at Ein Tzurim. I slotted in naturally to the Shiluv programme with other boys my age. I studied there for seven years with the other students. I could tell which of them saw me as a regular person and which defined me as a person with disabilities. Several times I received invitations to the weddings of students I had no contact with. On the other hand, others studied with me in a natural and genuine way. During the years of my studies I wrote a number of articles on Jewish Law which were published in the Yeshiva’s journal, and once I gave a lecture to the other students.

When I had had my fill of Torah, and felt equal to all the other students in the Yeshiva, I went to volunteer in the Beit Hagalgalim centre. Beit Hagalgalim is a club which integrates people with disabilities with people without, religious and non-religious alike. The first time I went there, the professionals there told me, “You are still a boy, you must be a participant, not a counselor.” Nothing helped, though I told them about my studies at yeshiva and the articles I’d written. I was very hurt, and said to myself, “These of all people ought to be able to accept people with disabilities.” For seven years I tried to persuade them to let me be a counselor. In the seventh year, finally, “I won”, and became a counselor in Beit Hagalgalim.

By the age of 36 I wanted to become more independent. I decided to move to Beit Kassler, a home for people with disabilities. On the first day, they took my medication away from me. I told them that at home I am responsible for this; two weeks later they gave it back. To begin with I lived with a roommate, which was difficult; after three months I got a room to myself. My best contact was with the Arab carers; they were warm people, and tied my tefillin for me; even now I am still in touch with them. I stress this in contrast with most of the Jewish Russian carers, who were cold people with very little sympathy (it’s hard for me to write this but I’m afraid it is true). I will give an example. With regard to kosher food, the Arab workers were respectful, and the Jewish ones did not respect my needs at all. Once I went to the deputy director to ask to act as kashrut supervisor in the kitchen. She agreed, and then brought in an outside supervisor, a chareidi man who scarcely knew the laws. She explained that this man had a supervisor’s certificate and I did not. Towards the end of my stay there, I could scarcely eat anything… I left the kibbutz because I was no longer religious, and then came back because I am religious; so the wheel comes full circle… Looking back, this was a very important period in my life.

While Shaul was in Beit Kassler, and when he came back to the kibbutz, he always stayed in good contact with many friends, and whenever he comes to the synagogue, if for some reason I am not there, there is always someone who will tie his tefillin for him.

While I was at Beit Kassler I began to study for rabbinical ordination. Just over a year ago I received ordination from my respected teacher Rabbi David Bigman, the head of the Yeshiva of Ma’aleh Gilboa. Today I am working on a book of the Jewish Laws of Disability. Some of my writing appears in Hebrew on my website http://shaul-anvari.info/



[Translation: Jessica Sacks]



1. Access to the Place: Some Impressions – Jessica Sacks « Jewish Dis/Ability Unite - June 13, 2010

[…] Posted by jewishdisabilityunite in If you call this 'Normal'…, Jewish Law, Society. trackback Rabbi Shaul Anvari’s new book of halakhic responsa is entitled Access to the Place – the ‘place’, meaning the […]

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