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Access to the Place: Some Impressions – Jessica Sacks June 13, 2010

Posted by jewishdisabilityunite in If you call this 'Normal'..., Jewish Law, Society.

Rabbi Shaul Anvari’s new book of halakhic responsa is entitled Access to the Place – the ‘place’, meaning the home, the workspace, the synagogue. And the ‘Place’, meaning God, ‘the Place of the world’. The book launched last Thursday night in Jerusalem; I am excited to write about it even now. An and-then-this-happened account of the evening would be tedious; the evening was long and full – but I would like to share just a few impressions with you, a few of the moments that have stayed with me.


Rav Aviya HaCohen discussing the midrash that describes the Torah as the map by which God created the world. A map which must be updated as the landscape develops, and to which details must be added as new territory, the areas in the periphery which the people of the centre ignore – is explored. Shaul as an intrepid explorer of one such place. Making it accessible.


Shoshana Goldberg Mayer from Milbat, the Israel Center for Technology and Accessibility, telling us of the solutions the volunteer engineers and occupational therapists of the organization create for the problems people with disabilities bring them. Telling us of the middle-aged religious woman who came to them, asking them to find her a way to light Shabbat candles for herself, despite her visual impairment and unsteady hand. Of how, when she was enabled to light her own candles for the first time, the woman had said, “Now, at last, I can be with God alone”.


Shaul’s speech, which he had typed out beforehand, so that each of us held a copy in our hands. Slowly, slowly, he read what he had written; and silence in the room as each of us strained to understand from his voice, the words that we were reading on the sheet in front of us. My friend Sagi, who is blind, sitting silently in the front row.


Michael Ben Admon, Shaul’s neighbour from the kibbutz, asking how this book affects his own religious life, as an able-bodied Jew. Citing the Religious Kibbutz Movement thinkers Moshe Unna and Tzuriel Admonit, who describe Torah study as a social value, and the incompleteness of my own religious fulfillment when another Jew is excluded from his. “All of Israel are involved with one another.” Michael describing his own children walking by Shaul in the kibbutz with their friends and pointing at him, saying, “That man is a scholar: he writes halakha.”


An old friend of Shaul’s from his yeshiva days, a singer, providing a musical interlude. “This is the tune that Shaul would always demand when I led the prayers in the yeshiva:” How can I repay the LORD for all that He has done for me? […] I am Your servant, the son of Your handmaid – You have opened my chains.


After the speeches ended I went up to the speakers to ask if they had anything written that I could put up on the site (watch this space). I caught up with Rav Aviya beside the entrance – “Can I ask you a question?” I said. He nodded and led me aside, to a quiet place where he could hear me. Suddenly I realized that he did not know whether my question was a request for an article or a loan, for advice on an unplanned pregnancy or a solution to the problem of Evil, and that he was ready to listen to whatever I asked and to respond without judgment, with all that he could bring me from his learning and being.

Walking home I understood what it was that excited me so much about this event. Not only the book, though the book is new and important. I realized that Orthodoxy has two faces, one open, one closed. The face which is closed opens only to the ‘password’, to what is familiar to it. And so it is closed not only to those who are a little different from the norm, but in some ways, to everyone – to everyone who has something in her that is not familiar and already known. And the face which is open is open to whatever and whoever may come, straining to hear something different and unknown, just as we all strained to hear Shaul speak, slowly, reading from the sheet he had prepared. Straining to hear each person’s voice. And this face is capable of hearing something new; genuinely new. That is the face that greeted me on Thursday night.

Shaul Anvari’s book, Access to the Place, is published in Hebrew by Mishlavim, Yeshivat Ein-Tzurim. For more information, contact us at jduinfo@googlemail.com. Shaul is already working on his next book, and welcomes any halakhic questions on issues relating to disability.



1. Tamara - August 2, 2010

it’s really nice to read and to think about orthodoxy as moving forward, making progress, getting better- and interesting that a discussion on disability should be the catalyst. Imperfect responses to imperfections become the next step towards perfection?

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