The Crutch of Faith (Extract)

Extract of an article in Issue 25, March 31, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. A collection of essays examines Judaism's take on attitudes to the disabled and how it should influence us Jewish Perspectives on Theology and the Human Experience of Disability Edited by Rabbi Judith Z. Abrams and William Gaventa Haworth Press, 2007 522 pages; $50.00 I live in Florida, and so the synagogue that I go to has a good many seniors in it. There are many people with hearing aids and probably some who are beyond the use of hearing aids, but nobody translates the sermon or the Torah reading into sign language for them. There are people who walk with the help of canes or who come to services in wheelchairs, and cannot get up onto the bima for an aliya, for those who designed the sanctuary never thought of installing a ramp. Instead the Torah scroll is brought down to them. There are people who are visually impaired, and yet we have no large print editions of the siddur or the humash available for them. In short, we are not sensitive enough to the needs of the handicapped. And that is why this book is so important. Reform Rabbi Judith Abrams and William Gaventa, professor at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, have brought together a number of important essays on what Judaism has to say to and about the disabled. It should alert us all to their needs and rights. The contributors are rabbis, lawyers, theologians, social workers, and scholars. What unites them is a shared concern for both the disabled and the Jewish tradition. Readers from many different backgrounds will find something here to engage with. Lawyers will find the material on the legal rights of the disabled in Israel and in America of particular interest. Social workers will particularly appreciate the essay on what one American Jewish community is doing to help the disabled. The responsa of the Law Committees of the Conservative and Reform movements and of Orthodox halakhic authorities are also discussed. But these essays are written in clear language for a general audience. As a rabbi, I found three passages in this collection that spoke to me with special power. One was the article by Bonnie Gracer, a scholar of the relations between Judaism and Hellenism. She points out that in ancient Greece, it was acceptable to kill children born with a disability. Plato was quite clear about it: "This then is the kind of medical and judicial provision for which you will legislate in your state. It will provide treatment for those of your citizens whose physical and psychological constitution is good; as for the others, it will leave the unhealthy to die, and those whose psychological constitution is incurably corrupt, it will put to death. This seems to be the best thing for both the individual sufferer and for society." Aristotle agreed: "Let there be a law that no crippled child should be reared." Plutarch went so far as to say that the decision whether or not to kill the baby should be made by the tribal leaders. The parents, apparently, could not be trusted to be objective. Rabbi Jack Riemer is the co editor of "So That Your Values Live On: A Treasury of Ethical Wills," published by Jewish Lights, and the editor of the three volumes of "The World of the High Holy Days," published by the National Rabbinic Network. Extract of an article in Issue 25, March 31, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.