Disability in Jewish Law

Disability in Jewish Law

Disability in Jewish Law

Disability in Jewish Law

Synopsis

In recent decades, record numbers of Jews are taking a newfound interest in their legal heritage - the Bible and the Talmud, the law codes and the rabbinical responsa literature. In the course of this encounter, they may be interested in how these sources relate to the issue of disability, and the degree to which halakhic attitudes to disability are in harmony with contemporary sensibilities. For example, can the blind or those in wheelchairs serve as prayer leaders? Need the mentally incompetent observe any ritual law? Is institutionalization in a special-education facility where Jewish dietary laws are not observed permitted if it will enhance a child's functioning? And how are we to interpret teachings that seem inconsonant with current sensibilities? Disability in Jewish Law answers the pressing need for insight into the position of Jewish law with respect to the rights and status of those with physical and mental impairments, and the corresponding duties of the non-disabled.

Excerpt

Disability in Jewish Law, the third volume in the series, Jewish Law in Context, is hereby presented as an introduction to a subject perhaps unfamiliar to many - disability in the Jewish sources. This volume will, we hope, provide readers with insight into the attitudes to disability reflected in the halakhic sources. Among the disabilities the Talmud routinely takes note of are deafness/muteness, speech impediments, blindness, infertility, and mental disability. Contemporary concern for the rights of the disabled has evoked considerable interest in the position of Jewish law in this regard, and Dr. Marx's pioneering study is a welcome contribution for scholars as well as those with a personal or professional interest in disability. It is essential, however, that readers take seriously the series' title, Jewish Law in Context. For this study is not a comparative study juxtaposing halakha and contemporary ideas, nor is it undertaken in order to present the halakhic understandings as precursors to current views. It is, rather, an attempt to delve honestly and openly into the authentic voices of Jewish law on disability, in its own context. It is hoped that this investigation will provide the reader with an important perspective that can be referred to in contemporary discussions of disability.

Disability in Jewish Law is a comprehensive survey of the position of the halakha on questions pertaining to the obligations of the community toward the disabled, of the individual toward his disabled fellow, and of the disabled individual himself. Marx surveys the broad spectrum of attitudes to disability evinced in the Rabbinic and halakhic literature, some of which are disturbing to contemporary sensibilities. Rather than attempting to ignore or whitewash problematic passages, he seeks to balance them by citing sources that evince a more caring, more inclusive attitude. It is here that the author's painstaking research is apparent, as he shows us that in almost every case where a negative attitude is openly expressed in the Talmud, there are either dissenting opinions or positive voices latent in the text. Marx brings these sensitive voices to the fore, and shows that as a rule, where there is an opinion inhospitable to the disabled, it is not necessarily the sole view that can be sustained on the basis of the sources.

Marx's approach can be characterized as constructive. the law never formally articulates an overall policy on the disabled, and it would be completely anachronistic to approach the sources with the intention of finding such a pronouncement. Rather, Marx attempts to piece together the halakhic perspective on disability and

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