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Tradition Today: Honoring those with special needs

MexicoCity05/31/2012 13:26   

[Editor's Note: references to deaf and hard of hearing shown below in blue]

By Reuven Hammer
The Jerusalem Post

The rabbis taught: "Everyone must say, ‘For my sake was the world created!’”

Photo by: Carlos Jasso/Reuters

Can children with special needs, mental or physical, celebrate a bar or bat mitzva in a synagogue? This question was put to the Committee on Jewish Law of the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel many years ago. There were such children, including the visually handicapped and hard of hearing, who were being denied this privilege on the basis of the ruling by some authorities that the rabbinic teaching that the “heresh” (deaf) and the “shoteh” (mentally deficient) are not obligated to perform mitzvot means that they cannot become bnei mitzva. In my responsum, I showed that the rabbis were referring to people who had no means of communication with the outside world or people who were psychotic and could not be held responsible for their actions. These definitions would not apply to the deaf or hard of hearing today nor to children with learning difficulties.

It was on this basis that the program of bar and bat mitzva instruction for children with special needs was undertaken by the Masorti Movement. Schools for such children were offered the opportunity of having trained instructors come to them at no cost to conduct classes in Judaism for the year prior to the age of bnei mitzva. A ceremony would then be held in a synagogue with no charge to the families. Since then, dozens of Israeli schools have entered this program and more are interested in doing so when the financing becomes available. The program is open to all and is financed by a special fund of the Masorti Movement.

Recently I attended such a bar/bat mitzva in Jerusalem at Moreshet Avraham Synagogue on a Rosh Hodesh morning. The children were physically handicapped and were all in wheelchairs. Some had difficulty controlling their limbs, others had speech problems and used electronic devices to substitute for their own voices when they recited the blessings. In attendance were their schoolmates, their parents, grandparents, relatives and friends. They were aided by the teachers and helpers whose love and devotion were evidenced in all their actions. Their families represented the full spectrum of Israeli Jewry: Ashkenazim and Sephardim, religious and secular. It goes without saying that it was a very emotional event, with hardly a dry eye in the room.

It is impossible to exaggerate what such a celebration means for these children and their families, most of whom never dreamed that their children would be able to celebrate such an occasion. These children are deprived of so much, but here they were being welcomed into the Jewish community, into the synagogue world, into Jewish tradition and observance with pride and honor. They were being told that they are the equal of others and can relate to God and Torah as well as anyone else.

As I listened to these children recite the blessings over the Torah in whatever way they could, I responded “amen” with enthusiasm, as did the entire congregation. I was reminded of the well-known hassidic tale of the child who whistled on Yom Kippur during the service. It was the only way he could express himself. When the congregation was annoyed, the rebbe told them that his was undoubtedly the purest prayer that had been uttered all day and had gone straight to heaven. I am certain that this was the case that morning in Moreshet Avraham as well.

The rabbis taught: “When someone makes many coins from one mold, all of them are alike, but the Holy One forms every person in the image of the first human being, yet no one is exactly like anyone else. Therefore everyone must say, ‘For my sake was the world created!’” (Sanhedrin 4:5). Each of these children is a creation of God for whose sake the world was created. To recognize that and treat them accordingly is Judaism’s command to us all.

The writer, former president of the International Rabbinical Assembly, is a two-time winner of the National Book Award. His latest book is The Torah Revolution (Jewish Lights).

Source: http://www.jpost.com/Magazine/Judaism/Article.aspx?id=272164

Francis Mercury van Helmont


[Editor's note: Thanks to a friend of JDCC who alerted us to this article on Judy Felson Duchan's website at University of Buffalo, State University of New York.]

Francis Van Helmont, a Belgian physician, was part of a 17th century effort to uncover universal languages. In 1667 he published a The Alphabet of Nature in which he argued that Hebrew was a proto-language and one that was closest to how the speech organs were intended to be used. He worked to show that the sounds of Hebrew were the ones most easily reproduced by the human vocal organs.

To prove his thesis he tried to demonstrate how the movement of tongue, palate, uvula and glottis reproduced the shapes of the corresponding Hebrew letters. Not only did the Hebrew sounds reflect the inherent nature of things themselves, van Helmont argued, but the very material from which the human vocal organs were formed had been especially sculpted to speak and write Hebrew.

In order to show the naturalness of Hebrew for speaking Von Helmont said he taught a deaf-mute to speak in just three weeks simply by instructing him to form the letters of the Hebrew alphabet with his tongue.

van Helmont's work contributed to the development of religious tolerance. However, he was accused of "Judaising" and imprisoned by those in charge of the Inquisition.

Writings about Francis van Helmont

Coudert, Allison (2004) Judaizing in the Seventeenth Century: Francis Mercury van Helmont and Johann Peter Spaeth (Moses Germanus). In Martin Muslow & Richard Popkin (Eds). Secret conversions to Judaisim in early modern Europe (71-121). Leiden: Brill.

Coudert, Allison (1999). The Impact of the Kabbalah in the 17th Century: The life and thought of Francis Mercury van Helmont, 1614-1698 (Brill's Series in Jewish Studies, 9). http://books.google.com/books?id=BZzK-LFe_QEC&printsec=frontcover&dq=francis+mercury+van+helmont&sig=tqVBBFVjl6qNXJjBemERkTWOtg0. Retrieved on May 7, 2010.

Klijnsmit, A.J. (1996) Franciscus Mercurius van Helmont: Kabbalist and phonetician. Studia Rosenthaliana, 30, 2 (1996): 267-81 [Hebrew grammar & linguistics in the Dutch Republic].

Sherrer, Grace B. (1938). Francis Mercury van Helmont: A neglected seventeenth - century contribution to the science of language. The Review of English Studies, Vol. 14, No. 56 (Oct.), 420-427.

Source: http://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~duchan/new_history/early_modern/van_helmont.html

Shabbat Morning Service (ASL) - NYC

Town_VillageTown & Village (T&V) in Manhattan announces the following:

WHAT: A Service with full readings from the Torah and Haftorah (Prophets)

WHEN: 10:00 AM -- 12:30 PM on Saturday, June 30th

WHERE: Town & Village (T&V) Synagogue (www.tandv.org), 334 East 14th Street,
between 1st and 2nd Avenues in Manhattan

WHO: Naomi Brunnlehrman & Christopher Tester (ASL interpretation presented by The Ranells Family)

A Kiddush (refreshments and social hour) will follow Services, everyone is welcome.

Pen, paper and electronic devices cannot be used at T&V on that morning. For information, contact Bram Weiser at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (212) 677-0368 Voice.

Source: Bram Weiser

Passover 2012 - California

katzReport from Temple Beth Solomon, of the Deaf, Granada Hills, CA

At this year’s annual community Passover seder, we did things a little differently. This was an activities based seder and for one of the most popular activities Rabbi Deborah provided each participant with their own personal container of Play Doh to make a representation of the thing for which they were most thankful. You can see in the second photo Perren Castaline, Meredith and Barbara Mathis showing a “Happy 60 with love” celebrating their parents and grandparents, Marilyn & Bernard Castaline’s 60th wedding anniversary this month.

The first photo shows Charles Katz with his two daughters, Sarah and Ashlyn who, in addition to matzah balls and Star Wars, were thankful for family. In the third photo is Joanne Gleicher, Larry Dubin and Murry Sanchez showing their love and thankfulness for matzah balls! The fourth photo below is Florence Haberman and Ruth Beesen, thankful for their friendship, and the four cups of wine.























Source: Congregation News, Temple Beth Solomon of the Deaf


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