Disability Rights and Inclusion


  • How do the sources guide us to be proactive vs reactive in assisting people who are differently abled?
  • How can having role models/representation in our sources of people with differences make an impact on those in our community who have differences?
  • Do the sources encourage us to create an environment of: tolerance? acceptance? coexistence? open-mindedness? acknowledgment? or something else?


(יד) לֹא־תְקַלֵּ֣ל חֵרֵ֔שׁ וְלִפְנֵ֣י עִוֵּ֔ר לֹ֥א תִתֵּ֖ן מִכְשֹׁ֑ל וְיָרֵ֥אתָ מֵּאֱלֹקֶ֖יךָ אֲנִ֥י ה'׃
(14) You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind. You shall fear your God: I am the LORD.


  • What does it mean to not “place a stumbling block before the blind?” Practically? Metaphorically?
  • Why would “fear of God” be a deterrence for engaging in these hurtful acts?
  • What are ways people “insult the deaf?”

Challenges to Grapple With:

  • Should we treat others a certain way because it is the right thing to do or because of fear of punishment? Does the motivation matter?
(י) וַיֹּ֨אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֣ה אֶל־ה' בִּ֣י אדושם לֹא֩ אִ֨ישׁ דְּבָרִ֜ים אָנֹ֗כִי גַּ֤ם מִתְּמוֹל֙ גַּ֣ם מִשִּׁלְשֹׁ֔ם גַּ֛ם מֵאָ֥ז דַּבֶּרְךָ אֶל־עַבְדֶּ֑ךָ כִּ֧י כְבַד־פֶּ֛ה וּכְבַ֥ד לָשׁ֖וֹן אָנֹֽכִי׃
(10) But Moses said to the LORD, “Please, O Lord, I have never been a man of words, either in times past or now that You have spoken to Your servant; I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”


  • What might it mean for Moses to be “slow of speech and slow of tongue” in terms of a disability?
  • Why would God choose someone to be a “spokesperson” who isn’t fully-abled?

Challenges to Grapple With:

  • This source gives us a model for actively “hiring” those who are differently-abled? What are the pros and cons of this hiring practice?

א"ר יוסי כל ימי הייתי מצטער על מקרא זה (דברים כח, כט) והיית ממשש בצהרים כאשר ימשש העור באפלה וכי מה אכפת ליה לעור בין אפילה לאורה עד שבא מעשה לידי פעם אחת הייתי מהלך באישון לילה ואפלה וראיתי סומא שהיה מהלך בדרך ואבוקה בידו אמרתי לו בני אבוקה זו למה לך אמר לי כל זמן שאבוקה בידי בני אדם רואין אותי ומצילין אותי מן הפחתין ומן הקוצין ומן הברקנין:

Rabbi Yosei said: All of my life I was troubled by this verse, which I did not understand: “And you shall grope at noon as the blind man gropes in the darkness” (Deuteronomy 28:29). I was perplexed: What does it matter to a blind person whether it is dark or light? He cannot see in any event, so why does the verse speak about a blind man in the darkness? I continued to ponder the matter until the following incident occurred to me. I was once walking in the absolute darkness of the night, and I saw a blind man who was walking on his way with a torch in his hands. I said to him: My son, why do you need this torch if you are blind? He said to me: As long as I have a torch in my hand, people see me and save me from the pits and the thorns and the thistles. Even a blind man derives at least indirect benefit from the light, and therefore he may recite the blessing over the heavenly luminaries.


  • What does it mean for a typical person to “grope at midday” as “the blind gropes in darkness?”
  • Do you think that if you saw blind person (either wearing dark glasses or using a cane) at night, you would step in to help them avoid danger in their path? Why or why not?

Challenges to Grapple With:

  • According to this text, who is responsible for keeping a differently-abled person safe? The individual with the difference or a typical-abled person? Do you agree or disagree?
אמר רבי יהושע בן לוי הרואה את הבהקנים אומר ברוך משנה הבריות מיתיבי ראה את הכושי ואת הגיחור ואת הלווקן ואת הקפח ואת הננס ואת הדרניקוס אומר ברוך משנה את הבריות את הקטע ואת הסומא ואת פתויי הראש ואת החגר ואת המוכה שחין ואת הבהקנים אומר ברוך דיין אמת לא קשיא הא ממעי אמו הא בתר דאיתיליד דיקא נמי דקתני דומיא דקטע שמע מינה

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: One who sees spotted people recites: Blessed…Who makes creatures different. The Gemara raises a challenge: One who saw a person with unusually black skin, a person with unusually red skin, a person with unusually white skin [lavkan], an unusually tall and thin person, a dwarf, or one with warts [darnikos]recites: Blessed…Who makes creatures different. However, one who sees an amputee, a blind person, a flat-headed person, a lame person, one afflicted with boils, or spotted people recites: Blessed…the true Judge, not: Who makes creatures different. The Gemara answers: This is not difficult. This, where Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says to recite: Who makes creatures different, refers to a case where the individual was spotted from when he was in his mother’s womb, since birth. While this, where one recites: The true Judge, refers to a case where the individual only became spotted after he was born.


  • Why might someone say a blessing upon seeing someone who is different from “typical”?
  • According to this source, what are the two different blessings? What are the two different causes for the two different blessings?
  • What is the intent of saying “God is the One True Judge” when seeing someone who becomes differently-abled or disfigured?

Challenges to Grapple With:

  • Do you think there is a difference between how we instinctively approach people who are born a certain way or one who becomes a certain way? Should there be a difference? Why or why not?
  • If you were a differently-looking or different-abled person, do you think you would feel “blessed?” Why or why not? Would you want others to recite blessings upon seeing you? Why or why not?


1. Equality in people

(ג) הוּא (בן עזאי) הָיָה אוֹמֵר, אַל תְּהִי בָז לְכָל אָדָם, וְאַל תְּהִי מַפְלִיג לְכָל דָּבָר, שֶׁאֵין לְךָ אָדָם שֶׁאֵין לוֹ שָׁעָה וְאֵין לְךָ דָבָר שֶׁאֵין לוֹ מָקוֹם:

(3) He [Ben Azzai] used to say: do not despise any man, and do not discriminate against anything, for there is no man that has not his hour, and there is no thing that has not its place.

2. Modern Rabbinic commentary

Etz Hayim, commentary ed. by Rabbi Harold Kushner

The decency of a society is measured by how it cares for its least powerful members.

Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, letter regarding special education for Jewish children

For if any child requires an individual evaluation and approach in order to achieve the utmost in his, or her, development, how much more so in the case of the handicapped.

3. Multimedia sources

VIDEO: ELI Talk: Pamela Schuller “I am Here; Hear Me Bark: Comedy, Disability, and the Inclusive Synagogue”

https://elitalks.org/i-am-here-hear-me-bark-comedy-disability-and-inclusive-synagogue (13 min)

News article about Special Needs and B’nei Mitzvah